February 7, 2019 2:32:08 AM
Adam Minichino - [email protected]
Championship programs have plenty of caretakers.
Usually, the coaches set the tone and establish a culture that demands excellence. If coaches do things correctly, their student-athletes -- namely their seniors -- follow their example and take ownership in the program. As a result, missed reps in the weight room or less than 100 percent effort in practice aren't tolerated.
Nowhere is that more apparent than at West Point High School. Led by Chris Chambless, the 10-time state championship football program thrives thanks in part to its attention to detail, its love for training and conditioning, and its relentless desire not to be outworked.
The fruits of those labors were realized Wednesday, as 11 members of the 2018 MHSAA Class 5A State championship team signed to continue their football careers in college.
As impressive as it was to see all of those student-athletes and their families take their turns on the stage in the West Point High auditorium, it was even more special to talk to Ezekiel Head and Ke'Aris Smith about how both of them came to earn opportunities to attend East Mississippi Community College in Scooba. It was equally eye opening to watch Ryan Melton, who was slated to sign with South Alabama, and Brentt Cunningham talk with Chambless about the details of sending Cunningham's National Letter of Intent to USA.
There was no whiff of "me" from Head or Melton. Instead, both young men took active roles in helping their teammate get an opportunity to play at the next level. For Head, it meant encouraging the EMCC coaches to watch film of Smith on Hudl. For Melton, it meant advising Cunningham what to do with his NLI and telling him to send it to him so he could forward it to the coaches at USA.
Sound like minor details? This reporter hasn't heard many examples of players actively helping their teammates get an opportunity at the next level in 26-plus years. It doesn't mean it hasn't happened, but it shows how much respect Chambless has throughout the state of Mississippi and how much college coaches believe in his kids.
"We haven't had a lot of offensive linemen move on to the next level," Chambless said. "I don't know why because we are just as physical as anybody else. The size thing has to do with it and all of these recruiting rules they go by and everything, but I talked with (EMCC) coach (Buddy) Stephens about (Ezekiel) and a couple of other guys we have. They watched his film and EMCC is very excited to get him. They even told him, 'You're a must-get for us.' They're looking for him to come in and play and make a lot of the line calls up front. He is looking at it as an honor to be able to do that. He is one of our hardest workers."
Still, it took Head recommending tape of Smith, who is 5-foot-10, 282 pounds, to the EMCC coaches before his teammate landed an opportunity to go to Scooba.
Chambless said the Green Wave have more caretakers than Head and Melton, which explains why the program is so successful. In football, winning isn't a "me" thing. It takes 11 players working together in the offseason to build trust. Excellence requires 11 players to go at full speed in practice to maximize the chances for success. Championships are realized when the players embrace those concepts and football become a "we" thing and it doesn't matter who gets the yards or the touchdowns. The end result is the only thing that matters.
On Tuesday, the sounds of West Point players working out in preparation for the 2019 season could be heard as Chambless examined Cunningham's NLI and Melton looked over their shoulders. On Wednesday, an auditorium filled with family, friends, and coaches celebrated that attention to detail.
In a few years, some of those younger players who were working out will become the next caretakers for a program that will continue to roll along.
"He cares about his teammates," Chambless said of Head. "EMCC saw in him grit and determination and plus he can roll you off the football, which always helps.
"Ryan has a great work ethic. He is one of those guys who is first in here and last to leave a lot of times. Being a coach's son helps. I remember Ryan when he was born. He has been a fixture around here. We're going to miss him. He is extremely smart. He just wants to do there right thing, but he is a great athlete. He is going to do very well. Ryan's also a caretaker. We were in here a while ago and Ryan and I were talking about Brentt going with him to South Alabama. He was talking about how he is going to take care of Brentt. That sums him up right there."
Adam Minichino is the former sports editor of The Dispatch. You can reach him by email at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @ctsportseditor.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.