MAIS Class AAAA Preview

Lamar quarterback Joseph Hutchinson, photo courtesy of @lamarraiders

Jackson Prep returns another talented squad that is the favorite in AAAA Division I while Lamar is another familiar face as the favorite in AAAA Division II. Here are the top returning teams in each division, our Top 5 teams and the must-see games as we head into the season.

 

Division I

New year same process.

As Jackson Prep begins their quest for a seventh straight MAIS Class AAAA Division I state championship, the process never changes.

“It’ll all be determined on the team’s identity and the guys will buy in,” said Jackson Prep coach Ricky Black who’s entering his 22nd year as head coach of the Patriots. “This team will have to come together and create its own identity. We have 34 seniors on the team. That’s half the roster and they’ll have to step up and be leaders.”

However, the Patriots do have some holes to fill on offense with just five starters back.

Jackson Prep must replace Chance Lovertich at quarterback who threw only three interceptions over the last two years. There are five players competing for the job in Alex Gibbs, Bennett Johnston, Jake Lange, Riley Maddox and Reed Kellums.

The biggest offensive returning weapon is Ole Miss commit Jerrion Ealy who is back after rushing for 1,743 yards with 32 touchdowns. Ealy also had 578 yards receiving with eight touchdowns to go with five touchdowns scored on special teams.

“Ealy is a very special player and we know what he brings and does well,” Black said. “He will get to play some quarterback this year and get the grasp of what we’re doing.”

Peyton Greenwood and Thomas Thornton return as the top wideouts for Jackson Prep.

Defense is where the larger holes will have to be filled with just three starters returning. Adam Norsworthy is back to lead the defense at linebacker after recording 40 tackles and four and a half sacks last year.

Jackson Prep’s leading tackler from last year, Hayden Hill, transferred to Northwest Rankin.

“One thing we’ve done really well is limit mistakes,” Black said. “Offensively we have to keep our turnovers down and on defense we have to create turnovers. I feel like our region will better overall. Several teams have a good bit coming back, so we have to be ready.”

 

NEXT IN LINE

Jackson Academy: Never count out the Raiders who begin their third year under Larry Weems. JA brings back four starters to an offense that’ll be led by quarterback Kinkead Dent (1,123 yards passing, 13 touchdowns in 2017) along with running back Webb Simpson. The Raiders only have three starters back on defense that’ll be led by defensive lineman Travis Myers. Defensive backs Ja’ree Myers and Cruz Heath also return as starters.

MRA: For the first time in four years the Patriots weren’t in the state championship game. They hope to make another run at it in 2018. One concern heading into the season is the quarterback situation. Pierce Smith and Northwest Rankin transfer Phillip Short will be battling for the quarterback job heading into the season. Wide receiver Joe Perkins and tailback William Milam will be the leaders of the offense that returns just four starters. Defensively the Patriots have seven starters back led by the front seven. Linebackers Stone Blanton and Sam Shufelt, along with defensive lineman John Cartwright and Nicholas Rowan, will lead the defense.

Parklane Academy: The Pioneers reached the MAIS Class AAAA Division I state championship game for the first time since 1995. Offensively, Parklane must replace its entire backfield and must find a quarterback. Braydon Coffey (186 yards rushing, 4 touchdowns) is the only running back with game experience returning. Zach Wall returns to anchor the defense.

 

Division II

Lamar School’s Mac Barnes finds himself in a very unfamiliar situation.

“I’ve never coached back-to-back state championship teams and what I’m worried about is I don’t want the guys to get complacent,” Barnes said. “It’s not easy to get to the state title game two years in a row and that’s my concern.”

With the Raiders returning twelve starters, they are once again the favorites to win for a third year in a row.

Quarterback Joseph Hutchinson returns after throwing for 3,086 yards with 23 touchdowns to lead the offense for Lamar, along with four offensive linemen returning. Hutchinson is quietly one of the state’s top returning talents at the quarterback position.

The Raiders did lose their top three receivers but Jacob Partridge and Jake Ransier will be the top wideouts. Replacing J.T. McClelland at running back is the main concern.

“We’re probably going to play three different running backs but we’ll be more physical,” Barnes said. “With Joseph throwing as well as he does, we might go five wide at times.”

Defensively the Raiders have six starters back that’ll be led by a veteran secondary. Brooks Brock, William Lamar and Logan Lamar all return to anchor the secondary. The front seven is the main concern on the defensive side of the ball, especially at linebacker.

“One thing with us is we’re not going to be as big up front, but we will be faster,” Barnes said. “We have five tough games before we start division play, so we will know where we stand.”

 

NEXT IN LINE 

Simpson Academy: The Cougars fell to Lamar in an overtime heart-breaker last year in the Class AAAA Division II state title game. They’re motivated but there are holes to fill. Simpson has five starters back on offense but must replace its entire backfield to run the run-heavy split-back veer offense. Defense is where the Cougars will lean heavily on with eight starters returning led by defensive tackle Daniel Pepper and linebacker Caleb Garner. Overall, the defensive talent should rival most any in the MAIS this year.

Pillow Academy: The Mustangs return 15 starters off a team that went through growing pains and finished 5-6 and reached the semifinals of the Class AAAA Division II playoffs last year. Shane Houston Stephens returns at quarterback along with athlete Lake Giachelli and wide receiver Jaden Simox. Overall the offense returns eight starters. Sam Harris and Floyd Melton are back at linebacker and Alex Lindsey is back at defensive back to anchor the defense.

 

TOP 5

  1. Jackson Prep
  2. Jackson Academy
  3. MRA
  4. Lamar School
  5. Simpson Academy

 

GAMES TO WATCH

Aug. 24: Lamar School at Jackson Academy

Sept. 28: Jackson Academy at Jackson Prep

Oct. 5: MRA at Jackson Academy

Oct. 12: Jackson Prep at MRA

Oct. 12: Washington School at Pillow Academy

Oct. 19: Simpson Academy at Lamar School

Oct. 26: Jackson Prep at Parklane Academy