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Stories Written by Gene Phelps
By Gene Phelps
A new-look defense – one featuring eight novice starters – will line up for Tupelo in Friday’s season opener against Lafayette.
Outside linebacker Justin Clifton, end Shaun Kohlhiem and nose guard Jamal Wren are the three holdovers from last season’s standout unit, one that gave up an average of 10 points per game.
“Last year our backups were seniors,” Golden Wave second-year head coach Trent Hammond said. “We played a lot of kids.
“We’ve got young guys this year who are trying to figure out what they’re doing. There will be some times when there is a blown call or two. The key is to limit those.”
Hammond, whose 2013 team finished 13-2 and played for the MHSAA Class 6A state championship, got a peek of what to expect in last week’s two-quarter scrimmage against Itawamba AHS.
Tupelo’s defense gave up 150 yards passing, but allowed negative yardage in rushing. During a goal line drill, the Wave stopped the Indians on seven plays.
“On the goal line our defense bowed its neck and didn’t give up anything,” Hammond said. “(IAHS) had a lot of big passes. Give them their due. We’ve got to learn to stay in on somethings.”
Clifton, one of the team’s top tacklers last year, likes what he’s seen of the unit in the preseason.
“I think we did pretty well (in the scrimmage), but we’ve got a lot of things we can fix,” he said. “You can never be satisfied.”
Some of the newcomers in the team’s 3-4 scheme are middle linebackers Tyler Gilbert and Christian Haire, outside linebacker Quan Osborne, end Devin Hadley, corners Terrick Beene and Jarren McKenzie, and safeties Jarvis Wilson, a wide receiver last year, and Demaris Wise.
Lafayette, which finished 10-6 and reached the 4A title game last season, returns an experienced offense led by quarterback Devon Thomas and a powerful offensive line.
Thomas accounted for 1,600 yards total offense and 18 touchdowns last season.
“They’re big and very physical up front,” Hammond said. “They have the luxury of having run the same offense.”
By Gene Phelps
HOLLY SPRINGS – Dakota Dailey experienced physical and mental anguish during last year’s MAIS Class A state championship game.
Marshall Academy’s then junior quarterback stood on the sidelines at Mississippi College’s Robinson-Hale Stadium with an injured ankle during the second half of a’ painful 50-6 loss to Natchez Trinity.
“It was horrible,” Dailey said. “It was the worst loss I’ve ever been a part of.”
He suffered a high ankle sprain in the state semifinals, then exited the title game in the first half after aggravating the injury. Getting banged up is the price paid by a running quarterback.
Dailey, who has passed and rushed for 7,000-plus yards the last two seasons, wants to improve his odds of staying on the field by running less and passing more.
“In the past I’ve been more of a running quarterback,” he said. “I’d look for my receiver, then run when I saw green. That’s how I got hurt last season. I want to be more of a passing quarterback and try to keep from getting banged up.
“I want to be healthy all year.”
Dailey believes his work in 7-on-7 this summer helped him improve as a passer.
“I’ve gotten better at reading coverages,” he said. “I’m not going to just look for one receiver.”
First-year Marshall head coach Sam Pearson, who was the Patriots’ offensive coordinator last season, compares Dailey to a high school version of Johnny Manzel.
“I’ve got a great kid and great player, without (Manzel’s) showmanship,” he said. “He looked good in 7-on-7. He’s hanging in there, making his progressions, not running the ball. He recognizes his pre-snap and post-snap coverage. That should pay dividends.”
Dailey will have plenty of help in his team’s quest to reach a third consecutive state championship game … and win. Marshall lost two years ago to Brookhaven in the finals.
Running back Devin McGregor is a threat while receivers Jordan Harris and Colt Lindsey are back as prime targets.
“Our goal is to leave with a bang and bring Marshall it’s first state championship (in football),” Dailey said.
By Gene Phelps
Tupelo High School’s state championship swim program – 21 since 1999 – finally has a title-worthy facility to train in.
The Golden Wave girls and boys teams are practicing this season in the new Tupelo Aquatic Center, which will be the host site for this year’s MHSAA State Swimming Championships.
“This is so much better,” said Tupelo coach Lucas Smith, whose team trained since 1996 in an outdoor pool at Rob Leake City Park. “We haven’t missed a practice because of thunderstorms. There were times in previous years when we would miss because of cold weather, a broken (pool) heater.
“When you’re inside, the conditions remain the same. We’ve been able to get some good workouts in.”
Last year’s three-time state champion swimmer, Cris Roberts, says there are “no limits” to what she and her teammates can accomplish with a new facility.
“The only limits we’ll have are the ones we set for ourselves,” said Roberts, who set Class II records in the 100-yard butterfly and 100-yard backstroke during last year’s state meet at Delta State. “This facility is amazing. There are so many things we can do now that we haven’t been able to do.”
Roberts, who is being recruited in swimming by the Naval Academy, Brown, TCU and others, was a member of last season’s state champion 200-yard medley relay unit with Mattie Hughes, Chelsie Gray and Lauren Bean.
Smith’s not sure what events Roberts will swim this season.
“She’ll do whatever we need her to do,” he said. “She’s team first, Cris second. Her strengths are the fly and the back. She’s also good in the IM (individual medley). She’s coming off a really strong summer.”
Tupelo’s girls have won three consecutive state titles while the boys have won seven straight.
“We’re looking to see who’s going to step up on the boys team,” Smith said. “We’re filling the gaps with some young and inexperienced swimmers.”
By Gene Phelps
OXFORD – Pat Byrd needed to give his offense a wake-up call Saturday, so he reached for his alarm clock – Diamante Pounds.
Saltillo’s senior running back, who was held to minus-4 yards on the Tigers’ first two series in their two-quarter scrimmage against North Pontotoc, responded loud and clear.
Pounds rushed for 49 yards on 15 carries and scored on a 2-yard run to lead Saltillo to a 14-7 comeback win against the Vikings in the Oxford Jamboree at Ole Miss’ Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.
“Coach (Byrd) told me I needed to pick my team up,” Pounds said. “I ran harder knowing we were down (7-0) in the game.”
One of two quarterbacks competing for the Tigers’ starting job, Tristen Daniel, connected with Chase Traylor for a 25-yard touchdown to give Saltillo a 7-7 tie in the second quarter.
Clayton Knight, a transfer from Tupelo Christian, started under center. However, Byrd says the QB race remains up for grabs.
“They each have their strengths,” Byrd said. “It’s going to boil down to who makes the best decisions.”
North Pontotoc turned to a nose guard to find a new quarterback. Caleb Nelson, who started on the defensive front last season, has taken over at QB for the departed Trey Jolly.
Nelson completed 12 of 20 passes for 176 yards, one TD and two interceptions against Saltillo. His scoring strike was a 14-harder to Zay Cullens.
“I was a little nervous early,” Nelson said. “I was pleased with a lot of my throws, except for the two (interceptions).”
Baldwyn 27, Senatobia 21
Baldwyn quarterback Duke Upshaw accounted for three touchdowns to lead his team.
Upshaw, who rushed for 112 yards and passed for 80, scored on runs of 15 and 56 yards. He passed 28 yards for a TD to Matthew Gates.
“He’s sneaky throwing the football,” Baldwyn coach Michael Gray said. “He’s more valuable with his legs, but if you start trying to defend that, he’ll be able to hurt you over the top.”
Also for the Bearcats, Jordan McGaughy returned an interception 12 yards for a score.
BY GENE PHELPS
FULTON – Tupelo is counting on senior wide receiver Alex Norwood to be a big-play producer this season.
He gave Golden Wave fans a little peek of his abilities in Friday’s two-quarter controlled scrimmage against Itawamba AHS when he raced 70 yards for a touchdown on a speed sweep.
“My receivers did a great job of blocking on the edge,” Norwood said. “I shook one or two defenders and saw daylight.”
Norwood also caught one pass for 14 yards from quarterback Daniel Bristow. The two also just missed hooking up on a deep route.
In a scrimmage designed to give both teams an equal number of offensive snaps, Tupelo prevailed, 12-0.
Tupelo second-year head coach Trent Hammond, who directed the Golden Wave to a 13-2 record and a North state championship last season, saw some things that pleased him.
“We’ve got a lot of things we have to get better on,” he said. “I did see some glimpses of last season. I think we’re more explosive on offense. I’d like us to be a little more physical, but we don’t have a lot of time.”
Tupelo opens its season next Friday at Lafayette, last season’s 4A North state champion.
Backup running back Donte Freeman, a sophomore, scored the Golden Wave’s second TD on a 5-yard run. A 61-yard run by Deamio Garmon set up the six-pointer.
Hammond said the Golden Wave was very basic with its offense and used scripted plays.
“This helps get us in game mode,” said Bristow, who started at quarterback last season as a sophomore. “It helps get us ready for next week.”
Tupelo’s defense, ranked as one of the state’s best last season, kept IAHS and quarterback Vijay Miller out of the end zone, even during goal-line work.
“I thought we did pretty well,” Tupelo senior outside linebacker Justin Clifton said. “Coach Hammond believes in us being physical. We have that heart and mentality.”
IAHS coach Toby Collums saw what he wanted.
“We wanted to play a good quality football team, a tough team,” he said. “This gives us some film to evaluate.”
BY GENE PHELPS
The Oxford Chargers open their 2014 football season with games against academy power Jackson Prep and Class 6A contender Starkville.
To prepare for that one-two punch, the Chargers are scheduled to challenge the toughest bully on the block – South Panola – tonight in their annual two-day Oxford Jamboree at Ole Miss’ Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.
The two-quarter scrimmage is scheduled for 8 p.m.
“What better way to get ready,” Oxford coach Johnny Hill said. “I think we’ll be fine. I think it will be good for our team.”
Each scrimmage in the two-day jamboree will be one regulation half. Joining Oxford-South Panola on opening night are Booneville-North Panola and New Albany-Kossuth.
Saltillo kicks off Saturday’s seven-scrimmage schedule playing North Pontotoc.
New Hope is hosting a jamboree on Saturday at Mississippi State’s Davis Wade Stadium. One of the featured matchups has West Point playing Louisville at 3 p.m.
The Chargers are no slouch on the football field. Oxford played in the Class 5A state championship game last season and return junior quarterback Jack Abraham, the 2013 Daily Journal Offensive Player of the Year. He passed for 3,572 yards and 38 touchdowns as a sophomore.
Oxford does enter the season with young offensive and defensive lines.
“It’s like teaching somebody how to swim,” Hill said. “They’ll either sink or swim. (The jamboree) gives everybody a chance to get through some of the rusty spots.
“It takes several games for a team to jell and find their identity.”
POUND FOR POUNDS
Saltillo returns senior running back Diamonte Pounds, who rushed for 2,039 yards and scored 20 touchdowns last season.
Tigers coach Pat Byrd says a jamboree, especially one in the college arena with artificial turf, is good for his team.
“I think it’s a good experience for the players to play in a college stadium,” he said. “It’s good to get to see your team against another opponent before you start playing for real.”
One problem could be the heat from the Rebels’ Field Turf. Saltillo and North Pontotoc play at 10 a.m.
“It’s going to be hot on that turf,” Byrd said. “We’ll be gassed after a half.”
BY GENE PHELPS
High school football – the hard-hitting edition – kicked off Saturday for many teams in Northeast Mississippi.
In Oxford, veteran coach Johnny Hill, opened his team’s first day in full pads with a traditional rite of fall, the Oklahoma drill – which is essentially one-on-one blocking and tackling in a confined space.
“We did that to get things started,” Hill said. “We had special teams live and had a controlled scrimmage.”
The Chargers finished 14-1 last season, losing in the Class 5A state championship game. They open their season Aug. 22 with a trip to Jackson Prep.
Oxford’s first test, however, comes at 8 p.m. Friday when it plays 6A power South Panola in the Oxford Jamboree at Ole Miss’ Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.
Tupelo had its scheduled photo day Saturday at Robins Field, the school’s former football stadium. Renasant Field, the team’s home stadium, is expected to have its blue artificial turf installed, starting this week.
The Golden Wave, which plays at Itawamba AHS in a two-quarter scrimmage Friday, will conduct its first practice in full pads Monday. The team’s season opener is Aug. 22 at Lafayette and its home opener Aug. 29 against Center Hill.
Tupelo finished 13-2 in its first season under coach Trent Hammond and lost to Oak Grove in the 6A state championship game.
Corinth coach Doug Jones expects a busy first week in pads.
“We want to get everybody in and involved. There will be a lot of coaching going on,” he said.
“You want to get the wrinkles out before you play your jamboree.”
Corinth plays Water Valley at 6 p.m. Saturday in the Oxford Jamboree.
Tishomingo County first-year coach Preston Leathers sent his team through a scripted scrimmage Saturday, which included “best-on-best” work.
“You see who can run when you’re in shorts and t-shirts,” he said. “In full pads you see who can block, who can tackle. That’s what I’m anxious to see.”
The Braves kick off their season Aug. 22 with a home game against Mooreville.
By Gene Phelps
A hashmark here, a letter there and Corinth’s football program hopes to have its artificial turf installed and ready for practice Aug. 18, one week before its season opener.
“All the numbers are almost down,” Warriors head coach Doug Jones said. “It’s supposed to be finished by the end of next week. That will give us a full week practicing on it.”
Jones says because the newer turf products play “like grass,” there’s very little difference when it comes to where you practice and play.
“We practiced on turf all the time, then played (road) games on grass when I was at Madison Central,” he said. “It never affected us.”
Corinth is one of at least four Northeast Mississippi high schools installing artificial turf at its stadiums this season. The others include Tupelo, Oxford and Starkville.
Tupelo’s blue turf is expected to arrive next week.
Golden Wave coach Trent Hammond says the work should start Tuesday, but he doesn’t have a time frame on when it will be ready for practice.
“I’d rather be on it,” he said.
Hammond wants to get his team acclimated to the blue field before its Aug. 29 home opener against Center Hill at Renasant Field.
“One of the things we’ll have to get used to is the color,” he said, earlier in the summer.
Tupelo’s season opener is scheduled for Aug. 22 at Lafayette. The Commodores installed artificial turf last season.
Oxford’s turf is expected to arrive Monday and be ready before the team’s home opener Aug. 29.
“We’ll be able to practice on it a week before our first home game,” Chargers coach Johnny Hill said. “We play some games on (real) grass this season so it’s been good for us to practice on grass.”
Starkville had some troubles earlier in the summer with its base, but the turfed field is expected to be ready for the team’s season opener, scheduled for Aug. 22 against Noxubee County.
“The turf is being delivered this week,” Yellow Jackets coach Jamie Mitchell said.
“They’ll start installing it Saturday or Sunday.”
By Gene Phelps
Football players hate practice-ending conditioning drills commonly known as “gassers” or “wind sprints.” Not Alex Norwood.
Tupelo’s senior wide receiver ran all-out every sprint at the end of Monday’s first day of fall practice.
“That’s it, Alex!” screamed Golden Wave wide receivers coach Fred Hadley, as he watched from a distance. “I’m anxious to see what he can do this year. He’s busting his butt.”
Norwood, who has played quarterback and receiver the last two seasons, is expected to be big-play weapon this year. In 2013, he caught 11 passes for 129 yards and one touchdown in his first year at wideout. He shared quarterback duties his sophomore season and accounted for 809 yards total offense and four TDs.
He’ll likely be the backup for starting quarterback Daniel Bristow, but catching passes is his No. 1 priority.
“He’s a really good threat,” Golden Wave head coach Trent Hammond said. “He’s a kid we’ve got to get the ball to.”
Norwood, at 6-foot-2, 185 pounds, is excited about the prospects of being a key contributor in his team’s up-tempo offense.
“I think my first year at receiver will make me better this year,” he said. “Playing quarterback also helped me understand the receiver position.”
Hadley, a former college and professional wide receiver, likes what he has seen from Norwood in games and on the practice field.
“He has really worked hard at his game,” Hadley said. “He’s worked on technique, getting off the ball and with his route running. He’s doing all the little things to get better.”
Norwood has also worked to improve his speed, using ankle weights, resistance bands and dragging tires. He witnessed the results of his work June 19 when he ran a 4.42 during a one-day camp at Ole Miss.
“He made sure I knew,” Hadley said, then laughed.
Norwood’s dream is to play college football on some level. Hadley is confident his pupil will get the opportunity.
“He’s a well-round athlete,” the coach said. “He’s going to surprise a lot of people this season.”
Norwood’s plans are to remain humble and keep working hard. “I’ll get there,” he said.
Mike Mattox doesn’t fondly remember those blazing hot August two-a-day football practices during his playing career at Kossuth High School.
“We all used to worry about how much we were going to have to run at the end of practice,” said Mattox, who enters his fifth season as Booneville’s head coach.
Added Baldwyn sixth-year head coach Michael Gray, “I hated two-a-days; they would always run you to death.”
Well, conditioning remains a part of preseason football, but two-a-day practices have become a thing of the past.
The state’s high schools kick off preseason practice Monday. Most of the schools are already in session, which limits practice time to just once a day. Plus, new guidelines – which include getting players acclimated to heat – allow three hours of practice daily.
“That limits you,” said Mattox, who will conduct abbreviated two-a-day workouts Monday through Wednesday this week. “Our kids don’t start school until Thursday. We will have one-hour morning walk-throughs and a two-hour afternoon practice (Monday-Wednesday).”
Second-year Tupelo coach Trent Hammond hasn’t conducted two-a-days in years.
“Kids can’t give you as much twice a day in the heat,” he said. “When I look back at two-a-days, we always had one good practice and one that caused my blood pressure to go up.”
Ahead of the game
Most teams, thanks to 7-on-7 play in the summer and offseason weight training, are ahead of the game scheme-wise and physically when the whistle blows in August.
“We used to use two-a-days to get into shape,” Hammond said. “Now we can go outside, throw the ball and wear helmets in the summer. Kids get coached up in June and July.
“You are ahead of where you would be.”
Gray believes his players are more prepared for preseason practice than they used to be.
“7-on-7 helps them get involved with each other,” he said. “We do so much in the summer now, the kids are in better condition.”
This season, most teams will have 14 practices – one per day – before their first games. The 15th practice will be their Aug. 22 opener.
“Two-a-days have gone away,” Hammond said. “We come in, do what we have to do and have one good practice every day.”