August 22, 2014 11:36:07 AM
WEST POINT -- It's time for fans of the West Point and Grenada high school football teams to meet the replacements.
When the Green Wave and Chargers open the season at 7 tonight at West Point's McAllister Field, one of the biggest factors in the outcome could revolve around players who won't be on the field.
For West Point, the Reigning Mr. Football in Mississippi, tailback Aeris Williams, is at Mississippi State, signaling a new era in the Green Wave backfield. For Grenada, Division I signees Shareef White and Genard Avery are linebackers at Memphis.
It's a new day for both programs, which haven't met in the regular season in the past 15 years. The Chargers, coming off a 9-3 season under coach Ashley Kuhn, must replace 24 seniors, while coach Chris Chambless and the Green Wave will replace 28.
"I think both teams lost a lot of players, a lot of depth," Chambless said. "But both programs are solid enough that there's plenty of talent still here. I know it's always hard to replace guys, especially early in the year, but I know we feel good about this team and I'd bet Grenada feels pretty good, too."
The Chargers have been on a steady upswing since Kuhn's arrival. After going 4-7 in his first season, Grenada won nine games in 2013, losing only to Class 6A powers Tupelo, South Panola, and Starkville. Behind White and Avery, the Chargers surrendered 15 points per game and held teams to single-digit point totals four times.
Offensively, Grenada returns its two leading rushers from a year ago, a pair that combined for more than 2,000 yards and 16 touchdowns. Tailback Kesner Spencer rushed for 1,290 yards and 11 scores and averaged 9 yards per carry. Backup Devarius Bridges, a junior, added 792 yards and five touchdowns.
"They've got some very talented backs," Chambless said.
Replacing a talented back is critical to West Point's chances this season. Williams, who rushed for 1,697 yards and 21 touchdowns, leaves a void Chambless said "can't be replaced by just one guy. But I like the kids we have."
Taking his shot at carrying the torch will be senior Lacequiu Starks, a 5-foot-8, 180-pound tailback who rushed for 87 yards on 14 carries in q 7-7 tie against Louisville last Saturday in a preseason jamboree at Mississippi State's Davis Wade Stadium.
"I don't really look at it like I'm replacing anybody," Starks said. "I'm just trying to be the first me."
Starks' development, and solid play from quarterbacks Dason Thomas and Josh Ewing, will go a long way to helping West Point improve on a 7-5 season in 2013.
As far as game plans go, there won't be any surprises. Kuhn, in his fourth season at Grenada, and Chambless have a lengthy history, one that includes a three-year stint at West Point. Kuhn was the Wave's offensive coordinator during West Point's 2005 state championship run, Chambless was the defensive coordinator.
"We are still very good friends. Our families are close," Chambless said. "We've known each other for a long time, and whenever you go up against a team coached by Ashley, you have to be ready for a war. They will be well coached and motivated."
Chambless, who was hired as West Point's coach in the spring of 2006, has 88 wins in eight seasons, while Kuhn has a record of 48-26 in six seasons as a coach at Grenada, Itawamba AHS, and Durant.
Tonight will mark the first regular-season meeting between the two friends.
"It's not about us, it's about the kids," Chambless said. "But, at the same time, it's fun competing against a guy like Ashley because I know how good of a coach he is, and I know how well we're going to have to play to win the game."
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brandon Walker on Twitter @BWonStateBeat