New year but with different preseason expectations for John Perry and his Pearl Pirates following a run to last year’s 6A State Championship game. They entered last year off the radar but won’t sneak up on anyone this year.
Eight starters return to land Pearl in the top preseason spot in the state.
“We got everyone back that touched the football on offense,” he said. “When we went on the run last year and got to the state championship, our kids knew it was possible.”
Jake Smithhart is a big reason for optimism. Smithhart tossed for 2,508 yards with 31 touchdowns. Promising receivers Tylan Knight and Johnquarise Patterson are back, along with running back Johnny Winston.
“Having your quarterback back is always big,” Perry said. “We got a bunch of studs. They’re not all Division I studs, but kids who work hard and do what we ask and that wins games.”
Tupelo went 12-1 in 2016 and made it to the second round of the Clas 6A playoffs. Eight starters return on offense and three on defense. All three players returning on defense have Division I scholarship offers led by linebacker and Mississippi State commit Jett Johnson along with defensive end Peter Gray and defensive back Tavario Standifer. Stephon McGlaun returns at quarterback and Jaquerrious Williams at running back. Jordan Jernigan is a big-time receiver.
“After last season, our kids have worked really hard, they have all been committed to doing whatever it takes to get us back to where we were and maybe a little further,” Tupelo coach Trent Hammond said. “We need to continue to grow as a team.”
Starkville is loaded defensively as Chris Jones takes over the program after leading Kemper County to a state title last year. The defense is led by Zack Edwards and Jalil Clemons. Cameron Gardner is a big play threat at receiver. Gardner hauled in 21 receptions for 213 yards last year. Rodrigues Clark and Andreus Swanigan are both dangerous in the backfield. The roster is loaded with young talent.
Meridian enters year two under Calvin Hampton with six returning starters on both sides of the ball of a team that went 10-4 and reached the second round of playoffs. Linebacker and Ole Miss commit Deuntra Hyman will anchor the defense. Junior quarterback Tee Adams will turn heads this season.
“Our kids want to win bad and it has been showing in the offseason,” Hampton said. “We are expecting a big year out of Tevarrious on offense. He’s going to lead by example.”
South Panola is in a unique position for them as a darkhorse. The Tigers are coming off a tough 7-6 season but the roster has talent and what could be a powerful offensive line. The biggest addition is Ricky Woods who takes over the program again. His first run in Batesville resulted in a 74-2 record in six seasons with the Tigers winning four state championships. He will depend on Tulane commit Patrick Shegog at quarterback.
D’Iberville was picked as the region 4 favorite by coaches and the Warriors return a solid group from last year’s 8-4 team. Eric Collins has the Warrior program expecting a playoff run. Still only a junior, Louis Paul Smith is one of the best offensive linemen in the state.
Madison Central reached the third round of the ’16 playoffs before narrowly losing to eventual champion Clinton. The Jaguars should be solid from top to bottom this season with Cameron White the headliner. White could be used in a variety of roles and already has multiple SEC scholarship offers. As a runner, he is a terrific athlete.
Brandon breaks in new starters at key positions with only five starters back on both sides of the ball. With Brady Anderson gone, sophomore Will Rogers will step in at quarterback and will have plenty of weapons to throw to.
“Class 6A is a marathon not a sprint,” Tyler Peterson said. “We’ve had hiccups in the second round of the playoffs and just need to find a way to get over the hump and play our best late in the year.”
Oxford begins year two under Chris Cutcliffe and move up from 5A to 6A. The Chargers have six starters back on offense led by junior quarterback John Reese McClure, running back Hiram Wadlington and wide receiver Jaqaun Webb. Linebacker Quentin Wilfawn led the state in tackles last year with 171.
“We’re excited about the challenge of moving up to 6A,” Oxford coach Chris Cutcliffe said. “We feel really good on offense with all of our skill players back. We’ve got some new faces on the line of scrimmage and that’s what concerns me.”
Northwest Rankin has increased their win total in each of Toby Collums’ first two seasons, reaching the playoffs last year. An offense that scored 431 points last year is a big reason the win total should go up again. Quarterback Braden Smith will be greatly missed but Cameron Carroll is one of the top returning offensive threats in 6A. Carroll is a bruising back who pounded out 1,399 yards and 15 TD’s last year. The offense is built around him but Jarrian Jones is a big-time athlete moving to quarterback.
MHSAA 6A RANKINGS
5 South Panola
8 Madison Central
10 Northwest Rankin
REGION COACHES’ POLLS
6A Region 1
2 South Panola
4 Horn Lake
8 DeSoto Central
6A Region 2
2 Madison Central
3 Northwest Rankin
5 Warren Central
6A Region 3
5 Oak Grove
6 George County
8 Jim Hill
6A Region 4
5 Harrison Central
6 St. Martin
7 Ocean Springs
QB Jake Smithart 5’11, 175, Sr, Pearl
AP Tylan Knight 5’7, 175, Sr, Pearl
RB Keon Moore 5’11, 195, Sr, Harrison Central
RB Cameron Carroll 6′, 220, Sr, Northwest Rankin
WR Johnquarise Patterson 6’1, 175, Sr, Pearl
WR Cameron Gardner 6’4, 215, Sr, Starkville
TE Reed Tyler 6’4, 240, Sr, Brandon
OL Nik Hogan 6’5, 270, Sr, Northwest Rankin
OL Kameron Jones 6’5, 280, Sr, Starkville
OL Bryce Ramsey 6’3, 325, Sr, Harrison Central
OL Louis Paul Smith 6’3, 295, Jr, D’Iberville
OL Brady Moody 6’5, 275, Sr, Warren Central
DL Jaden Crumedy 6’5, 235, Sr, Oak Grove
DL Deuntra Hyman 6’3, 230, Sr, Meridian
DL Fabien Lovett 6’4, 275, Sr, Olive Branch
DL Peter Gray 6’4, 230, Sr, Tupelo
LB Truett Bourne 6′, 205, Sr, Madison Central
LB Quentin Wilfawn 6’1, 235, Sr, Oxford
LB Jett Johnson 6’2, 225, Sr, Tupelo
LB Hayes Maples 6’2, 220, Sr, Oak Grove
DB Cameron White 6’1, 190, Sr, Madison Central
DB Jaylon Reed 6’1, 170, Sr. Olive Branch
DB D’Jordan Strong 5’11, 175, Sr, South Panola
DB Jarrian Jones 6’1, 185, Jr, Northwest Rankin
PK Tucker Barefoot 6′, 165, Jr, Clinton
P Sean Gomez 6’, 160, Sr, St. Martin