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Walters column: Noxubee County rarely backs away from challenge

 

Scott Walters

 

Noxubee County High School football coach Tyrone Shorter will never be accused of taking shortcuts. 

 

As he begins his fourth season as coach of the Tigers, it appears the phrase "easy schedule" will never be in the vocabulary. 

 

After winning the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 4A state championship in 2012, it appeared obvious to all that the Tigers would be in rebuilding mode. 

 

While rebuilding, Noxubee County put together the most difficult non-region schedule in arguably the entire state. 

 

Noxubee County played Starkville, Columbus, Louisville, Aberdeen and West Point -- each of whom made the playoffs the season before. That group included 2012 Class 5A state champion Starkville, 2012 Class 5A North half runner-up West Point and eventual 2013 Class 3A state champion Louisville. 

 

While Noxubee County limped to a 2-3 start, a very young football team learned quickly as defending champions there is no where to hide. 

 

Shorter lined up such a schedule to make sure the team would be ready for Class 4A, Region 4 play. While Noxubee County had some close games early, the Tigers eventually coasted through an undefeated region slate. 

 

This season, Noxubee County will be much older, wiser and battle-tested. The Tigers will again be one of the favorites to win Class 4A. Anyone who watched this team grow up last year knows the capabilities. 

 

Then non-region schedule is once again spectacular with the same set of five teams. This year, Noxubee County will go on the road for four of the five, with the lone home game being against Aberdeen. 

 

That was before this weekend when Shorter and Charleston High School coach Scott Martin had a casual conversation at a coaches convention. Turns out both teams had an open date on Sept. 26. 

 

So Shorter did as one would expect - he offered to play. 

 

"It just all fell into place at the convention," Shorter said. "We both had an opening. The talk turned serious. Now, we are playing. I really think the schedule last year helped our team grow up tremendously. The win-loss does not count against making the playoffs, so I feel like the kids should be challenged. We knew we would take our lumps early last season, but the players really responded. We stressed keeping their heads up. They did just that." 

 

Never mind, Charleston went 12-2 last season and lost to Louisville in the North State championship game. The Tigers had an opening and felt the need to play somebody good - a sixth different somebody good in its non-region schedule. 

 

The good news for Shorter and his crew, it will be a much needed additional home game. 

 

The six Noxubee County non-region opponents combined for a 55-24 record last season. The six teams combined to play 14 playoff games, with only Columbus not qualifying. 

 

"If they ever break the computers out, we will be in good shape," Shorter said. "Strength of schedule will indeed be our friend." 

 

WAIT AND SEE 

 

Meanwhile, Noxubee County's Aug. 22 opener at Starkville High has the folks in Oktibbeha County concerned. The concern centers around the availability of the Starkville High School football stadium. 

 

When the calendar rolled to 2014, Starkville began installing an all-turf field at Yellow Jacket Stadium. The original plans called for the stadium renovation to be complete well in time for summer camps. However, water damage to the field caused some issues with the liner system. Thus, parts of the turf will have to be laid down again. 

 

A couple of additional delays have school officials concerned that the stadium may not be ready for the season opener. The teams played last season in Macon, where Starkville won 17-0. 

 

Clear River Construction of Flowood has the contract for the installation of the turf. At the Starkville School Board meeting Tuesday night, the stadium was discussed. However, no action was taken and school officials are still hopeful that a feverish effort can get the stadium ready for the season opener. An atypically wet summer season continuing would certainly not help in this process. 

 

Starkville athletic director Stan Miller feels like the season opener could draw around 7,500 people. The Yellow Jackets begin the season as one of the favorites in MHSAA Class 6A action. 

 

Starkville then visits Oxford before hosting West Point on Sept. 5. The third home game is the Class 6A, Region 2 opener with Columbus on Sept. 26. Starkville has six of its 11 games for this season scheduled for home. 

 

Shorter said Wednesday night the two schools were already planning to play non-region games against one another 2015 and 2016. He added Noxubee County would be happy to host Starkville this season and then travel there for both of the following matchups. The West Point and Columbus contests could operate the same way. However, this is the second year of the MHSAA realignment, so there is no guarantee that Starkville versus Columbus would again be scheduled in 2015. 

 

In the meanwhile, Starkville High has ceased its season ticket sales at the local school district offices. While keeping the positive attitude, that would appear a major warning sign that a significant chunk of the home schedule is in severe jeopardy. 

 

Starkville could pursue playing games at Davis Wade Stadium. That would be an expensive proposition at best. However, Lafayette County did play an entire home schedule at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium on the Ole Miss campus recently. 

 

For now, the Yellow Jackets will wait patiently and hope for the best. 

 

And in Macon, Noxubee County has no more open dates. Thus the junior colleges around the state can breathe easier. Shorter won't be calling them for a game. 

 

Scott Walters is a sports reporter for The 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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