August 23, 2018 11:09:21 AM
WEST POINT -- Patience usually brings wisdom.
Listening to Brentt Cunningham, it's easy to tell the West Point High School senior linebacker is a patient person.
"You got to be a patient person to learn the process," Cunningham said.
Last season, Cunningham was a part-time starter on defense for a West Point team that won its second-straight Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA) Class 5A State title. Cunningham had a team-high six solo tackles (team-best eight overall) in a 41-15 victory against Hattiesburg.
This season, Cunningham has moved to the head of the class as a senior. In a program that has won nine state championships, that means more responsibility to set the tone and make sure everyone is following the "team-first" approach. Cunningham understands that attitude means players sometimes have to wait their turns to see playing time. This year's team has plenty of individuals who are taking the next step from little or no action last season to bigger or starting roles in 2018.
Senior Quantaze Powell is one of those players. After making 20 solo tackles (22 overall) in 13 games last season, Powell has changed numbers -- from No. 21 to No. 5 -- and is playing a key role in the secondary for the Green Wave. It's fitting he is wearing No. 5 because Antrayvious Brownlee, someone Powell considers a mentor, wore the number last season.
"I was motivated every day (last season)," said Powell, who grew up in West Point and has been watching the football team since he was little. "I knew my time would come and I had to wait for it."
West Point coach Chris Chambless said his players work hard and do a great job in the weight room. He said they know that preparation off the field and in practice is going to result in an opportunity on Friday night. He said their willingness to remain patient stems from a "team-first attitude" that has been the foundation of the program's success.
"They know who they are playing behind, and year in and year out they try to emulate that guy who is in front of them next year when they are gone," Chambless said. "That is where a lot of our success comes from in what I call pride and tradition. We have some really good, unselfish guys who do wait their turn and know that at any moment they are an injury away being thrown into the fire, much less a year away when a guy graduates."
Junior running back Dantariyus Cannon led the Green Wave to their 29th-straight victory with six carries for 118 yards. His effort was part of a 522-yard performance. Ten players ran the ball, while seven caught passes and three threw passes. Senior Kameron Martin ran for 74 yards and scored three touchdowns. Latarius Embry had a 63-yard interception return for a touchdown.
Martin waited his turn last season behind 1,000-yard running backs Marcus Murphy and Chris Calvert as well as seniors Nate Montgomery and Archie Moore. They were four of 27 seniors on the 2017 squad.
Embry played in seven games last season and made 13 tackles. Cannon appeared in four games and had eight carries. Each player is expected to play bigger roles this season. Chambless acknowledged the program's tradition helps, but it doesn't guarantee things are going to get done and that the players are going to follow a plan.
"The locker room leadership and the team leadership is what is going to make you or break you," Chambless said. "We're real big on everybody plays a role, no matter what. We don't want you to lose sight of that purpose, no matter what it is. Our team leaders do a great job of controlling things like that."
Jimothy Mays, a 5-foot-10, 175-pound running back, grew up in West Point, so he, too, knows the program's tradition. He also watched brothers Roger Thomas, who was a senior in 2013, and Terence Cherry, who was a senior last season, make their marks.
"I have wanted to play for West Point since I was a little kid," said Mays, who has been playing football since he was 8 or 9 years old. "Now, I get the chance to do it and make the best of it."
Last season, Mays appeared in 10 games and had 33 carries for 207 yards and two touchdowns. Mays said there was a lot of talent, as evidenced by the fact 12 players officially secured opportunities to play football in college on National Signing Day in February. He said he was willing to help the team in any role, and that he was proud to do it. Mays said he focused on making himself better in practice when he went up against the first team offense or defense.
Mays said it wasn't a question of finding ways to stay motivated because he knew he likely wouldn't see playing time with so many experienced and talented teammates at his position. He said knowing he was going to "get his shot" helped him stay mentally and physically engaged.
"I was going to keep pushing and wait my turn," said Mays, who had six carries for 85 yards and a touchdown against Columbus. He said the season opener was "fun" and that he experienced a sense something was "finally" happening. But Mays said he also felt pressure because this year's team wants to win three-straight state championships. He said he tried to stay relaxed and focused on doing his thing to help the team.
"It was a great game," Mays said. "I am proud we won. We are in Louisville week now. We are going to have to come out, play ball, beat Louisville."
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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