November 13, 2009 9:07:00 AM
Ever since the start of practice in August, the Green Wave have been focused on winning a state title.
The championship would be the program''s first since 2005, and it would give seniors like Xavier Hogan and Jeremy Cannon a chance to leave a permanent mark -- not one left in magic marker -- on the program.
Hogan, Cannon, and the rest of the Green Wave will begin that journey at 7 tonight when they play host to Canton (4-7) in the first round of the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 5A North Half State playoffs.
West Point (10-1) rebounded nicely from a season-opening 27-20 loss at Shannon to win its final 10 games. The winning streak helped the Green Wave accomplish two more goals: a perfect record in the district and a district title.
But West Point coach Chris Chambless said there are bigger things in his team''s sights now.
"We''re trying to reach our goal (winning a state championship)," Chambless said. "We have to stay focused on our task at hand. Our best practices of the season have been in the past two weeks. We are clicking, and I hope it stays that way."
Hogan and Cannon will do their best to make their final season one to remember.
A knee injury has forced Hogan to miss parts or all of five games this season. Despite not being able to go all of the time, Hogan has put that behind him and is ready to take things to the next level.
"I am just blessed to be playing now," Hogan said. "I am thinking about state right now, so I have to play."
Hogan injured his knee against Columbus, but he said he didn''t realize the severity of the injury until later in the season. He returned to the lineup against Clarksdale and said he will do his best to put his knee out of his mind because he knows the Green Wave have goals to realize.
"It felt great to be back out there," Hogan said. "I felt like a new man to be back out on the field for a whole game.
"All of us have the same hunger for state. There is something about it. There is something about this year. All of us can feel it in us that we''re going to go to state."
Chambless said Hogan isn''t able to play as big a role physically as he did last season. He said the senior running back has become a bigger vocal leader and has helped provide additional leadership, which has helped keep the team focused.
"He has not in any way shown frustration to the team or the coaches. He is happy-go-lucky Xavier and has worked hard and is leading by example and verbally," Chambless said. "He really hasn''t missed a beat. He knows his role and does it so well."
The maturation of junior quarterback Justin Cox and the play of junior running backs LaKenderic Thomas and Jacoby Lee have allowed the Green Wave to keep churning out the yards without Hogan in the lineup.
Chambless said it helps that this year''s team is the closest bunch he has had in his time as head coach at the school.
Cannon has helped build that team chemistry on defense. After playing running back last season, Cannon has transitioned nicely to the secondary. Chambless said Cannon can play safety and cornerback and is a strong verbal leader on defense.
"His motor runs all of the time," Chambless said. "When your motor runs all of the time, it makes it easier for the rest of the players. He does a good job of leading by example."
Cannon said the Green Wave have done their best to make up for not having Hogan in the lineup. He said he and his defensive teammates follow a simple plan: If opponents can score, they can''t win.
The Green Wave will put that to test tonight.
"We all have the same intensity. We want to come out and do our best," Cannon said. "We don''t want to go home because we went home in the first round last year. This is our last chance to get a ring, and we''re going to give it our all to get it."
Injuries played a role in West Point''s 13-0 loss to Lafayette last season. Cannon said he had a "sick" feeling after the first-round loss and that he and his teammates set out in the offseason and in the summer to make sure it didn''t happen again.
Their push to the playoffs has included a defensive effort that has limited opponents to 135 points.
Tonight, Cannon and his teammates will make sure they give everything they have to take another step toward their goal.
"We''re going to play like a family," Cannon said. "We''re one unit. A lot of folks around here said we''re not going to make it to Jackson because we have a young squad, but all we know is to play football. We are not looking out for one. All of us are looking out for each other."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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