September 2, 2010 9:53:00 AM
Tyrone Shorter has seen the opponents come and go.
Whether it has been Aberdeen, Columbus, Meridian, New Hope, or Starkville, to name just a few, the Noxubee County High School football program always has looked to schedule the toughest teams possible.
In the past two seasons, the Tigers'' schedule has been a virtual murderer''s row of bigger and badder teams.
So far, though, Noxubee County is faring quite well.
Coming off victories against Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 6A schools Starkville and Columbus, Noxubee County will continue its run of games against higher classification opponents at 7:30 p.m. Friday when it plays host to Jackson Murrah.
For the Tigers, who are a Class 4A school, the game against Jackson Murrah is the third of four in a row to open the season against Class 6 teams. Noxubee County will play host to Greenville-Weston at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 10.
A game against MHSAA Class 5A defending state champion West Point follows on Sept. 17 before the team takes a "break" to play host to Memphis Sheffield on Sept. 24.
Those games set the table for the Tigers'' District 4 opener against Kosciusko on Oct. 1.
Shorter, who is in his first year as head coach after taking over for longtime coach M.C. Miller, who is now the head football coach at Louisville High, said the team still might have some bumps and bruises from its matchups against higher classification teams, but he feels games like that are the best way to prepare his team for the stretch run.
"It''s a gamble and it''s a big risk, but by playing those bigger schools, those 6A schools, it prepares you for the district and the playoffs," Shorter said. "Those games are the most important, and we will keep our fingers crossed and pray that we don''t have any serious injuries."
Shorter acknowledges that many of the Class 6A teams on the schedule the past two seasons are bigger, but not necessarily faster than his team. He said while his players might ache a little bit more on Mondays after playing the likes of Starkville and Columbus and West Point, he isn''t going to back down because players are just as likely to get hurt playing against a team from Class 4A or a smaller classification.
He said he will continue to schedule games against higher classification teams because the games provide great tests early in the season and allow him to gauge if the program is going in the right direction.
"I don''t think many 4A schools are going to be as physical or as big as any of the teams we start with," Shorter said.
Shorter said the Tigers first started to make a point to schedule games against some of the state''s biggest teams when Omarr Conner was a quarterback at the school. Back then, the state of Mississippi only had five classifications, which might not have been such a disparity for Noxubee County, which was a Class 4A school for much of that time.
Still, Noxubee County tried to schedule as many larger or traditionally strong schools as it could. Columbus and West Point were common opponents on the schedules in the 90s. The team also played West Lowndes and Aberdeen nearly every year in the mid to late 90s.
New Hope also started to appear on the Tigers'' schedule in 1999, the same year Noxubee County lost to Meridian 16-8 en route to a 3-8 finish. The following year, Noxubee County lost to Meridian 42-0. It also scheduled Horn Lake and Columbus and went on to a 6-6 finish and a first-round loss in the playoffs.
The Tigers have been a fixture in the playoffs ever since. The 2006season, in which the team went 4-5, is the last time Noxubee County has failed to make the playoffs.
In that time, Starkville fell off the schedule, only to re-appear the past two seasons. The growth of New Hope High has pushed the Trojans'' football program to Class 5A, but Shorter said he would love to get NHHS back on its schedule because it would provide another test and would help develop another natural rival that is about 30-45 minutes away.
Shorter said he would like to get as many games against quality programs in this area as possible to limit trips that are as long as Jackson and Greenville. He said he enjoys the competition against those schools and against Memphis Sheffield, but that it makes sense to try to stay closer to home if he can find strong opponents that want to play him.
That hasn''t always been easy.
"One of the reasons we started to play teams in larger classifications was because no one in our classification would play us," Shorter said. "At the time, we were losing to (the teams in the higher classifications), but we could see the program was heading in the right direction. We were competing with those schools and the program got better and better over the years."
Shorter also feels games against larger classification schools help his players remain focused. He said they realize they can''t let up or look past any team on their schedule because each one is capable of beating them. Through two games, though, the Tigers have shown they are up to the task. Shorter said he has tried to use as many players as possible to develop depth for later in the season. The tests against bigger schools gives younger players an added edge because they are competing against players who often are bigger, faster, and stronger than them. Those battles make them work harder in practice and on their conditioning so they can earn more playing time, Shorter said.
"I always believe the more depth you have the better your team will be," Shorter said. "Playing against bigger schools is giving these kids a lot of confidence. Even though they''re making mistakes, the kids are going 100 percent. I like the direction the team is going. The kids are getting a lot of experience, and we might have to use some of these sophomores later on in the year, so I am happy they''re getting some touches."
Quarterback and running back are two areas that are benefiting from the competition against bigger schools. Shorter said the rotation of junior Jared Johnson and sophomore Deangelo Ballard has allowed him to use a better passer (Johnson) and a better runner (Ballard) in different situations to give each player a taste of the action. He feels both players will continue to develop and make the offense click even better.
Sophomores Darrell Robinson and Antonio Ryland are leading a group of five or six players at running back.
"I like what we see and the way both quarterbacks are playing. The kids have respond to both of them," Shorter said. "They are working really well for us. We have a lot of good, young running backs who are getting their touches, and there are no complaints. We are trying to get as many people involved as possible because you never know who you will need later on."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.