November 30, 2017 10:25:49 AM
MACON -- Tyrone Shorter remembers the conversation well.
Earlier this season, after the death of offensive coordinator James Patterson hit the Noxubee County community and the high school football team hard, wide receiver Kyziah Pruitt came into Shorter's office in the field house. The Tigers were still dealing with the loss of Patterson as well as the departure of three other coaches, including longtime offensive line coach Michael Ashford.
Needless to say there was plenty of uncertainty surrounding a program that had won state championships in 2008, 2012, 2014, and 2015.
"What are we going to do, coach?" Shorter recalls Pruitt asking him.
Shorter didn't let on that he, too, had concerns about how the Tigers were going to move forward without Patterson, who had worked at the school for 37 years and helped the football team leave behind a past of winless seasons to become one of the state's strongest programs. That's why he reassured Pruitt he was going to find replacements who could help Noxubee County remain one of the best teams in the state of Mississippi.
Shorter found those coaches in co-offensive coordinators Teddy Young, a former Noxubee County player, and John Sallis, a former head coach at Leake Central. Shorter also found motivation in the loss of Patterson. The Tigers have used the memory of their longtime coach as fuel to get back to the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 4A State title game. No. 1 seed Noxubee County (10-4) will look to win its fifth state championship at 3 p.m. Saturday when it takes on East Central (13-0) in the Class 4A State championship game at Ole Miss' Vaught-Hemingway Stadium in Oxford.
Shorter said a victory would be a fitting way to cap a season the Tigers have dedicated to Patterson, who died March 18.
"I want to say Terry (Joiner) or one of the seniors said, 'This season is going to be dedicated to coach P,' " Shorter said, thinking back to the start of spring practice. "Coach Patterson was part of this program when we went five years without winning a game. We talked about that and how miserable it was. Now look at the program."
Shorter said he had a feeling something was wrong with Patterson, but he didn't know for sure. He said he didn't find out until Patterson talked to him in February in his office. Shorter has a framed picture of him and Patterson in his office. The picture, which was taken with the team's latest championship rings, used to hang on the wall in the field house, but Shorter said he had to take it down because the players used to touch it so often before taking the field that it fell and the frame broke.
That doesn't mean Patterson is forgotten. In fact, Shorter said the Tigers have been motivated to keep Patterson's legacy alive. He said the players break down huddles with some soft of tribute to Patterson. The latest is, "1-2-3 Champs; 4-5-6 coach P."
Shorter said Patterson's brand of tough love earned him the respect and love of the players. He remembers a man who loved to smile, had countless sayings, and always seemed to have a CD or a movie to give to somebody.
Shorter said Noxubee County's 35-28 victory against Louisville at Tiger Stadium in Macon was an "emotional" night because Patterson talked to him about how he knew Noxubee County had the talent and potential to win a state title in 2017. That meeting happened in Atlanta, where Patterson was receiving treatment. Patterson's words have stuck with Shorter through the ups and downs of a season that have at times frustrated him, but Patterson's resolve and strength have kept Shorter focused on realizing the goal of his longtime friend and coach.
"When I first got here 20 years ago, he opened his arms and welcomed me into this program," Shorter said. "He used to always tell me, 'You're going to be a good coach, boy.' He told me he liked my passion and that I wanted to learn. Once of his favorite saying is, 'I have forgotten more football than some of y'all young coaches.' That is what he used to tell us when we were coming up.
"Coach Patterson was just a funny guy. He was a guy everyone loved to be around."
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino in Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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