August 19, 2014 10:48:46 PM
MACON -- "This is your team."
The message isn't one solely espoused by Tyrone Shorter. It's likely Shorter is merely one coach in search of leaders who has singled out seniors as the best candidates to fill that role. In Shorter's eyes, Mahlon Robinson, Darrell Brandon, and Wesley Bush are ideal candidates for Shorter this season.
Not only do Robinson, Brandon, and Bush want to make the most of their final opportunity to get a state title ring, they also want to add to the tradition of a proud, hungry, and ferocious Noxubee County High School defense. Whether it is in the secondary or at linebacker, Robinson, Brandon, and Bush will begin that quest at 7 p.m. Friday when they take on Starkville in the season opener for both teams.
"We are trying to get them to take that leadership and to get them to push the other kids and to let the other kids know this is how it has to be," Shorter said. "All three of those guys will be playing college football next year. We want them to be the leaders we need."
Coming off a 9-4 season that ended with a loss to Lafayette County in the Class 4A North State playoffs, Shorter and Noxubee County are re-focused on making another title run, like they did in 2012. To do that, the Tigers will rely on quarterback Timorrius Conner to lead the offense back to its high-scoring ways. On defense, Noxubee County will look to Robinson and Bush to shut down opponents' passing games and Brandon to be at the center of a swarming defense that makes it difficult to move the football.
Even though Shorter admits his team is a year older, it still is young in many ways, especially on paper. But those sophomores and juniors gained valuable experience last season that Shorter hopes three of his seniors can help channel in the right direction.
"All three of those guys are hard-working kids, but they are not vocal," Shorter said. "We are trying to get them to be a lot more vocal. The three of them have been in the fire, so we are trying to get them to be the leaders to the young kids we have on defense."
Robinson said it is great to be in a position to be counted on to be a leader. He agrees he might not be one of the team's most vocal players, but he said he will lead by example to help set the tone for his teammates.
"I think I play better when I am a relaxed athlete," Robinson said. "I like to be sound. It pumps everybody up."
Robinson has the confidence the Tigers' secondary will be up for the challenge this season. That group will be tested immediately against Starkville on Friday. Senior Brady Davis, a transfer from New Hope High, has plenty of weapons, so Robinson and his teammates will have to be ready. Shorter said he has so much confidence in members of his secondary that he could opt to play a lot of man-to-man coverage to maximize the amount of pressure the front seven can generate on the quarterback.
That doesn't bother Robinson.
"That puts a lot on our backs just knowing he has that much trust in us to be those guys," Robinson said. "I think I can live up to the full potential of that."
Brandon agrees "it should be a little easier" to step into a bigger leadership role now that he is a senior. He feels he is ready for that responsibility because he has watched and listened to how previous seniors have led and handled the expectations.
With another year of experience, Brandon feels the time is right for the Tigers to get back to the state title game, which this year will be played at Mississippi State's Davis Wade Stadium in Starkville.
"I am ready for the challenge," Brandon said. "All of the seniors on defense, we are going to lead the team to the most shutouts and victory and the state championship."
That's strong talk, especially when compared to the group from 2012 that was led by current Southern Mississippi standout defensive lineman Dylan Bradley. But Shorter isn't putting it past this year's defense to eclipse the 2012 bunch. After everything he saw from the team in the offseason and in the summer, Shorter feels the seniors are prepared to lead the team down the right path.
"They had the right attitude, all of them," Shorter said about what he saw from his team in the summer. "This whole football team has the right attitude. I think they realize how close they were last year, and no one gave them that chance and we still were a game or two away.
"We just feel like this year is our year, and they are working like this year is our year. As a coach, it makes us happy to see them progress so much from last year and to take that step. The expectation is very high. Everybody in this community is talking about we were young last year and we almost got there last year. Now they are expecting us to go. The expectations are high, and there is a lot of pressure, but I am trying to keep the guys as relaxed as possible and to just have fun."
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Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.