August 14, 2017 10:05:32 PM
Editor's Note: The Dispatch continues its annual look at some of the area's top players. These features will run daily through the start of the prep football regular season Thursday and Friday.
MACON -- Noxubee County junior Kyziah Pruitt feels blessed.
"Playing at Noxubee County and playing for Coach (Tyrone) Shorter is everything to me," Pruitt said. "He is a great coach. He is father figure to us all. This is one of the best places in the state to play. We know how blessed we are to play football at this school every day. It's not something you take for granted."
Pruitt and the Tigers open the season Friday night by playing host to Starkville.
Noxubee County is considered one of the favorites for the Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA) Class 4A state championship this season. If the Tigers win their third title in four seasons, it's a safe bet the 6-foot, 185-pound Pruitt will have a big hand in that success. He plays wide receiver on offense and defensive back on defense.
"I really love playing both ways," Pruitt said. "If I had a choice, I would prefer to play offense. It is more fun when you have the ball in your hands. On defense, it is fun hitting people and making plays there, too. It's a challenge because you always have be up to speed with the tendencies of both sides of the ball for the opponent. It's a lot of fun just being out there with your teammates and making plays."
Pruitt turned heads at the end of his freshman season. In the state championship win over St. Stanislaus, he had a fumble return touchdown. It was the type of athletic play that Shorter now sees on a regular basis.
"Kyziah just makes plays," Shorter said. "It's great to coach a player with natural-born instincts. That is what Kyziah brings to the table every day. He is a hard worker and a leader. There is not a challenge that he doesn't think he can handle."
That mind-set plays well in Macon. Noxubee County always plays one of the most challenge schedules in the state. The 2015 state championship squad started 2-4 but won its final 10 games and the title.
Noxubee County will face Starkville, Columbus, Shannon, Meridian, West Point and West Monroe (Louisiana) before opening defense of its Region 4 championship.
"That is the best part of this program, the schedule you play," Pruitt said. "When you face Starkville, West Point, Columbus, Meridian, you are going to get better. West Monroe won 10 games last season and is one of the top teams in Louisiana. When we play out of the state, Coach Shorter always preaches that we are representing the entire state. We take a lot of pride in that."
A year ago, Noxubee County finished 9-5, losing in the third round of the Class 4A playoffs. A majority of that offensive firepower is back.
"Our goal is always to win the state championship," Pruitt said. "We are trying to be elite on both sides of the ball. We hope to average 40 to 45 points per game on offense. On defense, we want as many shutouts as possible. We have a lot of players back on both sides of the ball. After missing out (on a championship) last year, this team is hungry to go back. The coaches always push us. They talk about the tradition of the program. They talk about the great teams of the past. They challenge us to not be the team to let the community down."
A year ago, Pruitt had 70 catches for 1,248 yards and 14 touchdowns. Those numbers should go up as his friendship continues with junior quarterback Maliek Stallings.
"Kyziah can do anything he puts his mind to," Stallings said. "He is all over the field. He has good hands, size and speed. He is always in a position to make the play. We just have to get the ball in his hands."
On defense, Pruitt had 15 total tackles, an interception and four pass breakups.
Pruitt has quickly emerged as one of the state's top prospects in the Class of 2019 due to his versatility. He knows the hard work is just beginning.
"The main thing from my summer is route running and understanding how to read defenses better," Pruitt said. "There is always so much more you can learn about the game. The recruiting process is fixing to heat up and I am excited about getting started."
As the calls intensify, Pruitt is happy to have Shorter putting things together.
"Extremely blessed to be in this position," Pruitt said. "There is no reason to not work hard and take advantage of it."
Follow Dispatch sports writer Scott Walters on Twitter @dispatchscott
Scott is sports copy editor and reporter
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