August 26, 2014 10:23:40 PM
The time is now for Jay Jay Swanigan.
Maybe that's why the Columbus High School senior gained 10 pounds over the summer. Maybe that's why Swanigan, in his return to Columbus High after playing quarterback at Columbus Christian School has studied more and says he has learned a lot about playing quarterback.
Randal Montgomery would have it no other way. After all, the first-year Columbus High football coach has preached to his players there is no reason why the Falcons can't put their up-and-down past behind them and become a program that can challenge the best in the state.
At 7 p.m. Friday, Montgomery will see how far Swanigan has come and how ready he is to lead Columbus High against Noxubee County in its season opener.
Noxubee County, which is considered one of the favorites in Class 4A, lost to Starkville 51-19 on Friday in its season opener. Starkville is ranked No. 2 in Class 6A in The Associated Press' first prep poll of the season.
Montgomery knows facing an opponent that has a tradition of having explosive offenses and tenacious defenses will present a challenge. But the former Hazlehurst coach has spent the offseason and training camp building his players' confidence. He isn't about to stop now.
That's where Swanigan comes in. After attending Columbus High as a sophomore, Swanigan transferred to Columbus Christian, which was knows as Immanuel Christian at the time. Swanigan showed a strong arm and stepped right in to play quarterback for the Rams, a Class A program in the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools. Swanigan acknowledges that the speed of the game from his private school experience last season is completely different from the speed of the game he has had to adjust to back at Columbus. Still, Swanigan credits Montgomery for working with him and showing him how to dissect game film to find tendencies. He also said Montgomery has worked with him on his technique and his mechanics. He hopes the results will show Friday night.
"I had to grow up a lot. I actually grew up a lot this year," said Swanigan, who is a team captain. "Last year, I used to slack a little and, mainly, do whatever I wanted to do. Now we have a new coaching staff and I know coach Montgomery expects me to be the leader. That's why he gets on me and is so hard on me after every mistake."
Montgomery said Swanigan has grown pretty much every day, which he said is crucial because it takes time for quarterbacks to grow in his system. He hopes a stable of running backs will take a load off Swanigan's shoulders. He believes Swanigan's willingness to get into the playbook, watch film, and practice it will help him execute and lead the offense.
"He put on some weight and worked real hard in the weight room this summer," Montgomery said. "I think he got a little faster. He is a little quicker than when we got here in the spring. He has a great arm. He throws the ball really well, but he needs to keep growing and understanding what defenses are going to try to do against us."
Swanigan admits he is still learning and understanding his reads and the concepts behind the Falcons' schemes. He said his goal is to show he and the Falcons can compete against some of the state's top players and some of its best teams in Class 6A.
Senior fullback Chris Petty is another player who hopes to help Columbus get off on the right foot. Petty will be one of a group of running backs who will help shoulder the role with Swanigan. He said it has been an adjustment learning Montgomery's spread concepts, but he feels the Falcons have worked harder than they have ever worked to make things happen this season.
"It is totally different from last year," Petty said of the offense. "There is a lot of excitement, but there also is a lot to learn. Last year, we didn't run hard or anything because we knew the plays. They were the same plays over and over again. This year, we have a whole bunch of plays you have to learn and you have to do it quick. You don't have time to think. You just have to do it and know what you have to do. It is going to work, but there is a lot of mental stuff, too.
"There are a lot of people doubting us, so we just have to show them."
Swanigan also believes this can be a year Columbus breaks through and gets back to the playoffs. Columbus lost in the first round of the Class 6A North State playoffs in 2012. It failed to reach the postseason in 2013 in Tony Stanford's final season as coach at the school.
"We have the potential to have a really great season," Swanigan said. "Coach really wants us to believe in ourselves. That is one thing with Columbus, not many players believe in themselves. We have never been pushed as hard as coach is pushing us. Now everybody is starting to see he really wants us to be the best we can be. That is what has made us come closer, not as a team, but as a family."
There's no better time than Friday to have that family come together and make its presence known to the rest of the state.
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.