September 14, 2018 10:14:10 AM
Adam Minichino - [email protected]
Ezekiel Head has been playing on the offensive line "all his life."
The 5-foot-11, 255-pound senior has been a member of the West Point High School football program nearly as long. That's why the senior is a perfect representative to talk about how West Point has used the two weeks between its first loss in 30 games and its game against Noxubee County at 7 p.m. Friday.
"We needed that break to open our eyes," Head said, referring to a 23-7 loss to Starkville two weeks ago. "It added fuel to the fire. We came out ready to play this week."
Head, who is in his first year at right guard, played backside tight end and right tackle last season as a part of West Point High's undefeated run to its second-straight Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA) Class 5A State title. He said it hasn't been a drastic change from what he is used to doing in part because he said he is just "trying to do whatever it takes to get another championship."
Call Head greedy. He won't mind. Neither will his classmates because they don't want to be the ones to let past West Point High teammates down, let alone people in the community who make the program arguably the best in the state. After winning back-to-back state titles, Head doesn't want his final season to end with anything less than another gold ball, so he is going to set the tone in practice to ensure the Green Wave are working hard every week to get better.
Head said the loss to Starkville was "heartbreaking" and a big eye-opener. He echoed the sentiments of West Point coach Chris Chambless in that the game also was a test of the team's leadership. Head said some players on the team had become "complacent" after opening the 2018 campaign with big victories against Columbus and Louisville. However, he said the loss to Starkville forced all of the West Point players to "step up and speak up."
Listening to Head was a great window into what makes West Point so successful. It's hard to imagine anyone in a program that has won nine state titles could get complacent, but it is easy to read your press clippings and for younger players or new starters to think things are going to be given to them. Instead, every team comes at West Point a little harder because a win against the Green Wave means more, even if it is in a non-region game. It often is a test of strength and will. Throughout the years, West Point has won those battles because players like Head haven't allowed anyone to lose focus on the goal of winning a state title. Nothing else is acceptable, which is why the Green Wave pride themselves on their preparation in the weight room, in the film room, and on the practice field. Short cuts aren't allowed. Overconfidence is the enemy because it prevents the Green Wave from playing to their potential.
"I saw a couple of people taking plays off, not going full speed, not hitting the weight room hard, attitude, coming in sluggish and not with a positive attitude," Head said.
Head said he and his classmates will do their best to ensure complacency doesn't set in again this season.
"All of the complacency this is what it brought, it brought a loss to our year," Head said. "That hurt our seniors, and our seniors are woke now. That feeling of losing, it hurt a lot of us. It hurt me. We're not going to experience that feeling anymore because we know how bad we want it and how hard we worked in the offseason. We are hungry for it."
That is bad news for everyone else on West Point's schedule. Sure, the Green Wave don't have Marcus Murphy or Chris Calvert and several other key performers on both sides of the football. But some of the best teams win in spite of themselves in part because they refuse to lose. You get the sense this West Point team has plenty of guys like Head who aren't going to be denied.
"It should razor-sharp focus, hard working, no plays off," Head said.
Chambless, who listened to some of Head's comments, agrees that this year's group understands a loss in September isn't going to derail the squad's title hopes. He said he is eager to get back into the routine and have the Green Wave establish an even more disciplined approach.
"Our guys are mature enough to realize we have to steadily improve or that is going to be their downfall," Chambless said. "They have bought into that fact, knowing we're never going to be as good as we need to be until we play that last game, hopefully for a state championship."
Adam Minichino is sports editor of The Dispatch. You can email him at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.