No school or coach in the history of Mississippi high school football has won six straight state championships. Ricky Black and Jackson Prep could become the one.
With seven starters back on both sides of the ball and one of the state’s top juniors in running back Jerrion Ealy, the Patriots could do it.
“This is the first time in a long time we had this many starters back on either side of the ball,” Black said. “We aren’t talking about winning six in a row. That happens at the end of the year. We tell the kids every year we will embrace it and see what happens at the end of the year.”
Ealy, who has over 20 Division I offers, returns at running back after rushing for 971 yards with 16 touchdowns and had 609 yards receiving with 10 touchdowns.
“Jerrion is such a talented guy,” Black said. “He can do some many things and guys with that combination now-a-days are rare.”
Also back is senior quarterback Chance Lovertich, who is 26-1 in two years as the starting quarterback at Prep and threw for 1,926 yards with 25 touchdowns last year.
“The biggest thing with Chance is he’s a game manager, runs the offense and takes care of the ball,” Black said. “Our backfield is in very good shape.”
Defensively is where most of the question marks are according to Black.
The Patriots will be led by Cooper Carroll (122 tackles, 2 interceptions), Nevin Wells (55 tackles, 4 interceptions) and Andrew Beard (57 tackles, nine and a half sacks).
“We feel good about our secondary and will have to carry us,” Black said. “The front seven is a big concern especially at linebacker. We need guys with speed who play aggressive.”
MRA has fallen short to Jackson Prep in each of the last three seasons and are looking to get over the hump. The Patriots bring back eight starters on offense and seven on defense off a team that went 10-4 in 2016. With having to break in a quarterback, the Patriots will lean heavily on a veteran offensive line and running game led by Jake Reeves and William Milam. Defensively, MRA will lean a lot on the front seven led by defensive end Samuel Shufelt.
“Last year we were young and we had the injury bug hit us early and we haven’t been able to get over the hump mentally,” said MRA coach Herbert Davis. “That’s what we’ve worked on in the offseason and the fact we are still learning how to win consistently.”
Jackson Academy begins year two under Larry Weems following a 6-6 season. The Raiders return eight starters on both sides of the ball.
Offensively, the entire backfield returns in quarterback Noah Thigpen (1,459 yards passing, 9 touchdowns) and both running backs in Toryn Steed (229 yards, 4 touchdowns) and Webb Strickland (502 yards, 11 touchdowns).
Defensively former South Panola coach Lance Pogue takes over as defensive coordinator the Raiders will lean heavily on the front seven led by Trent Tyre, Walker Pedigo and Kameron Palmer.
“I think we’ll be able to pick up on things quicker and with a lot of experience back that’s a good thing,” said Jackson Academy coach Larry Weems. “What concerns me is we will be young in some spots and we need to establish depth.”
Presbyterian Christian School prepares for life after Isaiah Woullard with five returning starters on offense and eight on defense. Brandon Thornton will be the new quarterback and the Bobcats will be running back by committee using four different backs. Defensively the Bobcats have more experience back, but must replace its top two play makers in linebackers Justin and Rush Stewart.
“Right now we’re trying to get enough people to enough plays to make this thing work,” said PCS coach Joey Hawkins. “We like the progress of our new quarterback and we will be balance offensively. Defensively we need to develop linebackers that can make plays and that’s the biggest concern.”
Parklane returns all 11 starters back on offense and eight on defense off a team that went 5-6 in 2016 and reached the Class AAAA, Division I playoffs. Quarterback Brandt Watson and running backs Jay Smith and Trent Smith along with fullback Kyrin Bickman will anchor the run heavy Pioneer offense. Watson and Braydon Coffey will anchor a veteran front seven on defense.
“One thing is we need to be more balanced instead of being more one dimensional like we’ve been in the past,” said Parklane coach Brian Stutzman. “We will be big and physical up front on both sides, but we got to establish depth in a lot of key positions.”
Lamar School is the heavy favorite for a second straight state title with eight starters back on each side of the ball.
“Usually we have a bunch of question marks,” said heac coach Mac Barnes. “We have a chance to be a really good football team. Got a lot of experience back, so that’s always good.”
Joseph Hutchinson will take over as the full-time starter at quarterback last year after splitting time with D.J. McGrew in the second half of the season. Hutchinson tossed for 1,332 yards with seven touchdowns. McGrew will move to wide receiver and will play some at quarterback in certain situations and will look to take place of now departed do-it-all athlete Davis Harrison.
J. T. McClelland returns at running back after rushing for 1,258 yards with nine touchdowns.
“We feel good about our passing game and offense as whole. We got eight wide outs that we can spread the ball too,” Barnes said. “One concern is we’ve got to get some experience on the offensive line.”
Defensively, linebackers J.D. Lee and Blake Dearing along with defensive end Shelton Gray will anchor the front seven, while McClelland, McGrew and William Lamar will lead a veteran secondary.
“We’ve got a lot of guys that go both ways, so one thing is we have to establish depth,” Barnes said. “We’ve added a few teams in the division with Simpson and Hartfield, so it’ll be interesting to see how things pan out.”
Other teams that could be a threat to Lamar and make a run for the Division II state title are Pillow Academy and Washington School.
OVERALL MAIS RANKINGS
Overall MAIS Top 10
1 Jackson Prep
3 Jackson Academy
5 Lamar School
1 Jackson Prep
3 Jackson Academy
5 Lamar School
1 Greenville St. Joseph
4 Newton County
1 Wilkinson Christian
2 Trinity Episcopal
3 Desoto (Ar)
4 Deer Creek
5 Columbus Christian
1 Tallulah (LA)
2 North Sunflower
3 Kemper Academy
4 Franklin (LA)
5 Christian Collegiate
OVERALL ALL-MAIS TEAM
QB Chance Lovertich 5’11, 180, Sr, Jackson Prep
AP Brice Johnson 6’1, 185, Sr, Greenville St Joe
RB Jerrion Ealy 5’10, 180, Jr, Jackson Prep
RB Jay Smith 5’11, 200, Sr, Parklane
WR Dontae Gray 5’10, 175, Sr, Heritage
WR Elon Presley 6’3, 160, Sr, Lamar
WR Lee Tanner 6’1, 185, Sr, MRA
OL Hayden Burton 6’5, 300, Sr, Parklane
OL J. D. Beall 6’4, 315, Sr, Hartfield
OL Nicolas Rowan 6’3, 285, Jr, MRA
OL Garret McManus 6’3, 265, Sr, Silliman
OL Weston Rogers 6’1, 230, Sr, PCS
DL Tyson Keys 6’3, 240, Jr, PCS
DL Trent Tyre 6’4, 215, Sr, Jackson Academy
DL Andrew Beard 6’2, 205, Sr, Jackson Prep
DL Jaylen Whitaker 6’4, 240, Sr, St. Aloysius
LB Samuel Shufelt 6’1, 205, Sr, MRA
LB Austin Kelly 5’11, 205, Jr, Washington
LB Blayke Dendy 6’1, 215, Sr, Manchester
LB Cooper Carroll 6’1, 190, Sr, Jackson Prep
DB Case Taylor 6’2, 190, Sr, East Rankin
DB J. T. McClelland 5’10, 175, Sr, Lamar
DB Peyton Greenwood 6’2, 195, Jr, Jackson Prep
DB John Martin Walker 5’10, 175, Sr, Washington
PK O’Neill Walters 6′, 165, Sr, PCS
P Walker Benner 6’1, 195, Sr, Jackson Academy