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Walters column: Prep football countdown now less than two months

 

Scott Walters

 

With the official countdown to the start of the prep football season now at less than two months, it honestly is time to start getting excited. 

 

As usual, this season's story lines involve key transfers, depth, youngster growing up and a handful of coaching changes. 

 

So as we continue to prepare an Aug. 22 kickoff for both the Mississippi High School Activities Association and Mississippi Association of Independent Schools, let's look at some questions we will get answered: 

 

1. How many yards will Starkville High quarterback Brady Davis throw for in his first season with the Yellow Jackets? 

 

Davis transferred from New Hope to Starkville during the off-season. As most will recall, the problems at New Hope last season were not offensive-oriented. 

 

The 6-foot-4 Davis threw for 2,626 yards and 23 touchdowns for the 4-7 Trojans. The standout performance was a ridiculous 506 passing yards and six touchdowns in a 76-50 loss to West Point. 

 

Starkville was already considered one of a few favorites to win North State Class 6A. However, with the loss of Preston Jones, the Yellow Jackets were in need of a new signal-caller. What they got was someone already battled tested and already on the radar of several Division I school. 

 

Since Jamie Mitchell and his SHS staff like to throw the football, this match should be perfect and fun to watch. 

 

2. How much growth will we see from Noxubee County? 

 

For my money, Tyrone Shorter may be the most under-rated coach in the coverage area. While the Tigers breezed to the Class 4A state title on auto pilot in 2012, Shorter's best coaching work may have come a season later. 

 

Noxubee County finished 9-4, falling to Lafayette in the third round of the playoffs. The Tigers had the most difficult non-region schedule and did limp out of the gates with a 2-3 record. However, the team won its next seven games before being shut out in Lafayette County. 

 

In its playoff opener, Noxubee County started seven sophomores on offense and six sophomores on defense. The Tigers still played with a swagger. They played like they didn't realize they didn't belong with the elite anymore. 

 

Tamorris Conner returns for his junior year at quarterback. The ground game will once again be by committee. A year ago, the Tigers won several close games when trailing entering the fourth quarter. That is called a belief. That is something that comes directly from your head coach. 

 

3. Will Heritage Academy display staying power? 

 

Speaking of quality coaching jobs, it is hard to not over state what Barrett Donahoe has accomplished at Heritage Academy. Brought in to stop a streak of three straight 5-5 seasons, the Patriots have done just that. 

 

Heritage Academy won the MAIS Class AAA, Division II title in Donahoe's first season and came within three points of playing for another title last season. Once again, the key word here is belief. Heritage Academy now thinks it can compete on any given Friday night. 

 

With several lost seniors off last year's team, it will be real interesting to see what we get from Heritage Academy this season. Typically, a third season is huge from a coaching standpoint. Donahoe now his plan firmly in place from the junior high ranks on up. 

 

Heritage Academy will be looking for that elusive third straight playoff berth and a third straight win in the rivalry series with Starkville Academy. The stakes are high as we find out if the Patriots are now a player long term. 

 

4. Can Tony Stanford keep the Oak Hill Academy program trending upwards? 

 

The big coaching news from this past week came when we learned that former Columbus High head coach Tony Staford had agreed to take over the program at Oak Hill Academy. 

 

In his two seasons at Oak Hill, Daniel Merchant led the Raiders to marks of 6-6 and 5-6. Those are good records for a school which was winless in 2011 and had not had a winning season since 2005. Stanford's task will be to help the Raiders earn a third straight playoff berth for the first time since the turn of the century. 

 

Most likely, Stanford took a look at the roster before accepting. He had to like what he saw. Oak Hill Academy returns both quarterbacks, three of its top four rushers and six of its top eight tacklers from last season. When Merchant arrived, Oak Hill Academy was hoping to win a game, maybe two. Now, the mind-set is totally different. Each Friday night, the Raiders feel like they can win. 

 

Again, this should be a really good match. Oak Hill Academy is enjoying a rebirth and football at this time really matters out there. The ability to inherit a senior-laden team used to winning will help the veteran coach make this transition as smooth as possible. 

 

5. How many passes will Columbus High throw this season? 

 

Randal Montgomery is the new head coach at Columbus High after three highly-successful seasons at Hazlehurst. 

 

Montgomery won with a high-octane spread offense. The Indians scored 74 touchdowns in an MHSAA South State Class 3A championship run last season. Montgomery has indicated he will bring a similar offensive approach to Columbus.  

 

The offense should certainly thrive in a situation where more depth provides more players and more options. 

 

Last season, Trace Lee was the lone Columbus quarterback on a squad which finished 4-7. The Falcons were limited with back-up options and those who did back up were seniors. So the first mission of spring practice and summer camp will be finding someone ready to throw the football. 

 

Columbus should be able to compete in MHSAA Class 6A, Region 2 play. However, the Falcons will be learning a new system on offense and defense. It will also be happening with a bunch of new faces. 

 

So let's make this one a dual question -- How many passes by the Falcons and who will be throwing them? 

 

Scott Walters is a sports reporter for the Commercial Dispatch. He may be reached at swalters@cdispatch.com. Follow him on Twitter @dispatchscott.

 

Scott is sports copy editor and reporter

 

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