Football is a fun sport to play, but it can also be pretty grueling.
That’s why the Union County football staff will be taking a “crawl/walk mentality” with the new football program, says East Union Attendance Center principal Tim Carter.
After coaching 22 years in Columbus and Oxford, Carter is no novice when it comes to football, but the majority of the players – from East Union, Ingomar, Myrtle and West Union – happen to be just that as the Union County schools are consolidating to start a football program.
The Union County schools are among the smallest in the area in terms of enrollment, and the only way they could afford to offer high school football was if all the schools combined forces.
“We’ve had 130 seventh through ninth graders sign up and be measured for equipment,” said Carter, who will be an advisor to the program. “We won’t end up with that.
“They just want to see what it’s about.”
East Union athletic director and baseball coach Chris Basil is considered the head coach. Although he has no prior football coaching experience, he did say he played for a man he considers one of the greatest high school football coaches in Mississippi, Ben Jones.
For now, greatness on the football field will have to wait as the Union County seventh-, eighth- and ninth- graders will begin their football endeavor by playing only five games. The program will try to play a home game at New Albany High School in the coming months.
By next fall, the Union County program will field a team with sophomores. The following year, juniors will begin playing, and by 2012 the Union County program hopes to be a full-fledged varsity member of the MHSAA.
“We’re the first in the state to ever have a co-op football program,” Carter said. “We’re the pilot.”
Coach Rob Allen has made it clear that his team is not afraid to play anyone.
It’s only Year 2 of the Wildcats program, but Allen and Co. are already playing a full varsity schedule against the likes of Okolona, Hatley, East Webster and Hamilton. As of now, every game will be on the road for the Wildcats.
“We might take our lumps but in the end it will make us more prepared when we play a division schedule,” Allen said.
“I’m just trying to get the boys used to who we are going to have to play to reach the playoffs if that’s going to be our goal.”
Keep your eyes out on the Okolona-Houlka matchup in the coming years, because that could develop into an intense rivalry with a catchy moniker.
“Okolona will be in our division when we reclassify,” Allen said. “We thought about putting a little trophy on the line.
“We hadn’t necessarily named it (the rivalry) yet. Okolona and Houlka, there’s a lot of boys that know each other.”
Fortunately for James Kimbrough, half of his players have prior playing experience. The other half, however, will be playing football for the first time when they suit up for H.W. Byers.
“We have a Pop Warner program that started a couple of years ago, which about half of my players played in,” said Kimbrough, who coached at Byhalia Middle School and was an assistant varsity coach at Carthage.
The 29-year-old coach is leading the startup program at H.W. Byers, which will be in its second season. Last year, Byers fielded only a junior high team. Both a junior high team and a junior varsity team will play at a newly completed field at the high school this fall.
Next year, the Lions will play a full varsity schedule as an independent, and look to join a MHSAA division in 2011.
Who better to lead Jumpertown when it begins playing varsity games than a coach who has won two state championships in Tennessee?
Although his teams won state titles at the middle school level, Jay McGee’s 22-1 record in two years at Memphis’ American Way Middle School demonstrates his ability to lead a program.
That ability will be tested when the Cardinals play their first varsity games this fall, during the program’s third season.
“Very little,” McGee admitted about the amount of football savvy in his players. “But to say that they’re ready is an understatement. They’re dedicated to it.”
The Cardinals, who had been playing strictly a JV schedule the previous two seasons, will play five varsity games and four JV games this season.
Their home games will be played at Thrasher. McGee said the school hopes to have its stadium built by next spring.
With skill players such as Dustin Jones, Lee Mars and Jake Wigginton, the future looks bright for the Cardinals when they join a MHSAA division full time, either next season or the year after.
The 2009 season will be competitive, nonetheless, as Jumpertown will compete against other MHSAA independent teams for a conference title.
“We’re in a conference with Houlka, Tupelo Christian and New Site,” McGee said.
“Whoever has the best record head to head will receive a trophy at the end of the year.”
In its first full season of varsity football, New Site will turn to 35-year coaching veteran Bobby Purvis.
Purvis, who coached at Alcorn Central and Biggersville, takes over after Josh Alford left to be an assistant at Hatley.
After being somewhat of a hybrid varsity program last year, the Royals will be an independent this season when they compete against other MHSAA varsity teams. Half of New Site’s games last season were junior varsity contests.
New Site looks to possibly join Division 1-2A in 2011.
Shane Stone said Potts Camp is “just taking baby steps” with its new football program this year.
Stone, a former assistant football coach at Oxford for eight years and an assistant at Tupelo for a season, will lead the new program in its first season.
The Cardinals will field both a junior high team and a junior varsity team.
“It’s the first time playing football for a lot of those guys,” Stone said. “Five or six years ago they (Potts Camp) tried to have a Pop Warner team.”
So far, there have been close to 50 kids coming out for the program.
John Wilbert/NEMS Daily Journal