BY BRANDON SPECK
SALTILLO – Saltillo made the playoffs for the first time as a Class 5A school last season. It was the third playoff appearance in school history for the fast-growing district.
The first playoff trip for current Tigers gave them some extra push going into the offseason, but fourth-year coach Pat Byrd said building on that leaped hurdle isn’t as easy as it may sound.
“It’s still in the back of their mind, ‘Can we really follow through on this thing?’ And that’s natural. I understand that,” Byrd said. “But it’s made them realize the work they put it, there’s some dividend to it.”
Saltillo has one of the state’s toughest divisions, with 5A favorites Oxford and West Point both coming to them in October.
The Tigers will face those challenges with a new quarterback, senior Tyler Tollison. AT 5-foot-7, 145 pounds, Tollison isn’t breaking any scales but he did just about everything except drive the band bus last season and does it all well. Byrd said he makes good things happen. His arm is more than capable to make everything else work well.
“He throws it good enough, the crossing routes, boots, the play-action stuff that we’re going to do, he does it real well,” Byrd said.
He’ll have what Saltillo didn’t have last season, a running back. Junior Diamante Pounds transferred from Shannon, where he rushed for nearly 1,600 yards last season.
“He fits what we do real well,” Byrd said.
There are 15 returning starters. Linebacker and secondary have the biggest returns, four senior linebackers.
The Tigers will play North Pontotoc at 11 a.m. on Aug. 17 at the Oxford/Ole Miss Jamboree at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. The regular season opener hosts Desoto Central on Aug. 23.
The playoff appearance “also amped the pressure up on them some,” Byrd said, “something they’re not accustomed to. We’ll see how they respond to that.”