Like last season, coach Tyrone Shorter feels the way to go is to run the ball. In 2010, the Tigers had the luxury of having an experienced offensive line.
This season, though, Noxubee County must replace all five starters from an offensive line hampered by injuries. Still, the Tigers marched all the way to the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 4A North State title game before losing to eventual state champion Lafayette.
The key in 2011 will be the continued contributions of a backfield Shorter says is packed with five good running backs. Throw in an experienced quarterback (DeAngelo Ballard) and an equally dangerous wide receiver (Terrence Barron) and it's easy to see why Shorter feels good about the coming season.
"If we stay healthy, we're going to have a great chance to have another run at a state title," said Shorter, who will enter his second season as head coach.
Shorter's anticipation about the 2011 season is shared by all of the coaches in the area, which is why many of the programs are staying busy this summer.
Noxubee County is one of the busiest, using numerous appearances in 7-on-7 passing camps to build team chemistry and to help its skill players on offense improve timing.
"One thing we get out of (the 7-on-7 camps) is they teach camaraderie and they keep the team together," Shorter said. "We work out together and try to keep the guys together in the summer. Plus, it is good competition and the guys love it. They try to win every tournament they go to."
Noxubee County recently lost to Greenwood in the championship game of the 7-on-7 passing camp at the University of Mississippi. The Tigers also attended similar camps at Mississippi State and the University of Alabama. They also plan to attend a passing camp at East Mississippi Community College, and are involved in a 7-on-7 league comprised of teams from this area that play in Starkville.
"We do a lot of the things in 7-on-7 that we do in the regular season," Shorter said. "We do a lot of the same coverages (on defense) that we do in the regular season. It is like practice, so it helps keep us sharp."
Shorter said the 7-on-7 league helps running backs improve hand-eye coordination and allows them to become more comfortable catching the football, which he hopes will make them more dangerous when the season starts in August.
Shorter said the passing leagues don't prove as beneficial to offensive linemen, especially on his team because it only carries two centers. But Shorter said the other offensive linemen work hard in the weight room and on drills in the offseason to ensure they're ready for the start of the season.
When that season begins, Shorter's hope is the Tigers will be able to have a 60-40 balance between running and passing. He foresees opponents attempting to double-team Barron, which makes the progress of other receivers in the 7-on-7 leagues extra important.
Columbus High coach Tony Stanford also is looking for similar improvement from his players.
He said conditioning is the biggest benefit his players get from participating in 7-on-7 leagues. Led by quarterback Cedrick Jackson, who guided the squad last season,
Stanford said the Falcons won't introduce a lot of new things in 7-on-7 situations simply because there will be plenty of one-on-one coverages in which Jackson or Trace Lee will have to pick the right receiver to hit.
Stanford also hopes to use the summer experience to give Lee a run at quarterback and to experiment with using Jackson at wide receiver or as a playmaker.
Regardless of who is at quarterback, Stanford said the benefits to competing in 7-on-7 leagues are important for teams.
"They're getting to pitch and catch," Stanford said of the offenses. "One thing I don't like about it is the defenses don't get to work on a lot of things they use in the fall."
Still, the 7-on-7 leagues offer opportunities for veterans and inexperienced players to get a taste of what varsity action will be like in the fall.
"A lot of times it gives coaches a chance to see a player at a different position if they're trying to build for the future," he said.