Community college football teams get back to work

Nine months is a long time to hold on to a bitter feeling.
Jeff Terrill knows this. So does Ricky Smither.
Since the end of the 2008 football season, both Terrill, the head coach at Itawamba Community College, and Smither, Northeast’s head man, have each quietly stewed over less-than-stellar campaigns of a year ago, when the Indians turned in an uncharacteristic 3-6 mark and Smither’s Tigers stumbled to a 1-8 finish.
Neither coach has had a pleasant offseason – but luckily for both, the time for redemption has arrived as fall practice cranks up this week.
ICC’s Indians reported for duty Sunday and hit the field Monday, while Northeast players arrived Tuesday ahead of today’s opening practice.
For both, the goal this year is simple: To erase last year’s disappointment, win-by-win.
“There’s no doubt that if you’re a winner, a season like that just eats at you,” Terrill said. “You think about it every day, wondering what you could have done differently. The good side to that is that it makes you run that extra sprint, lift that extra rep, go that extra mile as coaches to make sure a season like that doesn’t happen again.”
That’s exactly where Terrill’s Indians are now. After last year’s slip, ICC has entered camp with a chip on its shoulder, determined to return to the top of the MACJC’s north Division, exactly where they were two years ago.
For a team that’s made the postseason for four out of the past five years, Monday’s initial practice couldn’t have arrived soon enough.
“We’re excited to get back on the field,” Terrill said. “There’s a lot of optimism here right now. We believe we’ve got a great group here that can get us right back in the mix. We’d been to the postseason four years in a row, now we want to get back.”
That optimism us shared up the road in Booneville. Like Terrill, Smither didn’t take too well to last year’s struggles, which he called, “A humbling experience.”
As it turns out, though, that experience just might be the fuel his Tigers need heading into the 2009 season.
“Our kids are fired up, our coaches are fired up,” Smither said. “Nobody likes losing and from what I’ve seen, this team is determined that last year will not happen again. We’ve got coaches working with more urgency and the players are feeding off that.”
While the majority of his team arrived Tuesday, Smither said he expects a focused, hungry bunch of Tigers when the real work starts.
“We’re going to be young, but I feel like we’re focused this year,” Smither noted. “I’m excited just to get back to playing football.”

The hype begins
While ICC’s four-season playoff streak ended last year, the Indians came within a game of securing second place in the North, finishing the year third behind East Mississippi and Northwest. That’s exactly the order that the division’s coaches have picked for this season. In a preseason poll of coaches from across the league, East Mississippi was picked to finish on top, followed by Northwest and ICC. Northeast was picked to finish fifth, ahead of Coahoma and Miss. Delta.
Northeast opens its season Aug. 27 with a home date against Hinds, while ICC will welcome in 14th-ranked Jones County that same night.

Brandon Walker/NEMS Daily Journal