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Offensive coaches help Tigers get on track

 

Adam Minichino

 

 

MACON -- Teddy Young smiles when asked to relate a story about James Patterson. 

 

It seems fitting Young would react that way about his former coach at Noxubee County High School. Young later worked with Patterson as an assistant coach for the football team before Patterson died March 18.  

 

"He used to tell us we were only running 10 percent of the offense because the players won't let him run the rest of it," Young said. "I learned a lot from coach -- Xs and Ox, life. I played with him. I coached with him. I won the first state championship with him. 

 

"He was a hard coach, a hard coach," Young said, "but once I started to coach with him, I saw another side of him. He was a good man." 

 

That first state championship came in 2008 under former head coach M.C. Miller. The Tigers have since won championships in 2012, 2014, and 2015. No. 1 seed Noxubee County (10-4) will shoot for its fifth championship at 3 p.m. Saturday when it takes on No. 1 seed East Central (13-0) for the Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA) Class 4A State title game at Ole Miss' Vaught-Hemingway Stadium in Oxford. 

 

Young moved into Patterson's role as offensive coordinator in the offseason. The addition of former Leake Central head coach John Sallis gave the Tigers a new offensive line coach to work with Young to develop a scheme that everyone hoped would keep the Tigers rolling. Both coaches admit their were adjustments to be made by players and coaches, but they agree the issues everyone worked through has made the program stronger. 

 

"Following in his footsteps was a lot of pressure," Young said, "but I am blessed with guys that make my job easy. I just study film, and I am blessed with coach Sallis to help me out. 

 

"It was a lot of pressure, but I think I am doing it justice." 

 

Young and Sallis agree they have a good working relationship. Sallis said his primary adjustment was getting to know the kids. He said he relied on Young to speed up the transition, but Sallis acknowledged he and his offensive linemen needed time to get on the same page after the players had gotten used to former coach Michael Ashford. 

 

Once the players "bought in" to his way of doing things, Sallis said the offensive line came together. As a result, Noxubee County rushed for 266 yards in a playoff victory against Amory and 487 yards in a playoff victory against Corinth. 

 

Sallis knew things were moving in the right direction when he was driving the bus home following the playoff victory against Yazoo City and he heard his offensive linemen joking about "steps, steps, steps." Sallis said he believes the most important thing for an offensive lineman is his first step because if that initial move will put him in a position to be successful. 

 

"These last four or five or six weeks we have put up some Noxubee-type numbers, some coach Patterson-type numbers," Sallis said. "We have some adjustments that we have made. We have tweaked some stuff, and we are just going to try to keep going." 

 

Sallis said he knew of Patterson but didn't know him. In fact, he doesn't think he ever met Patterson, but he feels like he knows him because everyone in Noxubee County loves him. 

 

"If his name is mentioned, whoever hears his name there is a smile on their face and there usually is a chuckle or a laugh," Sallis said. "He must have had a million sayings because every time somebody brings his name up, somebody else has a different saying that he had. He was a special man. Anytime you have stayed somewhere 38 years you have touched a lot of lives. If you have stayed somewhere that long, you have to be good at what you do. Everybody who comes back talks about coach Patterson. He was a special man." 

 

Young also coached under former Kemper County coach and current Starkville coach Chris Jones, who runs a lot of the same stuff Patterson ran. He said he feels comfortable running an offense Patterson had a hand in for more than 30 years. Young said it might have been hard to get to know Patterson because he often appeared to be stoic and demanding on the sideline, but he said that was far from the case. 

 

"If you saw him on Friday night, you would think coach Patterson was just mean and tough on the boys," Young said, "but once you got to know him he was one of the best guys you would ever meet. He loved to laugh. He had a big smile, but on Friday night he was all business." 

 

Noxubee County coach Tyrone Shorter has praised Young and Sallis throughout the season. He said he knew following a 38-26 loss to West Monroe (La.) that the offense was close to hitting its stride. Since then, the Tigers have won eight-straight games.  

 

"It is a different offense, too. It is different terminology and different blocking schemes, so once we got that straightened out, we are starting to take off with the offense," Shorter said following the victory against Corinth. "I think the last seven weeks we really have been playing great football." 

 

Shorter also has credited Center Michael Barber, tackles Dequavion Prince and Justin Davis, and guards Anterrious Gray and Ervin Gray for their work to get the running game going. The Tigers' ability to have success on the ground has balanced the attack and taken pressure off senior quarterback Armoni Clark and senior wide receiver Rashad Eades and junior receivers Kyziah Pruitt and Maliek Stallings. 

 

"After the West Monroe game, we knew we had good receivers and a good offensive line and that we could throw the ball," Eades said. "It was confidence in our team. We had to believe in the offensive line and put them on our back." 

 

Gray said the Tigers struggled to run the ball in a 2-4 start in part because the offensive linemen wouldn't take ownership of their mistakes. He said the offensive linemen finally realized the team had a shot to win a state title and began to change.  

 

Young and Sallis said that adjustment was just a matter of time. They said they believed the players would adapt to new concepts and ways of doing things once they realized their new coaches were going to be consistent. Sallis said consistency is crucial because players have to trust their coaches and know they care for them. In this case, it was particularly important because Patterson had earned the respect of the players with his brand of tough love. 

 

"The outside people, it is all about the score and the numbers," Sallis said, "so you have to put up the score and the numbers or it is not Noxubee. That was a concern at the beginning, but I am sure if you could ask (coach Patterson), he would just say as long as they work hard and put the kids in a situation to be good, he wouldn't care. He just wants this place to succeed. You're never going to replace him. We didn't replace him. It may have took two people to fill those shoes. I am in one and he is in one, and we're still not going to replace him because he was obviously that good, and he was obviously good for this place. That is the key. You can have the best coach in America, but if he is not good for that place, it is not going to work, and he was good for this place. 

 

"You think Noxubee County, you think Tyrone Shorter, but you also think coach Patterson." 

 

Said Young, "Everybody adjusted and has learned the system. They know what coach Sallis and I expect. Now we are clicking at the right time. Like coach Patterson always said, we want to be clicking by the time we hit district all the way into the playoffs. That is what we're doing." 

 

Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor

 

Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.

 

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