December 26, 2010 12:29:00 AM
Playmakers have an ability to break a game open in a variety of ways.
Antonio Wilson sparked the West Lowndes High School football team''s attack by running over and around defenders.
Chris Hunter did the same thing for East Oktibbeha County High, throwing and rushing for more than 1,000 yards.
Either way, both players gave defenses headaches all season.
"He is not that big, but he is strong as a bull," West Lowndes coach Bobby Berry said of Wilson.
Said East Oktibbeha coach Randy Brooks of Hunter, "He is a natural leader on the field, and his teammates responded well to him."
For their accomplishments this season, Wilson and Hunter are The Dispatch Small Schools All-Area Football Team''s co-Offensive Players of the Year.
Wilson, a senior, led the Panthers (6-5) with more than 2,000 rushing yards. Even though the season ended with three losses in a row, including a 58-24 defeat to Baldwyn in the first round of the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 2A North State playoffs, Berry said Wilson did everything he could to lead the Panthers.
He said Wilson knew he would be called on to play a big role, so he worked hard in the offseason improving his strength and his conditioning so he would be ready in the fourth quarter.
It helps, too, that Wilson can absorb contact and take the next carry and make a big play.
"His durability is a lot better than you would think it is for his size," Berry said. "He used power and speed quite a bit. He tried to incorporate that into what a good running back could do."
Berry said Wilson mixed an ability to be a speed back who could get to the outside and take the football home and to be a power back who ran between the tackles for hard yards.
West Lowndes High offensive coordinator Todd Stanley said Wilson''s vision and heart often allowed him to make something out of nothing.
"He is a delight to coach," Stanley said. "We tried to get him the ball in a variety of ways. It is amazing to me he was able to get so many yards and touchdowns as he did with people keying on him. It is a testament to his heart, to his vision and to moves that he has that he was able to make something out of nothing. It makes my job easier."
Stanley said Wilson matured into a more vocal leader, even though he kept his quiet demeanor. Berry agreed, saying Wilson does a pretty good job in the classroom, doesn''t get into a lot of trouble, and is more of a leader than a follower.
Wilson did his best to be the man by letting his action speak louder than his words.
"I felt like I had to make things happen because I didn''t want to lose, so I had to step up and be a leader and make things happen for my team," Wilson said. "I felt like I could have done better. I felt like I could have kept my team wanting it more so we could have made it all of the way."
Wilson hopes to play football in college. He said he has received multiple letters from several schools, including Mississippi State, Southern Miss, South Carolina, and Tennessee. He hopes his efforts this season showed someone he has the combination of skills needed at the next level.
"I think I proved I can do more because I ran hard every play and made things happen," Wilson said.
Hunter did the same for the Titans, who finished 4-7 and failed to make the playoffs in Class 1A. His ability to be a running and throwing threat made things easier for Brooks, who juggled duties as head coach and offensive and defensive coordinator.
With so many responsibilities in a game, Brooks said he relied on Hunter to make reads on the field and to suggest plays that might work and to help his teammates get into the right spots.
Hunter gained that knowledge by taking tapes of games home and studying them. Brooks said Hunter''s ability to identify defenses and schemes for the Titans showed an uncommon level of maturity.
"I have heard people say that they do it in the pros and in college, but for a high school kid to take a film home, pour over it, look at it, and make suggestions, that is something I have not seen very much of over the years as a coach."
Hunter shrugged off the work, saying he realized his teammates expected big things from him and that he had to do something to meet those expectations.
"I feel like I improved from last year and did real good," Hunter said. "If my teammates were down, they depended on me to get them back up, so I tried my best to do that and to bring them back."
Hunter plans to compete on the school''s track and field team in the spring. He hopes that training will help increase the amount of exposure he gets to college coaches. He said he would love to play football at the next level, and has received interest from East Mississippi and Itawamba community colleges.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.