The Oxford Eagle - Football Preview 2021

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OXFORD • LAFAYETTE • WATER VALLEY • OLE MISS 2021

FOOTBALL PREVIEW A PUBLICATION OF THE OXFORD EAGLE


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FALL SPORTS PREVIEW 2021


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FALL SPORTS PREVIEW 2021

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INDEX

7 8 10 12 15 16 18 20 24 25 32 35 37 39

Oxford High School Football Oxford Team Preview Player Spotlight: Alex Sanford Player Spotlight: Omar Howell Lafayette High School Football Lafayette Team Preview Player Spotlight: Jay Reed Player Spotlight: DJ Burgess Water Valley high School Football Water Valley Team Preview Ole Miss Football Ole Miss Team Preview

Player Spotlight: John Rhys Plumlee

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Defensive Coordinators Spotlight

FALL SPORTS PREVIEW 2021


STAFF PUBLISHER Rebecca Alexander MANAGING EDITOR Stacy Graning CONTRIBUTING EDITORS Jake Thompson ACCOUNT EXECUTIVES Delia Childers Amelia Miller LAYOUT/DESIGN Allison Dale CONTRIBUTING PHOTOGRAPHER Bruce Newman

Football Preview is published by Oxford Newsmedia LLC. All material in this publication is protected by copyright. We are located at 2714 West Oxford Loop, Suite 161.

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The more things change the more they might stay the same. As we begin another football season in Oxford and Lafayette County, remnants of a unique 2020 season still remain. With the COVID-19 pandemic not over, the potential for another football season without full stadiums and restrictions still looms. For Lafayette Oxford, Ole Miss and Water Valley, the mission has not changed — lift a championship trophy at the end of the season. The mission is one that could be possible for all four programs come December. Last season brought re-alignment in the MHSAA with Oxford and Water Valley finding new homes as they shifted regions. The Chargers, who are searching for a third straight berth to the Class 6A state championship game, will be living on Interstate-55 most of the season as members of Region 2-6A, which includes Madison Central, Clinton, Germantown and Grenada. Tupelo and Starkville also await as new region opponents, bringing new meaning and importance to the annual Little Egg Bowl. The Blue Devils leave Region 2-3A after being a mainstay, shifting to Region 1-3A. New region foes Alcorn Central, Booneville, Kossuth, Mantatchie await Water Valley who is trying to get back to the state championship game after winning it all in 2018. Lafayette stays in Region 1-5A, but welcomes newcomers Cleveland Central, Columbus and Greenville. West Point is once again the measuring stick the Commodores must get past if they want to get to have their first shot at another state championship after climbing the mountain in 2016. Jackson and Veterans Memorial Stadium is once again the goal as MHSAA opted to keep its six state championship games in the capital city for another season. The march begins on Aug. 27 and hopes to continue to the first weekend of December with as few disruptions as possible. At Ole Miss, Lane Kiffin is entering his second season with the Rebels and the expectations are the highest they’ve been in recent memory. With a high-octane offense led by quarterback Matt Corral, the top returning signal caller in the Southeastern Conference, the Rebels have their eyes set on shocking the college football world and getting to Atlanta. In order to accomplish that goal, a porous defense from a season ago will need to drastically improve or Ole Miss will be scoreboard chasing again in many games. Potential for a memorable 2021 season in Lafayette County is there, but many factors are in play both on the field and off. Only time will tell how this year will go, but the fun is soon to begin and the boys of fall are ready. Jake Thompson covers sports for The Oxford Eagle. Contact him at jake. thompson@oxfordeagle.com.

ON THE COVER PHOTO BY BRUCE NEWMAN FALL SPORTS PREVIEW 2021

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OXFORD HIGH SCHOOL

OXFORD FOOTBALL 2021 SCHEDULE Aug. 27

Brandon

Sept. 10 John Curtis Christ (at Shreveport, La.) Sept. 17 Sept. 24 Oct. 1

at Lafayette (Crosstown Classic) Murrah (Homecoming)* Tupelo*

Oct. 8

at Germantown

Oct. 15

at Clinton

Oct. 22

at Starkville (Little Egg Bowl)

Oct. 29

Grenada (Senior Night)

Nov. 5

at Madison Central FALL SPORTS PREVIEW 2021

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OXFORD HIGH SCHOOL

RETURN TO JACKSON ON OXFORD’S MIND IN 2021

By JARED REDDING Oxford Eagle

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ast year’s Chargers proved time and time again that no lead is ever safe and that their 18-point comeback victory in the 6A state title a year prior was not a fluke. It’s just the way head coach Chris Cutcliffe has built his football program going into year six at the helm. With a combined record of 26-2 and a pair of state championship appearances under their belt the last two seasons, expectations have rarely been higher at Oxford. With that comes a bullseye sought after by one of the toughest schedules in the state of Mississippi. Regardless, this year’s Chargers have a team filled with depth, battle tested and poised to make it back to Jackson and win a second gold ball. “We spend a lot of time talking about mental toughness and what that really looks like. One of

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FALL SPORTS PREVIEW 2021

the ways you can build a team like that is to have a connected team. They don’t shy away from challenges, they tackle them head on…our best players have always been our hardest workers. When you have your most talented players setting the tone with their work ethic, I think it really sets you up for success,” Cutcliffe said. In a year filled with uncertainty from week to week, senior Michael Harvey and junior Trip Maxwell held the offense together commendably behind center. Both quarterbacks rotated and played situationally last season before Harvey eventually took the reigns entirely late in the season. Despite this, both have earned the right to see the field and help the team win according to Cutcliffe. “Both of those guys are really talented young men first of all,” Cutcliffe said. “They’re also phenomenal teammates and leaders in the program. They have both earned the respect of their teammates by how they go about their business. All of those things

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Michael Harvey Trip Maxwell Elijah Wadley Roman Gregory Alex Sanford Lucian Giles Omar Howell Austin Smith Malaki Pegues Keegan Wilfawn Jamal Giles Ben Goubeaux Cashe Shows Xavier Lewis Asthen Shorter Jack Harper Peter Grandjean Ty Cohran Ryan Kirkwood Chris Herring Tracy Harris Malique Brewer Kylan Mathis Martavious Blackmon Jabarri Brassell Timothy Hervey Davien Henderson Demonte Mitchell Reaghan Hardin Jabari Turner Jkylen Jones Hayden Moore Jakyren Gillard Ken Herron Christion Underwood Ty Brassell Colin Castle Mikylan Johnson Jaidyn Young Bryce Wicker Jay Brown Blake Sanders London Love Desmond Bowen Mason Nino Tyree Young Javarius McClain Kaleb Loflin Jaheim Jones Charles Campbell Jabari White Trezaveon Campbell Tyren Love Henry Green Charles Cascio Bryce Mullen Stratton Smith Tyler Smith Anthony Robinzine Reese Sams Crishun Mckinney Jamichael Lipsey Lane Robertson Ty’kez Clayton Nelson Barr Jordan Smith Hunter Beard Malik Bell Jaden Smith Drew Saxton Xavier Martin Calvin McGlown Knox McGown Webb Murphey Archer Murphey Rush Harmon Vincent Logan William Wilkinson Cameron Williams Dane Harmon Jameal Johnson Josh Neilson Taylor Scott Kylan Tumblin Jeremiah Morgan Montaine Bonner Jarrett Coleman Ethan Buschlen Jeremiah Weathersbee Brian Perez

Sr. Jr. Sr. Jr. Jr. So. Sr. Sr. Jr. Sr. Sr. Sr. Jr. So. Jr. So. So. Jr. Jr. Sr. Sr. Sr. So. Jr. Jr. Jr. Jr. Sr. Sr. So. So. Sr. So. So. So. Jr. Jr. So. Jr. So. So. Jr. So. So. So. Jr. So. So. Jr. So. So. Jr. Jr. Jr. Jr. Sr. Sr. Sr. So. Sr. So. Jr. Jr. So. So. So. Sr. So. So. So. So. Jr. So. Sr. Sr. Sr. Jr. So. So. So. Jr. Sr. So. Sr. Jr. So. So. Sr. Sr. So.

QB QB DB RB DL DB RB WR DL FB/LB DB MLB/P WR/QB QB WR TE QB LB CB/S OLB WR/RB CB/S MLB OLB CB FS CB/S MLB/TE RB MLB CB OLB CB FS WR LB K WR CB/S OLB RB OLB MLB SS WR CB/S OLB T DL OLB DE DE MLB OL OL OL OL OL DL OL NG DE G OL C T T NG OL G DT WR OLB WR WR/LS WR WR WR/K WR WR TE DE WR NG/DE WR DE OLB TE TE WR

6-0 6-2 6-0 5-9 6-3 5-10 5-10 5-8 6-4 5-11 6-0 6-0 6-1 6-1 6-4 6-3 5-11 5-9 5-11 6-0 5-10 6-1 5-10 6-1 5-7 5-10 5-10 6-0 6-0 5-9 5-4 5-10 5-8 6-2 5-9 5-6 5-9 6-1 5-7 5-7 5-9 5-9 6-1 5-7 5-3 6-0 5-10 5-11 5-10 5-9 6-2 6-2 5-7 6-1 5-10 5-9 6-3 5-11 5-10 5-11 6-2 5-9 6-0 6-2 5-10 6-2 6-1 6-0 6-3 6-3 5-10 6-1

175 180 181 180 230 165 220 150 225 220 177 220 175 172 185 183 160 215 165 187 180 140 173 215 150 145 230 160 160 112 165 125 165 140 175 155 164 170 155 140 165 205 150 110 181 155 200 215 140 215 205 195 192 210 240 280 282 230 270 340 205 225 350 215 290 236 330 300 250 300 160

5-9 6-1 6-3 5-8 5-11 5-11 5-8 6-2 5-10 5-10 5-10 5-9 6-1 5-11 6-1 5-11 5-8

150 180 175 140 145 172 140 205 225 150 220 145 230 160 180 175 160


that it takes to be successful as a quarterback, those guys embody that. I expect them to do the same and be better this year. They have a year of development and training under their belt with a deeper knowledge of understanding what we have to do.” However, they’ll have to adjust to an inexperienced of wide receivers, overshadowed by a trio of Jalen Webb, D.K. Johnson and Jay Wortham, that made up 97 percent of their passing production a year ago. Juniors Ashten Shorter, Cashe Shows, Calvin Mcglown and a handful of others are expected to step up after an offseason full of progress. “One of the things our coaching staff does an excellent job of is coaching all of our players,” Cutcliffe said. “We coach our talent, our starters the same way we’re going to coach a guy who’s coming out for football for the first time. One of the things we’ve really challenged our receivers to do is to make a play. We’re not always going to make the right call or perfect concept. At some point, as a receiver, you have to create separation and try to make a play, a contested catch. We’ve seen that developing with this group and that has really come on.” Luckily for them, top rushers Omar Howell and Roman Gregory are back in the fold to make the transition a lot smoother with a potential ‘thunder and lightning’ approach. Both combined for 1,417 yards on the ground. They will be aided by an offensive line

anchored by veterans Stratton Smith and Bryce Mullen. “A year ago, we rarely had Omar (Howell) and Roman (Gregory) on the field together at the same time. They were both young players. We had a great rotation and complemented each other really well. You’ll definitely see each other on the field together more often. We’ve got some great experience coming back on the offensive line. There’s no doubt that we’re deeper on the offensive line than any team I’ve been a part of at Oxford,” Cutcliffe said. At tight end, sophomore Jack Harper is expected to make an immediate impact with his versatile skillset despite thin depth at the position. Because of this, junior Jamael Johnson will make the transition from offensive line to help him out. Defensively, a unit that changed multiple games last season with timely turnovers, the Chargers return a chunk of its playmakers

while welcoming a few newcomers and first year starters. Leading tackler from a year ago, Alex Sanford, is expected to make a transition to defensive end to open things up for Ben Goubeaux and Martavious Blackmon, transfers from San Jose (Ca.) and Lake Cormorant High School, respectively. “It’s just best for our team right now, for Alex to play on the defensive line,” Cutcliffe said. "Obviously he can do different things, but he’ll being a lot to the table for us defensively. His motor never stops running. We have some guys at linebacker that we’re really confident in, guys that can make a lot of tackles. We try to rotate a lot defensively, especially in the box. We’re going to continue doing that, expecting them to give maximum effort.” Keegan Wilfawn returns as a starting linebacker accompanied by players such as Demonte Mitchell, Chris Herring, Ty

Cohran and Malaki Pegues in the front seven to ensure depth. In the secondary, Elijah Wadley, Lucian Giles and Ryan Kirkwood are also expected to make an impact right out of the gate to help out senior Jamal Giles. With the loss of Jack Tannehill on special teams, sophomore William Wilkinson is expected to handle the kicking duties while Ben Goubeaux handles punts and Lucian Giles competes with others to long snap. The Chargers will have to endure a grueling schedule that not only features 6A Region 2 along with crosstown rival Lafayette, but national powerhouse John Curtis Christian (River Ridge, La.) in the 2021 Battle On The Border High School Football Showcase in Shreveport. “I don’t know if theres a team out there that has a tougher non region schedule than we do,” Cutcliffe said. “John Curtis, what a challenge that will be. Coach J.T. Curtis has been there for 52 years and won 597 games, second most in the history of high school football. They’re a model program nationally. It’s an honor to play against them. Everyone knows how difficult our region is. There’s no doubt about it, the most difficult one in Mississippi. We’re excited about it because it’s a challenge because it makes you play at a higher level week in and week out.” Oxford opens up the 2021 season on August 27 hosting Brandon at 7:00 p.m.

FALL SPORTS PREVIEW 2021

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SANFORD

SET TO EMBRACE NEW ROLE

ON CHARGER DEFENSE By JARED REDDING Oxford Eagle

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lex Sanford still recalls Oak Grove quarterback Kabe Barnett beating him along with other Charger defenders to the pylon, setting up a successful two-point conversion to end Oxford’s hopes of winning back-to-back state championships in Class 6A. It is because of this that Sanford will do whatever it takes to help his team get back to Jackson, even if it means playing a whole different position. “I’ll be wherever the coaches need me to be, like now. I can play anything, I just want to win,” Sanford said. At 6’3”, 235 pounds, Sanford’s gifted physical traits will be utilized to anchor the defensive line this season with the loss of Jamarri Sims on the edge. “I’m handling it pretty well,” Sanford said. “It’s different, but at the same time, it’s not something that I’m not used to. It’s just adversity and that’s something you have to get used to as you progress.” In his team’s spring game against Southaven back in May, Sanford was quick to judge himself despite the sudden move. “Defensively, I want to improve on my mental game,” Sanford said. “In the spring game, I made a lot of mental mistakes, reading an offensive line better, not jumping offsides and stuff like that… even after one bad play. I’m harder on myself than our coaches are harder on anybody. They look at me as a leader. If you look at a leader that is holding himself accountable, that’s what they’re going to do too.” It didn’t take long for his teammates to accept him being an alpha male in the front seven last season, racking 116 tackles, 23 tackles for loss, four sacks, four forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and two blocked punts en route to all-state honors at linebacker. In year two as a defensive starter and with a complete offseason under his belt, Sanford took the initiative to get to know a few new faces at linebacker along with returning players expected to step up and fill gaps as needed. Transfers Ben Goubeaux and Martavious Blackmon are expected to make an immediate impact at linebacker while guys like Elijah Wadley, Demonte Mitchell, Malaki Pegues, Ryan Kirkwood, Chris Herring and Lucian Giles are expected to step up to help out he and

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Keegan Wilfawn on defense. “Ben (Goubeaux) came in right off the bat and got things together quickly. If he sees the ball, he’ll go get it. Martavious (Blackmon) fits in perfectly because he’s a pure athlete. I think we’ll be okay with our secondary. They work hard enough to where they know what they have to do for this season because they didn’t play a whole lot last year. Our sophomore defensive line, they’re going to be really good simply because of Coach (Isaac) Boose. E.J. (Elijah Wadley) reminds me a lot of Tristan (Shorter), but more of a quiet leader and his play.” Sanford said. It’s no secret that the Chargers will have their hands full early and often with a schedule rivaling few in the state of Mississippi in terms of sheer difficulty. Regardless, it is nothing his team can’t handle, particularly his class of players according to Sanford. “My class is just full of dogs,” Sanford said. “Everybody. All we know is go, never backing up. You saw us through the season keep our energy up even when things weren’t going our way. We just have to continue having that dog mentality.”

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HOWELL LOOKING TO DOMINATE IN ENCORE SEASON

By JARED REDDING Oxford Eagle

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enior running back Omar Howell saved his best football for the postseason last year. Down three points against Clinton in the 6A North Half Championship game, Howell simply refused to let his team lose. He took the ball nearly every snap en route to a go ahead score with 3:01 to play and a 218 yard rushing

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performance, giving Oxford a chance to defend their 6A state title. “Coach (Jason) Wilfawn helped me out a lot getting ready for the playoffs with the conditioning and all those things we do together, especially with Roman (Gregory) going down. (Cutcliffe) trusted me, and I just had to go out there and do something, to make a play,” Howell said. Expectations are even higher for Howell in his final ride as a Charger,

not only to replicate last season’s dominance in the second half, but to take some pressure off Michael Harvey and Trip Maxwell’s shoulders, working with a brand new group of receivers. However, he isn’t the only one willing to contribute. “We’re going to try and make Roman (Gregory) an all-purpose back this year, get him involved in the passing game while I try to dominate in the run game, especially in the second half. Tracy


Harris is a blend of both of those, so that’ll really help us a lot. Now that we had a spring, we get to see what he can do. This year, he’ll help us out a lot, especially with our lack of receivers.” Howell tallied 925 yards on 193 carries while rushing for 11 scores last season behind an offensive line that will have two of its leaders, Stratton Smith and Bryce Mullen back in the fold this year. All three headline a senior class that is looking to be just the second class in school history to appear in three straight state championship games. “Our class might not be the most athletic, but we’re probably the hardest working class to ever come through Oxford,” Howell said. “You hear (Cutcliffe) talk a lot, we’re out here every day putting in extra work. There are definitely higher expectations than in previous years. Us as a senior class, we know what we have to do, but at the same time, have fun and not put too much pressure on ourselves.” Looking back on his career at Oxford, nothing has been more impactful than a system in place to create program camaraderie, accountability, sustainability and consistency on and off the football field. “Coach (Cutcliffe) plays a big part in all of this because people love playing for him,” Howell said. “He has us doing certain things that other teams don’t do like our ‘Charger For Life’ program, our leadership council. He makes us do small, mental things that gets us better and bring us together. I think the difference in between these teams and previous teams is that we’ve been more together socially outside of football. That’s what has played a bigger part." It doesn’t get much harder than this season. A transition to 6A Region 2 and a non-region slate with the likes of Brandon, South Panola, Lafayette and national power John Curtis Christian should prove to be a non stop grind from August to November. “I think most of us are excited about the opportunity to be able to play teams of that caliber,” Howell said. “It up to us to send a statement early that we can hang with anyone.”

FALL SPORTS PREVIEW 2021

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Lafayette HIGH SCHOOL

LAFAYETTE FOOTBALL 2021 SCHEDULE Aug. 27

Tupelo

Sept. 3

at Horn Lake

Sept. 10

Southaven

Sept. 17

Oxford (Crosstown Classic)

Sept. 24

at West Point

Oct. 1

Saltillo (Homecoming)

Oct. 8

at Columbus

Oct. 15

New Hope

Oct. 22

at Cleveland Central

Oct. 29

Greenville

Nov. 5

Lake Cormorant (Senior Night) FALL SPORTS PREVIEW 2021

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Lafayette HIGH SCHOOL 1

Tyrus Williams

Sr.

QB

2

Kylan Egerson

Jr.

DB

3

Kylen Vaughn

Sr.

WR

4

Mario Wilbourn

Sr.

LB

5

Jay Reed

Jr.

RB

6

Alex Jones

Sr.

DL

7

Derrick Burgess, Jr.

Sr.

DL

8

Desmond Burnett

Jr.

RB/LB

9

Jamari Logan

Sr.

DL

10 Martrell Wilbourn

So. OLB

11

Sr.

OLB

12 Will Dabney

D’Camron Lipsey

Jr.

QB

14 Braylon Robinson

Jr.

WR/DB

15 Cooper Mitze

Sr.

OLB/TE

16 J’Miere Jones

So. WR/DB

17

Jr.

Trevor Dickerson

LB

18 Charlie Fair

So. QB

19 Jorian Shaw

Jr.

DL

20 Jeremiah Tanner

Sr.

DB

22 Trikyus Woodal

Sr.

ATH

23 Dee Gipson

So. WR

24 Lukas Stupal

Sr.

25 Makyi Reed-Jones

So. WR

26 Campbell Atkinson

So. OLB

27 Slayden Mooneyham

Jr.

DB/WR

28 Colin Christman

Jr.

DL

29 Devin Tanner

So. RB/OLB

21 Jagger Stovall

LAFAYETTE ENTERS THE 2021 SEASON OLDER AND WISER

By JAKE THOMPSON

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afayette knows all too well how their 2020 season ended last November and they do not need anymore reminders. The Commodores had to forfeit their first round playoff game due to a COVID-19 outbreak throughout the program and ending their season without taking another snap. With last season behind them, Lafayette is primed once again for a run at the Class 5A crown and a trip back to the state championship game for the first time since winning it all in 2016. Doing so will require the Commodores to adapt to more off-the-field obstacles put in their path with a key injury. Quarterback Tyrus Williams underwent shoulder surgery over the summer and will miss his senior season. With Williams out it means Will Dabney is now the Commodores leader on offense. The adjustment is not one that will be too daunting as Williams missed spring practices due to playing

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baseball at the same time. Dabney took most, if not all, of the spring snaps under center which puts the offense mostly on schedule. With the offense a year older, it will also help with adapting to Dabney taking over at quarterback. “(The offense) will change a little bit, but it’s not like everything’s back to the drawing board,” said Lafayette head coach Michael Fair. “We were so young in spots last year. We were going into the district championship against Lake Cormorant and we were on the 10-yard line trying to drive in the goahead touchdown in the fourth quarter and just can’t get it done. You look on that field and there’s so much youth and inexperience, even thought it’s towards the end of the year. There’s sophomores scattered all over the field. All the mistakes that were made last year shouldn’t be made this year.” Most of summer workouts and preseason camp were spent working on fixing the details and the little things that can make a difference in converting a game-winning drive and not.

30 Luke Hamm

HB/MLB

HB

31 Emmanuel Wadlington So. RB 33 William Stone

So. TE

34 Hastings Norris

Jr.

35 Kendez Williams

So. DL

36 Jamarian Gipson

So. OLB

37 Radley Hill

Jr.

DL

38 Townes Hogue

Jr.

DB

39 Avery Key

Jr.

FS

40 Jack Wyatt East

So. LS/LB

41 Gage Maness

So. DL

42 Brody Breithaupt

So. OLB

43 Jamari Moore

Jr.

DB

45 Bradley Leslie

Jr.

DB

46 Khyllan Howell

Jr.

OL

47 Jadamien Clayton

Sr.

DL

49 Riley Baker

Sr.

HB

50 Searn Lynch

Sr.

OL

51 Davion Bell

So. OL

52 Derrick Mitchell

So. DL

53 Trey Johnson

Jr.

DL/OL

54 Jaylen Gross

Sr.

OL

55 John Dukes

Sr.

OL

58 Chap Liles

So. DL

60 Tristan Fiew

So. OL

62 Seth Ross

Jr.

63 Jalvin Woodard

So. OL

64 Acy Patton

Jr.

66 Timothy Booker

So. DL

68 JP Swain

Jr.

OL

71

Jr.

DL

Cameron Howard

TE/DL

OL OL

72 Parker Cochran

So. OL

73 Andrew Russell

So. OL

74 Andrew Jordan

So. OL

78 Connor Counts

So. OL

81 Braxton Davis

Jr.

86 Andrew Gibson

So. FS

87 Kody Connor

So. RB

88 Hudson Nelson

So. K

S


The offense has plenty of production returning, starting with running back Jay Reed. Reed is one of many Commodores who has gotten faster and stronger over the course of the offseason. Kylan Vaughn is primed to be the leader of the receiving corps and someone Fair and his staff is counting on to be a key contributor in order for the offense to succeed this season. As a junior, Vaughn made 43 catches, which is nearly unheard of in an offense that features the ground game more than the passing game. “Kylan’s got the opportunity to really be dynamic at receiver,” Fair said. “He’s big, strong. He’s really physical out there. He could probably play tight end at a lot of places, but for us he’s a fit out there. He tracks the deep ball as good as anybody we’ve had here in a long time. He caught several last year in some big games.” Plenty of starters are returning on defense as well, including key contributors in linebacker Mario Wilbourn and lineman DJ Burgess.

Wilbourn made an impact in his junior season and has taken strides to be even better in his final campaign in a Commodore uniform. Lafayette’s leading tackler is being looked at as an anchor for the defense once again. “Those guys, their attitude and the way they came to work this summer is just dynamic,” Fair

said. “We’ve got guys returning on every level that we have a lot of confidence in. Up front with Burgess on the line, we’ve got Alex Jones and Jamari Logan. They played nearly every snap just about last year in the trenches. We’ve got a lot of experience returning.” With the way Lafayette’s schedule is mapped out, starting

with four straight games against Class 6A contenders in Tupelo, Horn Lake, Southaven and Oxford, the Commodores will need the defense to be in midseason form right out of the game. Lafayette does not have a bye this season, rolling right into region play against West Point following their Crosstown Classic showdown with Oxford. “We’re going to need to be (one of the top 5A defenses) on this schedule we’ve got,” Fair said. “We need to be one of the top defenses in the state, to be honest, hopefully regardless of classification. I know that’s a big statement, but those guys are going to need to be really good and I feel like they will be.” Special teams will have a little different look for the Commodores this season with former place kicker Andrew Pugh having graduated in May. Dabney is going to serve as punter as well as handling the quarterback duties. Lafayette opens the season on Aug. 27 against Tupelo.

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JAY REED’S TIME IS NOW AT LAFAYETTE

By JAKE THOMPSON

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afayette is known for producing some of the top running backs in the state and Jay Reed is ready to join that group. After a breakout sophomore season in 2020, Reed is primed to be the Commodores leading threat on the ground. Success was something Reed’s coaches saw in him last season and he proved it on the field. Now, Reed has shown what he can do and will not be under the radar of opposing defenses. “We told him last year (he could be special),” said Lafayette head coach Michael Fair. “There’s some pressure on that group. Lafayette, long before I got here, they’ve been known for these really good backs. To

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FALL SPORTS PREVIEW 2021

see all these big and strong kids that get the job done and he’s another one of those. He takes a lot of pride in it. He wants to be great and that’s what sets him apart from a lot of those others guys out there.” Last season, Reed rushed for 1,249 yards and 10 touchdowns on 198 carries for an average of just over six years per carry. He was the Commodores leading rusher by nearly 800 years as quarterback Tyrus Williams was the next closest with 462 yards. In order to continue that success, Reed hit the weight room and changed his body. In 2020, Reed was playing at around 240 pounds and is already under that weight entering this season. Despite Reed getting slimmer, the junior is still going to be looked upon

“His body’s changing and he’s starting to mature as a young man. But he’s built for durability. Even in the Columbus game last year where we had to come from behind to win the game and he had about 25 carries. Well, his 25th carry was better than his first carry. So, that’s the kind of back he is.”


to convert those short-yardage downs in the trenches. “His body’s changing and he’s starting to mature as a young man,” Fair said. “But he’s built for durability. Even in the Columbus game last year where we had to come from behind to win the game and he had about 25 carries. Well, his 25th carry was better than his first carry. So, that’s the kind of back he is.” Reed will be relied upon more this season than originally planned after the offense suffered a setback in the offseason. Williams underwent surgery to repair an injured shoulder that will sideline him for the entire season. With the second-best rusher not returning, there is more of a sense of responsibility put on Reed to contribute more than he did a year ago to help get the Commodores where they expect to be come the first weekend in December. Despite being a junior, Reed is ready to be a locker room leader according to Fair and he

has already taken those steps throughout the summer. “Any returning starter, of course we’ve got several coming back on offensive line, Kylan Vaughn at receiver and of course Jay takes a new role now in a leadership position,” Fair said. “There’s going to be a lot falling on this guy’s shoulders as far as being a leader.” Another motivating factor this season for Reed and the rest of his teammates is how last season ended for them. The Commodores clinched a playoff berth but never took the field after the regular season due to a COVID-19 outbreak throughout the team that caused their season to end prematurely. Having their season taken away from them by something out of their control has Reed and the rest of Lafayette ready to hit the field in 2021. “I think it made us want to work harder,” Reed said. “I worked on my speed and tried to catch the ball better.”

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DJ BURGESS FORGING HIS OWN PATH AT LAFAYETTE

By JAKE THOMPSON

D

J Burgess is the son of former Ole Miss and NFL great Derrick Burgess, but he is out to make his own way in football and Lafayette is reaping the benefits. The standout lineman is one of Lafayette’s biggest strengths on defense and the biggest “He’s always been headache for opposing explosive, but his body now offenses. “Burgess is, he is allowing him to do things effects everything we that he couldn’t do a couple do at practice,” said Lafayette head coach years ago,. He’s slimmed up, Micheal Fair. “When probably 250 pounds and you run plays against DJ Burgess you need 6-3. A quick twitch and a to know where’s lining great jump off the line of up. If know if he’s doing scrimmage. But, he’s really that for us I can only hope he’s doing that for honed in on some skills with opposing offenses, too.” his hands and some things Linebacker Mario Wilbourn is the team’s that he’s doing with his returning leading pad level that very few tackler but Burgess is right behind him, at this level get to. It making 67 tackles in doesn’t hurt he’s got 2020 and 46 of those were unassisted. a sack leader as a Not only does father.” Burgess seem to know where the ball is at all times, he is able to get to the quarterback before he can get rid of it more times than not. Last season, Burgess led the team in sacks with eight which was two ahead of Wilbourn’s six.

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Playing on the line, either on defense or offense, every day in practice and for at least 12 Friday nights in the fall is a tall order. That task does not seem to deter Burgess, who seemingly gets stronger as the season progresses. “He’s always been explosive, but his body now is allowing him to do things that he couldn’t do a couple years ago,” Fair said. “He’s slimmed up, probably 250 pounds and 6-3. A quick twitch and a great jump off the line of scrimmage. But, he’s really honed in on some skills with his hands and some things that he’s doing with his pad level that very few at this level get to. It doesn’t hurt he’s got a sack leader as a father.” Burgess’ father played defensive line at Ole Miss and led the team in sacks with 9.5 his senior season in 2000.

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Burgess was also named to the First Team All-SEC that season. From there, Derrick played in the NFL from 2001 to 2010 on four different teams, including the Philadelphia Eagles, who selected him in the third round of the 2001 NFL Draft as the 63rd overall pick. Having a father with success at the high school, collegiate and professional ranks is something not every kid has the luxury of having. While Burgess will bend his dad’s ear for advice time to time, he is also trying to make a name for himself on his own terms. “He lets me do my thing, but at the same time in certain situations I’ll ask him (for advice),” Burgess said. “For the most part, I’m just trying to do it myself.” Burgess is set to continue doing things his way on Saturdays next Fall in Hattiesburg. The Lafayette senior has already committed to Southern Mississippi to play for Will Hall.

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COMMODORES WELCOME TO THE COUNTY @LafCo_Athletics @LafCo_Football

http://lafco.live

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water valley HIGH SCHOOL

WATER VALLEY FOOTBALL 2021 SCHEDULE

24

Aug. 27

at Independence

Sept. 3

Senatobia

Sept. 10

Bruce (Homecoming)

Sept. 18

at Calhoun City

Sept. 25

at Winona

Oct. 1

Bye

Oct. 8

Mantachie

Oct. 15

at Kossuth

Oct. 22

Booneville (Senior Night)

Oct. 29

at Alcorn Central

FALL SPORTS PREVIEW 2021


water valley HIGH SCHOOL

YOUTH HAS TURNED INTO EXPERIENCE AS WATER VALLEY EYES A RETURN ATOP CLASS 3A

By JAKE THOMPSON

S

ince winning their first state championship in over 25 years, Water Valley’s football program has experienced growing pains with turnover and a young roster. That youth has turned into seasoned veterans — even the juniors — and the Blue Devils have the look of a team that could find their way back to the MHSAA Class 3A state title game come December. While summer workouts and preseason camp is not a true barometer for how the regular season will go, head coach Brad Embry is cautiously optimistic about his roster. “It’s hard to say. Every team’s different and every team has to

find their own way,” Embry said. “I think we do have some good athletes and I think we have a lot of potential. It’s just that, though. You’ve got to go realize that and

as coaches you’ve got to put all the pieces of the puzzle.” As with all teams, Water Valley managed to have spring practices, a jamboree, full summer workouts

1

Keke Rucker

Jr.

WR/RB/DB

3

Que Carothers

Jr.

RB/DB

4

CJ Telford

Jr.

QB/DB

5

Sasa Freeman

Jr.

WR/DB

6

Hayden Eubanks

Sr.

WR/DB/SN

7

Marion Morgan

Sr.

WR/DB

8

Jaden Morgan

So. QB/DB

9

Chris Harris

Sr.

11

Dre McCray

Dr. RB/LB

RB/DB

12 Jy Williams

So. WR/DB

13 Tyler Richardson

Fr.

QB/LB

14 Colby Lafayette

Sr.

WR/DB/P

15 Demarious Rucker

Sr.

WR/DB

16 Taylen Johnson

So. WR/DB

17

Fr.

WR/DB

18 Daylon Vaughn

Dylan Moore

Jr.

WR/DB

20 Chance Dewberry

Sr.

RB/LB

21 Reid Burress

Fr.

WR/LB

22 Eli White

Sr.

RB/DB

24 Jonathan Love

So. RB/DB

25 DJ Liddell

So. WR/DB

26 Brayden Buford

Jr.

RB/DB

27 Quinton Cox

Fr.

HB/LB

28 Ty Pritchard

So. WR/DB

29 Anthony Butler

Fr.

WR/DB

31 D’antwon Holmes

Fr.

WR/DB

32 Walker Tedford

Jr.

RB/DB

34 Shaun Campbell

Jr.

RB/DL

36 John McMinn

Fr.

HB/LB

37 Caleb Ferguson

Fr.

HB/LB

41 Jon Surrette

Sr. WR/DB/K

42 Jeremiah Griffis

Jr.

HB/LB

44 Isaac Phillips

Sr.

TE/DE

45 Kaleb Buford

Fr.

TE/DL

47 Laine Burns

Fr.

TE/DE

49 Will Embry

So. RB/LB

50 Zakari Gatlin

Fr.

OL/DL

51 Jamerious Jenkins

Jr.

OL/DL

52 Bradley Tedford

Sr.

OL/DL

54 Ky Cooke

Fr.

OL/DL

55 Keith Lloyd

Jr.

OL/DL

56 Dez Campbell

Fr.

OL/DL

57 Donalvin Wilson

Fr.

OL/DL

58 Aulton Phillips

Sr.

OL/DL

59 Calvin Alford

Jr.

OL/DL

60 Khamauri Rogers

Fr.

OL/DL

61 Jamalachi Jones

Sr.

OL/DL

62 David Rojas

Jr.

OL/DL

64 Bubba Sprouse

Jr.

OL/DL

65 Josh Griffis

Sr.

OL/DL

70 Marqualyn White

Sr.

OL/DL

71

Hayden Schurr

Fr.

OL/DL

72 Jacob Driggers

Fr.

OL/DL

74 Brandon Turner

Jr.

OL/DL

75 Ken Hervey

Sr.

OL/DL

76 Marshall Phillips

Fr.

OL/DL

77 Jason Carothers

Jr.

OL/DL

78 Jack Woodard

So. OL/DL

79 Trabian Torrance

So. OL/DL

80 Jakori Thomas

So. WR/DB

84 Matthew Osman

Fr.

WR/DB

85 Isaiah Webb

Fr.

WR/DB

89 Will Sanford

Jr.

TE/DE

FALL SPORTS PREVIEW 2021

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and the preseason camp. This time last year, all teams were just now finding out about one another and learning their identity with COVID-19 taking away all the offseason preparation. Having the reps from spring and summer under their belts, it has felt more line a normal offseason cycle to Embry, which is only a positive for a team that was led by mostly sophomores in 2020. “Our roster’s balanced out better than it’s been in a long time,” Embry said. “A few years ago we were real top heavy, juniors and seniors and not a lot of kids below. Now we got good numbers through all four grades.” Leading the offense at quarterback to start the season will be junior CJ Telford. During his sophomore campaign, Telford threw for over 840 yards and five touchdowns and also threw five interceptions. Entering preseason camp and the regular season, Telford appears poised to be under center again for the Blue Devils, but Embry said

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FALL SPORTS PREVIEW 2021


he has some options at quarterback if pieces need to be moved around. “(Telford’s) had a good summer,” Embry said. “We’ve had a freshman come in, which is doing a good job working and doing what he’s supposed to do. He’s a freshman, so you don’t want to put too much on anybody too soon. But I feel comfortable with him there if he needs to be. We can always do some package where we stick a running back there. CJ’s had a good summer. He’s worked hard, been dependable and he throws the ball hard.” When it comes to the Blue Devils running game, Embry might have something that many high school programs might not have, at any classification — a running back committee. With a handful of players Embry feels

confident in handing the ball off to, it allows for depth to take over at a position that becomes vital in the late stages of the season and a push towards the postseason. Jaden Morgan and Telford were the two major workhorses in Water Valley’s rushing attack in 2020, both combining for nearly 1,100 yards on the ground and 13 touchdowns. The duo is still expected to be the major threats in the rushing attack, but with a couple more players Embry is keen on joining the mix, the Blue Devils add another dimension to their offense. “We moved a couple kids around, and it sounds crazy, but right now I think we’ve got five kids that could be effective high school running backs,” Embry said. “As the season goes, somebody may rise to the top. That’s fine, too.

FALL SPORTS PREVIEW 2021

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We’ll let it play out. We may play five running backs, or six, all year. Or we may cut it back to one or two.” On defense, there are a few more question marks when it comes to starters. There are some who know they will see the field in the opening game in week one and there are other positions Embry and his staff are still evaluating. The Blue Devils have several productive players from 2020 returning this season. Que Carothers, Marion Morgan, Dre McCray and Ty Kukyndall all recorded at least 43 tackles each last season. When it comes to who the first 11 will be on the first defensive series of 2021, Embry was not set at the start of preseason camp. He also acknowledged he has a good problem with plenty of players who he is confident in. “We have a few kids that have solidified themselves as starters, but not many,” Embry said. “That’s a good thing. 28

FALL SPORTS PREVIEW 2021

I’m not saying that in a bad way. I’m saying I think we have depth. I think a couple kids in the secondary have really positioned themself. ...Linebackers, I think that’s still up in the air. We’ve got numbers there. I just don’t know (yet).” When it comes to special teams, Jon Surrette returns as the placekicker for field goals and extra points. Last season, Surrette converted 24 of 24 extra point attempts and his one field goal attempt. In other areas of the special teams unit, Embry acknowledged there was room for improvement this season. “We’ve got to get better at punting,” Embry said. “We’re working on punting and we’ve got some kids who I think can do it. We’ve got to find a little more consistency.” Water Valley opens the 2021 season on the road at Independence on Aug. 27.


FALL SPORTS PREVIEW 2021

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ole miss

OLE MISS FOOTBALL SCHEDULE Sept. 6

Louisville (at Atlanta)

Sept. 11

Austin Peay

Sept. 18

Tulane

Sept. 25

Bye

Oct. 2

at Alabama

Oct. 9

Arkansas

Oct. 16

at Tennessee

Oct. 23

LSU

Oct. 30

at Auburn

Nov. 6

32

Liberty

Nov. 13

Texas A&M

Nov. 20

Vanderbilt

Nov. 25

at Mississippi State (Egg Bowl)

FALL SPORTS PREVIEW 2021


ole miss 0 1 2 2 4 5 6 7 7 9 9 10 11 11 12 12 13 13 14 14 15 15 16 16 17 19 19 20 20 21 21 22 22 22 23 23 24 24 25 25 26 26 27 27 28 28 29 29 30 30 31 31 32 32 33 34 34 35 35 36 36 37 39 39 40 40 41

Lakia Henry Sr. Jonathan Mingo Jr. Matt Corral Jr. Jalen Jordan Jr. Tylan Knight Sr.* Dannis Jackson Jr. Miles Battle Jr. Luke Altmyer Fr. LeDarrius Cox So. Jerrion Ealy Jr. Brandon Mack So. John Rhys Plumlee Dontario Drummond Austin Keys Fr.-RS Jakivuan Brown So. Kinkead Dent So. Braylon Sanders Sr. Sam Williams Sr. Marc Britt II Fr.-RS Daylen Gill Sr.* Derek Bermudez Fr.-RS Sellers Shy So. MJ Daniels Fr. Jordan Jeringan So. Demon Clowney Fr.-RS Brice Johnson So. Terrell Vassel Sr.-TR Blake Noblin Fr. Keidron Smith Sr.* AJ Finley Jr. Alex Grado Fr. Kentrell Bullock So. Deantre Prince Jr.-TR Tariquious Tisdale Jakorey Hawkins Jr. Nevin Wells Jr. Snoop Connor Jr. Deane Leonard Sr. Henry Parrish, Jr. Trey Washington Otis Reese Sr.* Isaiah Woullard Sr.* Tysheem Johnson Jalen Knox Sr.*-TR Markevious Brown Damarcus Thomas Matt Jones Fr. Demarko Williams Zikerrion Baker Sr.* Fred McAfee Fr. Jaylon Jones Sr. Calvin Wilson Fr. Jaden Handy Fr. Richard O’Bryant Cedric Johnson So. DJ Beckum Fr.-RS Bobo Miller Fr.-RS Mark Robinson Sr. Urriah Shepard Sr.* Ashanti Cistrunk Jr. Rayf Vinson Fr. Kyndrich Breedlove Joshua Pfeifer Fr. Jake Springer Sr. Jalen Denton So. Jack Greer Fr. Solomon Landrum

LB WR QB DB DB WR DB QB DL RB OLB Jr. Sr. LB OLB QB WR DL WR LB DB WR DB WR OLB WR DB QB DB DB QB RB DB Sr. DB WR RB DB So. Fr. DB RB Fr. WR Fr. So. RB Fr. LB RB DB WR RB Fr. OLB WR RB LB RB LB WR Fr. WR DB DB TE Jr.-TR

5-11 235 6-2 235 6-1 205 5-9 180 5-7 180 5-11 165 6-3 195 6-2 195 6-4 315 5-8 190 6-4 235 QB 6-0 WR 6-0 6-2 240 6-2 240 6-5 205 6-0 190 6-4 265 6-0 190 5-11 220 6-1 185 6-0 190 6-3 200 6-0 210 6-3 230 6-0 190 6-0 190 6-4 205 6-2 195 6-2 200 6-1 200 5-10 215 6-1 170 DL 6-5 5-11 195 6-1 200 5-10 215 6-2 195 RB 5-10 DB 5-11 6-2 215 5-9 205 DB 5-10 6-0 195 DB 6-0 TE 6-1 5-10 190 DB 5-11 6-1 235 5-10 190 5-11 195 6-2 185 5-10 195 DB 5-10 6-3 240 5-8 155 5-8 160 6-0 220 6-1 205 6-1 225 6-0 185 DB 6-0 6-2 185 6-0 205 5-9 170 6-7 240 LS 6-0

Vialia, Ga./Vidalia/Dodge City CC Brandon Ventura, Calif. Lake Cormorant Pearl Sumrall Houston, Texas Starkville Mobile, Ala. Walnut Grove Montgomery, Ala. 200 Hattiesburg 215 Laurel Collins Horn Lake Yazoo City Hogansville, Ga. Montgomery, Ala. Carol City, Fla. Louisville Jacksonville, Fla. Memphis, Tenn. Lucedale Tupelo Baltimore, Md. Greenville East Orange, N.J./Austin Peay Ocean Springs West Palm Beach, Fla. Mobile, Ala. Los Gatos, Calif. Columbia Charleston/Northeast Mississippi CC 295 Lexington, Tenn. Montgomery, Ala. Jackson Hattiesburg Calgary, Alberta, Canada 190 Goulds, Fla. 190 Trussville, Ala. Leesburg, Ga. Hattiesburg 195 Philadelphia, Pa. Arlington, Texas/Missouri 170 Pahokee, Fla. 245 Whatley, Ala. Jackson 185 Atlanta, Ga. Mooringsport, La. Madison Allen, Texas Thompson’s Station, Tenn. New Orleans, La. 170 Brandon Mobile, Ala. Columbus Kosciusko Leesburg, Ga. Houston/Northeast Mississippi CC Louisville Madison 175 Nashville, Tenn. Nashville, Tenn. Kansas City, Mo./Navy Memphis, Tenn. Germantown, Tenn. 230 Hattiesburg/Mississippi Gulf Coast

41 41 42 43 43 44 44 45 46 47 47 48 49 50 50 51 52 52 53 54 55 55 56 57 57 58 59 62 64 65 66 70 71 72 73 74 75 76 77 78 80 80 81 82 83 84 85 86 87 88 89 90 91 92 93 93 94 94 95 96 96 97 97 98 99

John Porchivina Jr.-TR CJ Terrell Sr.* Elijah Sabbatini Fr. Caden Costa Fr. Daniel Newman Fr.-RS Chance Campbell Payton Rogers Sr.* Armani Johnson Sr.* MoMo Sanogo Sr.* Sam Murphey Jr. Ty Rocconi Sr.* Andrew Griffith Jr. Jared Lawrence Fr. Jalen Cunningham Patrick Lucas, Jr. So. Orlando Umana Sr.-TR Taleeq Robbins Fr. Luke Shouse Fr.-RS Carter Craig Fr.-RS Caleb Warren So. Ben Brown Sr.* KD Hill Reece McIntyre So. Clayton Ladd Jr. Micha Pettus Fr. DeMarcus Smith Fr. John Copley Fr. Andrew Polhemus Nick Broeker Jr. Peyton Cox Sr.* Cedrick Nicely Fr. Carter Colquitt So. Jayden Williams Fr. Tobias Braun Fr. Eli Acker Fr.-RS Erick Cade Fr. Bryce Ramsey So. Cedric Melton Fr.-RS Hamilton Hall Jr. Jeremy James So. Jonathan Hess Jr. Jahcour Pearson Sr.-TR Casey Kelly So. Luke Knox Jr. Chase Rogers Sr.* Qua Davis Jr.-TR Jamar Richardson JJ Henry Fr. Hudson Wolfe Fr. Bralon Brown Fr. Brandon Buckhaulter Tywone Malone Fr. Hal Northern Sr. JJ Hawkins Fr. Sincere David Sr.* Cale Nation So. Quentin Bivens Jr. Walker Thompson Tavius Robinson Sr.* Mac Brown Sr. Isaiah Iton So.-TR Land Gebhart Fr.-RS Jamond Gordon So.-TR Jaden Dicks Fr.-TR DeSanto Rollins Fr.-RS

RB 6-0 215 DB 5-9 215 DB 6-1 195 K 6-2 200 DB 6-0 185 Sr.-TR* LB 6-3 TE 6-0 225 DL 6-0 235 LB 6-1 240 TE 6-3 210 DB 5-11 190 LB 5-11 220 LS 5-10 200 Jr. OL 6-4 DL 6-3 320 OL 6-4 315 DL 6-3 305 OL 6-6 270 LB 6-1 215 OL 6-4 305 OL 6-5 315 Jr. DL 6-1 OL 6-4 315 DL 6-1 240 OL 6-8 315 DL 6-4 270 LB 6-1 225 Fr. OL 6-2 OL 6-4 305 OL 6-0 315 OL 6-5 315 OL 6-3 310 OL 6-5 270 OL 6-7 310 OL 6-5 290 OL 6-6 320 OL 6-1 340 OL 6-5 310 OL 6-4 295 OL 6-5 330 TE 6-5 245 WR 5-9 180 TE 6-3 240 TE 6-4 245 TE 6-2 250 WR 6-1 210 Sr.* DB 5-11 WR 5-11 165 TE 6-6 235 WR 6-3 185 Fr. WR 6-3 DL 6-4 315 DL 6-2 305 DL 6-3 245 DL 6-2 320 K 5-10 160 DL 6-2 300 So. P 6-2 DL 6-7 245 P 6-3 205 DL 6-4 295 K 5-11 155 DL 6-4 270 DL 6-5 230 DL 6-3 275

Novato, Calif/California Oxford/East Mississippi CC Biloxi Mandeville, La. Tallahassee, Fla. 235 Ellicot City, Md./Maryland Forest/East Central CC Abbeville Plano, Texas Paris, Tenn. Mobile, Ala. Bentonville, Ark. Lebanon, Tenn. 340 Odenville, Ala. Prattville, Ala. Sacramento. Calif./Utah Philadelphia, Pa. Nolensville, Tenn. Jackson, Tenn. Louisville Vicksburg 320 Eufaula, Ala. Buford, Ga. Brentwood, Tenn. Madison, Ala. Birmingham, Ala. Camden, S.C. 285 Metamora, Ill. Springfield, Ill. Metairie, La. Gainesville, Ga. Buford, Ga. Conway, Ark. Freiburg im Bresigau, Germany Columbus Denton, Texas Gulfport Houston, Texas Atlanta, Ga. Cumming, Ga. Vestavia Hills, Ala. Ft. Lauderdale, Fla./Western Ky Niagara Falls, N.Y. Brentwood, Tenn. Pass Christian Biggersville/Itawamba CC 175 Aliceville, Ala. McKinney, Texas Savannah, Tenn. Miramar, Fla. 210 Flowood Jamesburg, N.J. Tunica Lawrenceville, Ga. Jacksonville, Fla. Madison Waynesboro 175 Laurel Guelph, Ontario, Canada Eden Prairie, Minn. Houston, Texas/Hutchinson CC Rigeland Meridian/East Mississippi CC Etobicoke,Ontario, Canada/Guelph Baton Rouge, La. *- Has an additional year of eligibility due to the COVID-19 pandemic

FALL SPORTS PREVIEW 2021

33


ole miss WHAT TO WEAR

34

FALL SPORTS PREVIEW 2021

Louisville - Powder Blue Austin Peay - White Tulane - Red Alabama - Navy Blue Arkansas - Navy Blue Tennessee - Navy Blue LSU - Red Auburn - Red Liberty - Navy Blue Texas A&M - Powder Blue Vanderbilt - Red Mississippi State - Navy Blue


ole miss

OLE MISS HITTING RESET BUTTON WHILE AIMING TO IMPROVE IN LANE KIFFIN’S SECOND YEAR

By JAKE THOMPSON Yes, Lane Kiffin was on the sideline for the 2020 season, but to the second-year head coach this season is like hitting a reset button in many ways. With the many protocols in place and restrictions towards recruiting last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, last season was abnormal for all teams but maybe more so for a first-year head coach such as Kiffin. After being hired in December 2019 with the pomp and circumstance from the landing on the tarmac at the University-Oxford Airport to the welcome ceremony at the SJB

Pavilion, normalcy in college football ended for Kiffin. There was not a spring drill season as the pandemic arrived in March just weeks before the Rebels spring practices would have began. Then there was the year-plus dead period that was implemented by the NCAA, putting Kiffin even more behind in recruiting for a team with many depth issues. Now, as the 2021 preseason sets to begin in two weeks, Kiffin has experienced his first full cycle as the Rebels head coach. Spring practices were held in April, giving his team a true offseason program. When speaking to local media ahead of his appearance at the SEC Media Days on

Tuesday, Kiffin expressed how this year feels like starting over at Ole Miss. "I feel like it's our first year even though I guess we're in our third recruiting year," Kiffin said. "I feel like it's our first year of that because kids are finally on campus that we've been talking to. ...I feel like it's all kind of a first." Even though this season feels like a reboot to the system for Kiffin, mentally, it is not. The Rebels are out to prove they can be the same dominant offense they were in 2020 while also trying to drastically improve their defense, which was one of the worst in the country. At the helm of the offense is quarterback FALL SPORTS PREVIEW 2021

35


Matt Corral. The junior is the one of the top returning signal callers in the SEC and is projected by preseason prognosticators to be one of the top quarterbacks in the nation by season’s end. All throughout fall camp, Kiffin has been very high on Corral’s progression from last season to now as well as his increased leadership role within the locker room. ”​​ He's done a great job from a leadership standpoint, from an offensive standpoint,” Kiffin said. “The guy's accuracy is...was almost insane today...some of the throws that were made. At one point it was like a video game where you just...there's not an accurate throw. He just throws it to a guy because you push a button. It's good to see. He's got to continue to develop and do it on game days," Kiffin shared. One question on offense that lingered into fall camp was who would fill the void of Elijah Moore, who is now making plays for the New York Jets on Sundays.

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FALL SPORTS PREVIEW 2021

The task could be one that’s completed by committee with Braylon Sanders, Jonathan Mingo,

Dontario Drummond and others working together to fill the void left by Moore.

Running back is not a position of worry with Jerrion Ealy and Snoop Conner returning along with Henry Parrish, Jr. Ealy could see some time in the slot position out wide, leaving the bulk of the carries for Connor and Parrish. The defense has a low bar to clear in terms showing signs of improvement from a season ago, but it will do so without a key piece. Leading tackler Jacquez Jones transferred to Kentucky during the summer, leaving a hole in the linebacker position. While depth was an issue at times last season due to injuries or COVID-19, the defense bolstered its ranks in recruiting and the transfer portal. Ten of the 13 early enrollees in January were on the defense, helping provide experience on a fast track during spring and summer workouts. Time will tell if the defense checked off all their goals to improve, starting with the Rebels season opener against Louisvill in Atlanta on Sept. 6.


JOHN RHYS

PLUMLEE PUTTING TEAM BEFORE SELF IN

EMBRACING NEW ROLE By JAKE THOMPSON

L

osing a starting position is never easy for an athlete, especially when it’s the starting quarterback on a Southeastern Conference team. For John Rhys Plumlee that is exactly what happened with Matt Corral taking over the position during last season. Many players would take their ball and go home, or jump into the often-popular transfer portal and land with a team that would play them. Plumlee opted to do the opposite — he stayed with the school he committed two three years ago. Once it became apparent that Corral would be the Rebels leader under center, the topic of discussion shifted to what would Plumlee do if he indeed chose to stay in Oxford. That answer became apparent during the Outback Bowl in January when Plumlee lined up as a receiver and hauled in catches thrown by the man who took his spot. The move became permanent with Plumlee being labeled a full-time receiver at the start of fall camp. From January to August, Plumlee spent time away from the football team as he is also an outfielder on the Ole Miss baseball team and spent his spring at Oxford-University Stadium. Following the conclusion of the Rebels baseball season in June, Plumlee and head coach Lane Kiffin sat down to talk about Plumlee’s future with the team. The talks went well and Plumlee’s character with how he handled the transition impressed Kiffin, who spoke about it during SEC Media Days in July. “We’re excited that he’s embracing what we discussed,” Kiffin said. “It shows that he’s a team player. That’s not easy. That’s the one position, it is always hard for someone to say, ‘Okay, I’m going to go play another position.’ It’s not like a move from safety to linebacker. For him to do that, there’s not many kids that do that anymore. They’d be somewhere else. It says a lot about him and his feelings for the university. He’s a special, special kid.” Having Plumlee now among the receiving corps is something that is providing multiple benefits for the Rebel offense. stated during fall camp having someone such as Plumlee who still has a “quarterback brain” in the same room with the receivers can only be a positive. The sentiment was backed up by offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby. With someone who has spent most of their career on the other end of a pass, Plumlee has now experienced both sides of the play, providing perspective that the other receivers do not have. FALL SPORTS PREVIEW 2021

37


“I think the goal for everybody on the unit is to understand exactly what we’re doing, what everybody’s doing and nailing it at every position,” Lebby said. “Everybody says that knowledge is power and John Rhys has got it. He’s able to share it with everybody in that room and as he works through it and playing the position, he’s able to share some things from a different perspective. Something that maybe the guys didn’t think about initially.” With Elijah Moore now catching passes on Sundays in the NFL, Lebby is tasked with trying to find a way to fill the massive production void Moore left behind. Plumlee is one piece of that puzzle, along with Braylon Sanders, Dontario Drummond, Jonathan Mingo and others. The addition of Plumlee, and his selfless act of accepting and embracing his new role, could be the key to unlocking the potential of the Rebel receivers in 2021.

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FALL SPORTS PREVIEW 2021


COORDINATORS DURKIN AND PARTRIDGE LOOKING FORWARD TO FIX DEFENSE By JAKE THOMPSON

T

he Ole Miss defense was one of the worst in the country and D.J. Durkin and Chris Partridge know that very well. Both of the Rebel defensive coordinators were reminded every week during the 2020 season, during the spring practices, the

summer offseason and ahead of fall camp. With the 2021 season approaching, both are ready to turn the page. For Partridge, reminders are the last thing he needs about how his defense performed a season ago. “First, nobody knows more than us, as a defense, statistically where we were last year," Partridge said. "We wear that and we eat that and

that motivates us every single day. That's the most important thing. I think we've all shouldered that and we're all ready to prove to everybody that we can improve and we are going to improve and there can be a drastic improvement from one year to the other." That is one side of the perspective between the codefensive coordinators. For

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Durkin, it is not so much looking back at past results that he uses as motivation. The former Maryland coach uses more of an in-themoment style of approach when it comes to preparing his players for this year. “You’re where your feet are. Focus on today,” Durkin said. “Anyone who’s in that room understands, good or bad, it can hurt you if you focus on last year. It can have an adverse affect on you. So, it’s about what we do now, what we do later. That’s the sport we play.” The defense has enough to worry about in the present with the departure of its leading tackler from a season ago in Jacquez Jones, who ended up at Kentucky shortly after leaving Oxford this summer. Filling that hole, and a

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“First, nobody knows more than us, as a defense, statistically where we were last year. We wear that and we eat that and that motivates us every single day. That's the most important thing. I think we've all shouldered that and we're all ready to prove to everybody that we can improve and we are going to improve and there can be a drastic improvement from one year to the other."

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662.234.6152 2197 Jackson Avenue West Oxford, MS FALL SPORTS PREVIEW 2021

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couple others due to injuries ahead of fall camp, is the current task of both Durkin and Patridge. A good start towards doing so comes with eight returning starters along with new faces via the transfer portal and the 2021 signing class. Ten of the 13 early enrollees that arrived on campus in January play on the defensive side of the ball. Having created some depth starting with spring practice — something that did occur due to the COVID-19 pandemic last year — along with a more routine summer and fall camp has created some confidence within the defense. “I think the confidence is real," Partridge said. "We played well at the end of the season. We started clicking a little bit and then came together. It took a little longer than we hoped. The thing is it wasn't just at the end of the season. We improved in

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“I think the confidence is real. We played well at the end of the season. We started clicking a little bit and then came together. It took a little longer than we hoped. The thing is it wasn't just at the end of the season. We improved in winter. We improved in spring. We are constantly still getting better and better. I think that's the most important thing. We can gain some confidence at the end of last season, but in spring we could have taken a step back. We didn't do that. I think knowing and shouldering exactly who we were on defense last year every single day and knowing that is what drives us to be better."

winter. We improved in spring. We are constantly still getting better and better. I think that's the most important thing. We

can gain some confidence at the end of last season, but in spring we could have taken a step back. We didn't do that. I

think knowing and shouldering exactly who we were on defense last year every single day and knowing that is what drives us to be better." The seasoned returners of MoMo Sanogo, Lakia Henry, Otis Reese and Jalen Jones are going to be relied upon early to help set a new tone with the defense. Reese, who missed out on all of last season minus the last three games due to eligibility issues, is ready to make more of an impact with the ability to have an entire season to work with. “(I need to work on) everything, across the board,” Reese said. “I’m never satisfied with nothing I do. Coach Patridge can tell you that, I need to work on everything. I like to think I’ve got no weaknesses, across the board. Everything needs to be on a level playing field.”


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