August 29, 2017 7:34:05 PM
Seconds after Noxubee County knocked off Columbus 34-9 Friday night in Macon, Noxubee County head coach Tyrone Shorter uttered the phrase the rest of Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA) Class 4A doesn't want to hear.
"I really like this team."
Shorter has never been one to sugarcoat anything, whether it be the weather or his team's play. When the veteran coach speaks, every word is measured. It may be his true thoughts on a situation or it may be words put together to send a message to his team.
Regardless of the theory behind it, there is no arguing Shorter's success. He was an assitant coach on the Noxubee County state championship team in 2008 and has since won three titles (2012, 2014 and 2015) as the school's head coach.
There is one irony linking each of those state championship teams. Shorter liked each of those teams, as well.
"The best thing about playing for coach Shorter is you always know where you stand," Noxubee County junior Kyziah Pruitt said. "Every player knows on a daily basis where they stand."
When Noxubee County does not play well, Shorter lets his team know it and then will address the media and take the blame for his team's shortcomings.
As down as Shorter was after Noxubee County opened the season with a 43-3 loss to Starkville, he was on the other end of the spectrum after a dominating performance against Columbus.
The Noxubee County defense forced 11 sacks and held Columbus to 74 total yards.
Shorter called his front four "the fastest he has ever coached."
After a dominating win over a Class 6A team, the players said the right thing.
"One game at a time." "Chance to be special." "Haven't done anything yet." "This is what we are capable of doing."
Shorter talked about the speed of his defense. He talked about not raising a ruckus at practice. He talked about the flashes shown so far by the offense. He talked about having a killer mentality and dominating Columbus for four quarters. He could have stopped right there with sufficient analysis of the game.
Then on two separate occassions he came back to the phrase "I really like this team."
During his sophomore season, Noxubee County quarterback Timorrius Conner said Shorter came to him after a four-interception night and told him to keep his head up and that he was going to be a star.
Pruitt said after not playing in a season-opening jamboree in his ninth grade year, Shorter came to him and told him he was going to save his big plays for games that counted.
Sure enough, Pruitt did just that with a fumble return touchdown later that season in a state championship win over St. Stanislaus.
"Best motivator I have ever seen," Noxubee County junior quarterback Maliek Stallings said. "He doesn't say things twice. You get the message the first time."
Noxubee County has traditonally played the most difficult schedule in the state. The Tigers have front-loaded their schedule with Class 5A and Class 6A powers, and have even gone out of state when someone in-state won't return Shorter's calls.
This season, Noxubee County follows its first two games up with a road trip to Shannon, a road trip to Meridian, a home game with West Point and a road game at West Monroe, Louisiana. Sounds a little insane to most.
However, there is a reason. The Tigers are alwys battle-tested and have no trouble ripping through Class 4A, Region 4 play despite starting most often either 2-4 or 3-3 after six games.
"Each year, we put our kids in a position when it comes time for the playoffs," Shorter said. "You play these types of games to learn from the experience. You have to grow up fast. That is the type of program we have around here. We don't back down from anyone."
Inside the region, Noxubee County has won 26 games, with the last loss being in 2011.
By winning the region all of those years, the Tigers have a huge advantage in the playoffs. More often than not, it has worked out with the team bringing home the gold ball. Only the young Noxubee County squads of 2013 and 2016 fell short of the lofty expectations.
Again when that happened, Shorter took the blame and talked about ways to become a better football team in the year ahead.
That year ahead is here now. The sophomores of a year ago have been well fed in the time that has past. The weight room has been visited as well.
There is an expecation. It's now a state championship or bust mentality in Macon.
Somewhere along the line for the four state championship teams, something clicked. A defense became salty. An offensive line grew together. A quarterback grew up.
As you watch Noxubee County this season, look for more of the same. The evolution from good to great is ongoing. Friday night was merely a step in the process.
Shorter likes his team. That is bad news for the rest of Class 4A.
Scott Walters is a sports writer for The Dispatch. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @dispatchscott.
Scott is sports copy editor and reporter
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