By Brandon Speck/NEMS Daily Journal
New Tupelo head football coach Trent Hammond faces the same question he faced three years ago when he became Amory’s new coach.
Amory hadn’t been unsuccessful, but not successful enough to please a fan base that remembered three gold balls the Panthers won in the mid-90s.
Tupelo may not have the championship history Amory has, but the question is the same: Can Hammond build a contender? He’s proven he can.
Tupelo has made the playoffs two of the last three seasons. With four teams per division making the playoffs, that stat may not be as good as it sounds.
To be fair, Tupelo shares a division with a national power, South Panola, and perennial contender Olive Branch. But that only goes so far with success-craved fans.
Hammond led Amory back onto the contenders list. How he did it deserves mention.
During a preseason interview before his first season, he emphasized his desire to win the way he always had, with a stingy defense and a stout run game.
Amory just wasn’t ready for it. At least, the backfield wasn’t ready. The Panthers struggled to a 3-9 season and rushed for less than 50 yards a game.
Something had to be done.
New Amory can be traced back to Oct. 22, 2010. Junior quarterback Forest Williams set a state single-game record with 582 yards passing in a win against Houston.
The next season, Williams and the Panthers had it figured out.
An all-out air attack under Hammond and offensive coordinator John Keith led to an 11-4 season. They made the Class 4A North finals and Williams broke his own single-game passing record with 646 yards and eight TDs against Gentry.
Hammond happened to have an intelligent quarterback, but he did something else to help his situation.
Hammond searched the hallways for help. None of the five leading receivers for Amory’s 2011 and 2012 seasons, all seniors, were on the roster as freshmen.
By the end of 2011, Dario Robinson was at the top of every receiving category in the state and Hammond and Williams were named Daily Journal Coach and Player of the Year.
Hammond talked on Wednesday about his desire to implement an air attack offense at Tupelo. He and superintendent Gearl Loden both talked of the need to make sure anyone who should be playing football is playing.
Hammond helped Amory take huge strides in his three seasons and Tupelo is looking to do the same.
As good as things were at Amory, there are always bigger hills to climb. A hill the Panthers never climbed was Aberdeen. Amory’s archrival swept Hammond’s Panthers.
He’s starting the same plan over at the state’s largest school. The challenges are the same but the hills to climb are even bigger.
If championships are the ultimate goal, then the biggest hill to climb is in Batesville. And South Panola is more a mountain than a hill.