Special to the Journal
Toward the end of practice Monday, Itawamba Indians first-year head coach Sean Cannon reminded his team that after two more days of practice, they would be playing a game.
“They kind of looked around at each other with wide eyes,” Cannon said. “But we are ready to play somebody else besides ourselves.”
Ready or not, the Indians do open their 2014 effort today, traveling to play Copiah-Lincoln at 7 p.m. In preseason rankings, Itawamba is No. 19, while Co-Lin is No. 3 in the nation.
“Unfortunately, we play the No. 3 team in the nation as we work the kinks out at the start of the season,” said Cannon, who has been the ICC defensive coordinator the past four seasons. “I haven’t heard much from Co-Lin during the offseason, but I do know they’ve got some really good players returning, and we’ll have our hands full.”
A year ago, Co-Lin snapped Itawamba’s season-opening five-game winning streak with a 48-7 decision over the Indians. Cannon hopes the returning sophomores do not fondly remember that road trip.
“I think we beat ourselves that game,” Cannon said. “They were up 14-7, and we had just stopped them and forced them to punt.
“We got a roughing the punter, they scored a fluke touchdown, and it was downhill from there. I’ve been telling the team Co-Lin didn’t get our best shot last year, and that we can’t go down there and make mistakes.”
Itawamba, which finished 7-4 last season, will be entering the season with a freshman quarterback under center. Cannon indicates that South Carolina’s D’Andre Belton will get the nod for this game, edging out Kwadra Griggs from Greenwood and Jesse Hosket from French Camp.
Sophomore receivers Ja’ Nardeon Jones from Noxubee County and Jaquez McMillian from Southaven, and freshman tight end Stanley Higgins from Starkville should take pressure off any of the freshmen quarterbacks that play.
The Indians’ defensive front will try to make an impact early, led by sophomores Xavier Pegues from Oxford and Larry Jefferson from Ga. Sophomore linebacker Devin Gilleylen from Shannon and defensive back Quinton Lane from Ackerman are also key.
“There are four or five plays that win ball games,” Cannon said. “You never know when they’re going to come, but you have to be ready to step up.”