Noxubee County High School football coach Tyrone Shorter, facing camera, hugs one of his assistant coaches as both men are about to have the contents of a cooler dumped on them following the team’s 41-35 victory against East Central in the Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA) Class 4A State championship game on Dec. 2 at Ole Miss’ Vaught-Hemingway Stadium in Oxford. Photo by: Stan Beall/Special to The Dispatch
December 23, 2017 10:50:48 PM
MACON -- Tyrone Shorter was searching for answers.
Five games into the 2017 season, Shorter didn't know if the Noxubee County High School football team was going to realize its potential. Through the first five games, Noxubee County allowed 152 points, which was the most points it surrendered in that span since it gave up 174 in 1995. In the last 14 years, the Tigers have allowed more than 96 points in their first five games only twice (133, 2016).
On top of a defense that was struggling to find its footing, Shorter also was dealing with an offense that had plenty of playmakers but wasn't clicking. Prior to his team's final non-region game against West Monroe (La.) High, Shorter finally listened to his gut and made a move he hoped would reverse his team's fortunes.
Even though Noxubee County lost to West Monroe 38-26, Shorter liked what he saw from senior Armoni Clark at quarterback. Clark and junior Maliek Stallings split time at quarterback through the first four games, but Shorter believed Clark's poise and maturity would help the Tigers get back on track.
Two-and-a-half months later, the same Shorter who looked so frustrated in September sat on the couch in his office and looked relaxed. Across from him, the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 4A State championship trophy stared back at him. To his right, a picture of Shorter and longtime offensive coordinator James Patterson rested against the wall. The death of Patterson in March proved to be the beginning of a journey filled with ups and downs for Shorter that culminated with a 41-35 victory against East Central on Dec. 2 at Ole Miss' Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.
The victory helped the Tigers (11-4) finish the season on a nine-game winning streak and capture their fifth state title, and third in the last four years. The championship is Shorter's fourth as head coach since taking over the program in May 2010 for longtime coach M.C. Miller.
For his accomplishment, Shorter is The Dispatch's Large Schools Coach of the Year. He is sharing the award with West Point High's Chris Chambless, who led his team to the MHSAA Class 5A State title.
Despite leading a program with so much tradition, Shorter said the 2017 season was his toughest as a head coach.
"Losing coach Patterson was shocking," Shorter said. "Shortly after that, I had three more coaches tell me they were taking different jobs. It seemed like everything hit me all at once."
Shorter moved former Noxubee County High football player Teddy Young to offensive coordinator. He also hired John Sallis to replace offensive line coach Michael Ashford and to work with Young to run the offense. Shorter admitted it took time for the coaches and players to adjust to each other. He said it seemed like "everything was just fighting against each other" before he played a hunch and to go with Clark and stop rotating the quarterbacks. The decision moved Stallings to cornerback and wide receiver and solidified the Tigers' depth in the secondary and gave them another weapon to go with senior wide receiver Rashad Eades and junior wide receiver Kyziah Pruitt.
"That game in Louisiana, even though we lost I felt really good," Shorter said. "I saw what I needed to see in that game. Ever since that game, we took off."
Clark was 28-for-39 for 472 yards and three touchdowns in the state title game. The game-winning touchdown was a 10-yard pass from Clark to Stallings.
"It was a great move by the coaches," Clark said. "When coach Shorter put me at quarterback, it gave us another athlete for our offense. With me at quarterback, I took what the defense gave me. I didn't try to make something harder than what it was."
Clark said Shorter's work with him started in the spring when he told him he could win the job if he acted like he wanted to be the starter. He said Shorter continued to preach to all of the Tigers to "believe in the system" and to play their roles to help the team realize its goals.
Shorter said he didn't think Noxubee County would have won a state title if he hadn't decided to go with Clark as the team's only quarterback. He said he didn't feel the offense was working, so he opted to go with Clark in hopes he could find his rhythm and that his calm demeanor would be what the Tigers needed.
Shorter said he didn't have any second thoughts about the move, but he said it was a tough decision because Stallings will return next season and could be in the mix to play quarterback in 2018. That's why Shorter said he had to be careful not to damage Stallings' confidence and to convince him he could contribute in several other ways to help the Tigers.
"The only thought that went through my head is am I going to lose this kid or is he going to be a team player and do whatever he needs to do to make this team better," Shorter said. "It was kind of tough on him. I could tell the first couple of days he didn't like it. He wanted to be the quarterback, but it ended up playing out like it should have from the beginning. If Armoni had played his sophomore year, we wouldn't have had this conversation.
"It took a full season for Armoni to get back to where he is now. ... Maliek settled in at receiver, and he liked the fact he was playing on both sides and he didn't leave the field."
Clark, who didn't play football as a sophomore, completed 62.4 percent of his passes, threw for 2,863 yards, and had 33 touchdowns (eight interceptions). He said
While moving Clark was the biggest position change, Shorter said plenty of other players changed positions, which forced him to play roles of father, counselor, and coach to get everyone to get on the same page.
"We had so many guys that wanted to play this position or that position," Shorter said. "Our center, Michael Barber, during the spring he played linebacker. We went to a different style of offense and we needed a long snapper and he was just messing around and we saw Michael could snap. He didn't like moving to the offensive line, but that was an example. I told him it wasn't what he wanted to do, it was what was best for the team. He is the type of kid who said, 'Yes sir.' He did a great job for us as a 190-pound center. We had to move a lot of guys around that weren't used to play certain positions, but this year was that year. It was my most challenging year as a head coach because I had to play all of those roles."
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Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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