West Point is the unquestioned team to beat in 5A with seven starters back on each side of the ball including one of the state’s best players.
“We are used to it,” said West Point coach Chris Chambless. “For us championships are won in the offseason. We make it competitive in the weight room and the practice field.”
Four-star running back and Mississippi State commit Marcus Murphy returns after rushing 1,756 yards with 25 touchdowns.
Jake Chambless, the head coach’s son, will take over as the starting quarterback. Jason Brownlee returns at wide receiver after leading the Green Wave with 583 yards receiving with 10 touchdowns.
“Last year was kind of different simply because we could put up some points,” Chambless said. “This year we are still going to be a heavy run physical football team, but we will be more balanced.”
Promising senior linebacker Xavier Fair and defensive tackle Terence Cherry anchor a suffocating defense.
“Our defense is very tight group. Our whole team is very close and take a lot of pride in one another,” Chambless said. “We fly to the football.”
Even with the loss of several skill guys, Hattiesburg will be explosive on offense. Eight starters are back on offense led by four-star running back Fabian Franklin.
“Offensively we’re excited about the offensive line and depth. We have guys that can get the job done at the skill positions,” said Hattiesburg coach Tony Vance. “Defensively we finally have some experience.”
Picayune returns seven starters on offense and 10 on defense from a team that finished 12-2.
“We lost two good players in Skylar Bowman and Josh Littles, but we got two good ones to take their place. We feel good about running backs,” said Picayune coach Dodd Lee. “Linebackers are going to have to take leadership of the defense.”
Wayne County will lean on a defense that has six starters back. The offense will miss Chris Cooley but adds Zabryan Jackson at quarterback.
“Defense will have to carry us early,” said Wayne County coach Todd Mangum. “Offensively we really like our quarterback and we have weapons at the skill positions.”
Brookhaven will be playing with heavy hearts due to the tragic death of Jordan Blackwell who coach Tommy Clopton called a “kid you want to be part of your team on and off the field.”
The Panthers aren’t as deep as some team but the starters are as talented as any.
“Big thing with us is we’ve got to avoid the injury bug,” Clopton said. “We’ve got a very veteran group back and will lean on them to carry us.”
Laurel lost a lot of talent from a very good team but Todd Breland reloads every year. Callaway is a team to watch with 3-4 potential SEC players on the roster including maybe the state’s best player in defensive end James Williams. Lafayette is the defending 4A state champion but the jump up classifications is difficult. JaMarcus Quarles is a 2,000-yard runner at running back.
Callaway move down from 6A to 5A and have the talent to make a deep playoff run. Tyrese Winford returns at quarterback and has weapons to spread the ball around to including wide receiver and Mississippi State commit Malik Heath along with running back Lakenith Thompson. Defensive tackles James Williams and Kobe Love along with defensive backs Makenzie Black and Timothy Robinson will anchor the defense.
The defending Class 4A state champions will make the jump into 5A and looking for the challenge. Lafayette only has four starters back on both sides of the ball. Offensively, the Dores will break in Drew Dabney at quarterback and will lean on running back JaMarcus Quarles, while defense will be led by linebacker Brandon Curry and defensive back Brandon Turnage.
West Jones has a potentially dominant defense with eight returning starters and experience at quarterback has the Mustangs back in the playoff hunt. Peyton Brown went down in last year’s first game giving Hunter Parish an opportunity at quarterback. Parish went on to start the rest of the season and both players are back. They’ll both target top receiver Garrick Randolph.
Germantown has been a consistent winner under Tim Shramek who has guided Germantown to three straight playoff appearances. The Mavericks are a solid bet to extend that streak in ’17. Germantown welcomes back starting quarterback Cade Pinnix. As a junior, Pinnix passed for 709 yards and four scores. His returns his top receiving threat in Austin Hamilton.
MHSAA 5A RANKINGS
1 West Point
4 Wayne County
9 West Jones
REGION COACHES’ POLLS
1 West Point
4 Lake Cormorant
5 Olive Branch
7 Center Hill
6 Holmes County
8 Neshoba Central
3 West Jones
4 South Jones
5 Forest Hill
6 North Pike
3 Wayne County
5 Pearl River Central
7 Long Beach
8 West Harrison
QB Chris Scott 6’2, 185, Sr. Natchez
AP Marcus Murphy 6’, 190, Sr, West Point
RB Lakennith THompson 6’1, 225, Jr, Callaway
RB Fabian Franklin 5’11, 200, Sr, Hattiesburg
WR Dandre Humbles 5’10, 165, Sr, Hattiesburg
WR Malik Heath 6’3, 205, Sr, Callaway
DB Jason Brownlee 6’2, 175, Sr, West Point
OL Kwatrivous Johnson 6’7, 360, Sr, Greenwood
OL Quincy McGee 6’3, 320, Sr, Hattiesburg
OL Trace Clopton 6’2, 285, Sr, Brookhaven
OL Maljon Joor 6’5, 310, Sr, Callaway
OL John Allen 6’2, 310, Sr, Forest Hill
DL Jeffery Johnson 6’3, 310, Sr, Brookhaven
DL Terrance Cherry 6’2, 240, Sr, West Point
DL Quentin Bivens 6’3, 275, Sr, Wayne County
DL James Williams 6’5, 265, Sr, Callaway
LB Michael Smith 6’1, 205, Jr, Ridgeland
LB William Robinson 6’3, 200, Sr, Hattiesburg
LB Makenzie Black 6’2, 225, Sr, Callaway
LB Christian Cain 6’2, 190, Sr, Grenada
DB Jalen Jordan 5’10, 175, Jr, Lake Cormorant
DB Tray Brownlee 5’10, 175, Sr, West Point
DB Brandon Turnage 6’2, 180, Jr, Lafayette
DB Jemaurian Jones 6’1, 175, Sr, Brookhaven
PK Heath Mosley 5’10, 160, Sr, Wayne County
P Greg Hayden 5’7, 160, Sr, Vicksburg