September 2, 2018 1:10:55 AM
Scott Walters - [email protected]
MACON -- Noxubee County High School football coach Tyrone Shorter is passionate when giving a post-game speech.
There are talking points from the game, reminders about going to church, and encouraging words about staying safe and away from trouble.
On Friday night, Shorter took a tad bit longer because he needed a little help to finish his speech, which included words about his father, Charlie, who passed away unexpectedly last weekend.
Noxubee County lifted their head coach's spirits for a couple of hours with a 34-12 victory against Shannon in its home opener.
"We wanted this one badly for our coach," Noxubee County senior JaQuarius Jamison said. "We all love him. It has been a hard week. He hasn't been with us. This was our way to show our respect for him and his dad. We played our hearts out for him tonight."
Shorter called this past week the "most emotionally draining" in his coaching career. Charlie Shorter spent more than 30 years as a firefighter in Port Gibson. Though he never coached, Shorter relays to his players the lessons taught by his father for so many years.
"My biggest supporter, from pee wee ball, to high school ball, to college ball," Shorter said. "He pushed us to be the best in everything, whatever it was that we (Shorter and two siblings) wanted to do. He taught me how to become a man. What we instill in these young people today, I learned it from him."
Shorter said his players and assistant coaches were the support he needed this past week. During Shorter's post-game speech, things got a tough a couple of times, but senior defensive back Rodney Williams leaned in and hugged him or patted him on the back to keep him going.
"Coach Shorter is such an incredible father figure to all of us," Noxubee County senior Maliek Stallings said. "Hopefully, this was his chance to spend some time with us and hopefully, we made him feel better. His dad was important to him. We just tried to do what we could."
On the field, Noxubee County (2-1) continues to play short-handed. Shorter has several starters still sidelined by nagging injuries. He said this team can rank as one of the best at Noxubee County High when fully healthy. He hopes it can get there before the start of Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA) Class 4A, Region 4 play.
"This team is looking for an identity," Noxubee County senior Keymarcus Jackson said. "We are tying to find out who can do what. This team is just not where we want to be. Different guys are playing different positions. We will get there, though. The attitude is great. We know what can happen."
Ja'Qualyn Smith is doing his part as Noxubee County tries to get everyone healthy. Smith had 19 carries for 135 yards and two touchdowns. His performance in the second half helped Noxubee County expand a 14-12 halftime lead. The Tigers held possession for 24 of the first 32 plays of the second half.
"He took over there in the second half," Stallings said. "When you aren't playing at your best, it's great to have somebody you know who can take over."
Smith has been the focal point of the offense with the passing game stuck in neutral due to injury. Junior Khristopher White started at quarterback after missing the Columbus game. Kyziah Pruitt could have a hand in both passing and catching the ball. However, he remains in a boot for a couple of weeks.
White was 4-for-11 for 19 yards, while Stallings was 3-for-7 for 81 yards.
"Looking for all the pieces," Smith said. "This offense will really be going late in the season."
For now, Noxubee County will fight uphill against one of the state's most challenging schedules. That is nothing new.
Shorter said the team's togetherness is what it allows it to succeed when people are playing out of position. That bond paid another dividend Friday night.
"We got you coach," said Williams, when Shorter had to pause during his post-game speech. "This team will always have you."
Follow Dispatch sports writer Scott Walters on Twitter @dispatchscott
Scott was sports editor for The Dispatch.