December 24, 2010 6:28:00 AM
WEST POINT -- Ask West Point High School football coach Chris Chambless how much credit he deserves for the Green Wave''s return to dominance and he''ll deflect the praise toward everyone but himself.
Indeed, there''s more than one person responsible for leading the Green Wave to their second straight state title, as players, assistant coaches, boosters, parents, and the members of the school''s administration all play a vital role.
The community, often overlooked in building a football program because it''s not directly involved with the school, is probably the most important aspect in West Point''s success, said Chambless, The Dispatch Large School''s All-Area Football Team''s Coach of the Year.
The West Point community influences future Green Wave players from Day 1, encouraging young men to become local football standouts that most communities don''t have.
So when Chambless thinks about the challenges of his job, he knows he has the help of a school system and town.
"I''ve heard other coaches talk about their communities being a problem, telling kids they can''t do it," Chambless said. "It''ll become a joke to kids if they keep hearing that."
Chambless said the West Point community "breeds football," which instills an early drive to be great on the gridiron.
"You come here on a Tuesday or Thursday in the summer and you''re going to see 200 athletes from seventh grade up in the weight room and outside conditioning," Chambless said. "It''s amazing to be able to see all that. These kids are willing to do what it takes."
Never was that more true than this season in the Green Wave''s Class 5A state title run.
West Point lost the likes of current Mississippi State players Curtis Virges and Michael Carr and four starters on its offensive line.
To repeat as state champion, West Point needed new players to emerge and its talented junior class to provide the same leadership the seniors delivered in 2009.
There also weren''t any guarantees the returning players would approach the season with the same work ethic and determination after the Green Wave captured their sixth state championship.
"You got to preach it everyday to the kids," Chambless said. "You got some lulls during the offseason, during practice, and during the season, but you constantly have to remind them what''s at stake.
"It''s easy for kids to get to the point where they''re just happy playing."
Complacency was never an issue for the Green Wave, whose only setback came at home against Starkville when it blew a 20-0 halftime lead. West Point was fresh off a bye week and a win against Mainland High (Fla.).
West Point responded to the disappointing loss with a win against Class 4A rival Noxubee County, and while the road to Jackson for the state title game looked clear, the Green Wave had close calls along the way.
West Point beat Oxford by two points and escaped Lake Cormorant by just a point. It also trailed Clarksdale 17-13 entering the fourth quarter before earning a 26-17 win.
After a season of close calls, West Point''s easiest task was defeating previously undefeated Ridgeland 47-0 in the Class 5A North State title game.
The Green Wave (14-1) went on to beat Brookhaven 21-3 for their seventh state title, which is tied with Louisville for second most in the state behind South Panola.
"We could have easily finished third in our district," Chambless said. "You''re not gonna be able to become a champion unless you face adversity. Those game made us a better team this year."
Despite the narrow victories, West Point players had an early indication everything would fall into place when they beat Itawamba 35-0 in the preseason jamboree at Davis Wade Stadium in Starkville.
"We knew if we could beat them like that in just a half, we would be fine," senior quarterback Justin Cox said. "We were clicking that day, so that was a really good sign of how things would go."
Cox, who passed for more than 1,000 yards and rushed for more than 1,000, led a backfield that racked up more than 4,000 rushing yards with the help of a dominating offensive line and senior tailback Lakenderic Thomas and Tez Pulliam.
West Point''s formula for success mirrored its ''09 title run, when it had Cox and Thomas leading the ground game and its defense playing consistently. The Green Wave held Brookhaven to 140 yards total offense.
"You start over every year, and the molding of the team is different every year," Chambless said. "How we''ll go about our business will be the same, though. The goals don''t change, either, so you''ll only go as far as your seniors take you. Fortunately, we''ve had some great senior classes step up and lead this team.
"We''ll have a shot if that happens every year."