MHSAA 3A Preview: Columbia Is Back In The Title Hunt

Columbia running back Kentrel Bullock. Photo courtesy of Columbia High School.

Columbia hasn’t played for a state championship since 1998 and hasn’t won a state title since the 1982 season. That could change this year.

In his first year as head coach of the Wildcats, Chip Bilderback led them to an 11-3 record and a trip to the third round of the class 3A playoffs.

“Everyone is thinking we’re going to be making a jump. The main thing is battling complacency,” Bilderback said. “We had success last year, so this year we shall see with a tough non-division schedule and a very tough division.”

The main focus for the Wildcats will be in the backfield where Columbia returns a pair of running backs that rushed for over 1,000 yards last year. Ole Miss commit Kentrel Bullock rushed for 1,265 yards with 19 touchdowns while Omar Johnson had 1,466 yards with 14 touchdowns as a freshman.

A talented and veteran offensive line also returns after paving the way for a rushing attack that averaged 271.6 yards per game.

“We feel lucky to have two really good backs and they both are very special,” Bilderback said. “They’re unselfish and with a big physical offensive line, having two guys who can do the job is a very good problem to have.”

Columbia will be breaking in a new quarterback with Josh Brown and Javen Moses battling for the starting job.

Defensively the Wildcats have seven starters back that will be leaned on heavily in the front seven.

Defensive ends Jordan Aaron and Greg Fortenberry are back along with defensive tackle Jaheim Oatis. Oatis in particular is one of the nation’s best young talents. Linebacker Joey Croom will help lead the front seven.

Free safety Jamison Kelly is back to lead the secondary after recording six interceptions last season.

Even with a talented roster, navigating a very difficult region 8 in 3A is tough with schools like Seminary, Jefferson Davis County, Tylertown, Magee and West Marion.

“We’re really excited about our defensive line and linebackers. We’re big, strong, and fast in all areas,” Bilderback said. “In the division we’re in, we’ve got to get better each week and get better as the year goes on. Our division really has great players and great coaches so each week you’ve got to come prepared or you’ll lose.”

NEXT IN LINE:

Noxubee County: A lot has changed at Noxubee County where the Tigers move down to 3A from 4A and also break in new head coach Teddy Young who was promoted from offensive coordinator. He takes over for Tyrone Shorter who is now the head coach at Louisville. Noxubee only has three starters back on offense, led by running back Bobby Shanklin and wide receiver Jeffery Malone. There will also be a new quarterback for the Tigers in Marlon Windham who is making the switch from linebacker. Linebackers Trillo Brown and Eldrick Hopkins will lead a young but fast defense.

Seminary: Seminary is bouncing back from a great season that ended on a sour note as they fell short to Water Valley in the 3A state championship game. Running back Jordan Barrett is back to carry the load in the run heavy offense that averaged 310.2 yards per game last year. Barrett rushed for 1,258 yards with 14 touchdowns last season. Jabari Fox will be the new starter at quarterback for the Bulldogs. Defensively there is no Nathan Pickering but linebacker and Ole Miss commit Austin Keys returns to anchor a defense that returns eight starters. Keys is a dominant performer who can help carry a defense.

Jefferson Davis County: Newly formed Jefferson Davis County enjoyed instant success in 3A the last two seasons with a state title in 2017 and last year’s appearance in the 3A South State Championship game. That was expected considering all the players from talent-rich Bassfield. Once again JDC has high hopes for 2019. The Jaguars return its entire backfield to anchor a run-heavy triple option offense that averaged 238.5 yards per game. Quarterback Michael Carraway is back under center. Running back Kyser Booth rushed for 1,346 yards with 18 touchdowns while Deandre Shorts and Marcus Middleton also are back. JDC must replace its entire offensive line, so that’s the focal point heading into the season. The Jaguars return eight starters on an already really good defense led by Shorts at defensive back, Middleton at linebacker and Icsenuahs Walker at defensive tackle.

Water Valley: The defending 3A state champs have the luxury of several talented returners but lost a lot of production with the graduation of Bud Tolbert at receiver. Jacob Truss is back at quarterback after throwing for 474 yards with 10 touchdowns. On the ground is where he is hard to stop after running for 1,071 yards with 15 touchdowns. Getting running back Martavius Rockett back on the field is a huge addition after he missed most of last year due to an injury. In limited action he had 123 yards rushing with a touchdown and 215 yards receiving with a touchdown. Defensively, Water Valley must replace the entire defensive line but linebackers Grant Burress and Keldric McIntosh are key returning starters. Free safety Damicah Hervey and strong safety Darius Tolbert return to anchor the secondary.

Houston: For the second year, Houston has to replace a big-time quarterback. Jalen May is gone after rushing for 29 touchdowns and throwing for five more scores. Red Parker will take over as signal-caller, while Zavian Ford will be the top receiver returning. Defense is where Houston will lean heavily with three of its four tacklers returning. That unit is led by linebacker Allen Robertson (125 tackles, 14 sacks last year) along with defensive linemen Rish Alford (111 tackles, 16 sacks) and Michael Dedeaux (86 tackles, 14 sacks). Shemar Crawford and Jylon Davidson return to lead the secondary.

SLEEPERS

Winona: Winona made a huge splash in 3A last year reaching the third round of the playoffs in South 3A. Now they will be tested in the North in Region 3-3A. Do-it-all quarterback and Ole Miss commit An’Darius Coffey is back to lead the offense after throwing for 1,401 yards with 16 touchdowns. He also rushed for 1,445 yards with 19 touchdowns. Blake Cooper is back to help lead a rushing attack that averaged 274.7 yards per game last year. Defensive end Seimeon Flowers and linebacker Dorian Curry are back to lead the defense.

Magee: Magee went 9-4 and reached the second round of the 3A playoffs in Teddy Dyess’ first year as head coach. The Trojans are capable of making a playoff run but their region is difficult. Michael Thornton, Chandler Pittman and Thomas Dyess are all battling out for the quarterback job. Pittman is solid at running back and will compliment returning wide receivers Josh Sanders, Xavier Franks and Matthew Thurman. K.D. Dampeer returns at defensive end and Pittman at defensive back to lead the defense.

TOP 5

  1. Columbia
  2. Noxubee County
  3. Seminary
  4. Jefferson Davis County
  5. Water Valley

GAMES TO WATCH

Oct. 4: Houston at Noxubee County

Oct. 4: Senatobia at North Panola

Oct. 4: Velma Jackson at Yazoo County

Oct. 11: Columbia at Jefferson Davis County

Oct. 18: Hazlehurst at Wilkinson County

Oct. 18: Jefferson Davis County at Seminary

Oct. 25: Booneville at Amory

Oct. 25: Seminary at Columbia

Oct. 25: Water Valley at North Panola

Nov. 1: Senatobia at Water Valley

Nov. 1: Ruleville at Winona