MHSAA 6A Preview: Starkville On Top, Horn Lake Defending

Horn Lake defensive tackle Josaih Hayes. Photo by Chris Brooks.

No Raydarious Jones, Nakobe Dean, Patrick Gilliam, or Tony Washington, so what’s next for Horn Lake?

“It is just the way we approach everything. Our seniors now are being tremendous leaders and examples,” said Horn Lake coach Brad Boyette, who guided the Eagles to the their first 6A state championship last December.

“No one thought we could do what we did last year, and no one thinks we can this year. We’ve got a lot of new players on both sides of the ball.”

Horn Lake will enter the 2019 season with the state’s longest active winning streak at 15 games.

Offensively the Eagles will be breaking in a new quarterback and a new offensive line.

Jarnorris Hopson, Rashard Daniels and Nick Frampton are battling for the quarterback job. Jaylen Sulton, Jamrio Harris and Tracy Turner will all see time at running back, while Emeko Blakes is the top receiver returning.

“I feel really good about the running backs. The offensive line was the point of emphasis in the spring and we saw a lot of progression there,” Boyette said. “We will be different scheme-wise pending who wins the quarterback job.”

Defensively, even with Nakobe Dean gone, the defensive line will be the strong point for the Eagles. Javarius Johnson and Roderick Daniels are back to help the defensive front and Mississippi State commit Jakivuan Brown is moving from defensive end to linebacker to lead the front seven along with defensive linemen and Ole Miss commit Josaih Hayes.

Deon Biggins returns at defensive back and Corey Gates at strong safety to anchor the secondary.

“You can’t replace a guy like Nakobe. He did so much for us that it has fed off to the other guys to step up,” Boyette said. “We’ve got to tweak some things defensively, but I think once we get some game experience, we will be alright.”

FAVORITE

Starkville: The Yellowjackets lost some big-name players but a wealth of talent still fills this roster led by major offensive skill talent. Quarterback Luke Altmyer tossed for 1,952 yards with 19 touchdowns last year as a sophomore. He is already attracting major recruiting interest from around the country. Promising junior running back Amariyon Howard will take over to lead the ground game along with Lazavier Evans. Rodriguez Clark leaves huge shoes to fill but Howard averaged 10.3 yards per carry in limited time. Rufus Harvey is one of the state’s better wide receivers coming off a season of 53 receptions for 935 yards and eight touchdowns. Jatavious Lucious and Joshua Aka are also returning starters out wide. Defensively five of the top eleven tacklers return led by linebackers Keyshawn Lawrence and defensive tackle Jaylan Ware. Ware was second on the team last year with 73 tackles and 15 tackles for loss. Lawrence piled up forty stops. Free safety Khiry Gee had 29 tackles. Justice Robinson and Jamori Evans combined for almost 90 stops between them.

NEXT IN LINE

Madison Central: The Jaguars fell short to Horn Lake in the 6A North State title game last year and head into 2019 as one of the favorites in what should be a wide open classification. Expectations are always high at Madison Central, but this year they are higher with seven starters back on offense and five more on defense. Jimmy Holiday returns at quarterback to lead the offense after tossing for 1,518 yards with 16 touchdowns. Holiday is a big-time athlete who has major scholarship offers already. He rushed for 1,457 yards with 18 touchdowns last year. Duke Arnold, who had 979 yards rushing with 11 touchdowns, returns to help lead the rushing attack. The Robertson brothers of Creek and Luke will be the top targets at receiver. Defensively the linebacker position is deep with Hayes Bufkin and Nick Carter back after finishing among last year’s top three tacklers on the team. The Perryman twins of Joseph and Josiah are primed for big junior seasons. Andre Mack returns at strong safety along with Creek Robertson at free safety to lead the secondary.

Brandon: Brandon reached the Class 6A South State Championship game last season behind a couple of SEC athletes in Jonathan Mingo and Jay Stanley. Mississippi State commit Will Rogers returns after throwing for 3,009 yards with 23 touchdowns to lead a still very talented offense that returns six starters. Rogers is one of the state’s best under center. Ashton Nickelberry (626 yards, seven touchdowns) returns as the top target at wide receiver but also keep an eye on promising junior Caleb Anderson. Joshua Montague is back at running back after missing all of last year with a torn ACL. Zailon Johnson will also see time at running back. Defensively the front seven for the Bulldogs will be key led by linebackers Zihenryon Perry (183 tackles, eight sacks in 2018), Shepherd Robbins (178 tackles, three sacks), Fred Harris (110 tackles) and defensive end Jordan Lawson (60 tackles).Perry has been a tackling machine for two seasons now. Defensive back Richard O’Bryant returns after recording three interceptions last year to anchor the secondary.

Pearl: Following a 6A State Championship in 2017, Pearl surprised some people last year with an 8-5 record despite losing a great senior class. A young team a year ago, the Pirates now feature eleven returning starters from an offense that averaged 26.2 points per game. Kenyatta Harrell returns at running back after rushing for 1,532 yards with 19 touchdowns to lead the potent ground game. Harrell is a major talent and one of the state’s most underrated players. Jerry Johnson is back at receiver after leading the team with 732 receiving yards and eight touchdowns as a freshman. Senior Gunnar Dennis is back at quarterback after missing all of last year with a torn ACL. Defensively five starters are back and four of last year’s top eleven tacklers. Sam Brumfield (144 tackles, three sacks last year) returns at linebacker to lead the front seven, while defensive back Jeremiah Gill will anchor the secondary.

Oxford: In their second year of 6A last year the Chargers quickly made it to the playoffs. A veteran group is back with eight starters returning on both sides of the ball. John Meagher returns at quarterback after throwing for 1,575 yards with 14 touchdowns. He also led Oxford in rushing with 536 yards and nine touchdowns. He will have a big target to throw to with one of the nation’s top tight ends, Jeremiah Pegues (346 yards receiving, five touchdowns, nine rushing touchdowns last year). Wide receiver Babyde Pegues (470 yards, three touchdowns in 2018)is also back. On defense linebacker Ron “Dude” Person returns at linebacker after leading the team in tackles with 95 to go with four sacks. The secondary returns a lot of talent led by defensive back Byron Pearson, who had 56 tackles and led all of 6A last year with seven interceptions.

Olive Branch: The Conquistadors make the move back to 6A this season after reaching the 5A North State Championship game the last two seasons. Olive Branch has a battle at the quarterback position with Zach Delucia, Braden Wright and Eli Ashley competing for the job. Gary Banks is back to anchor the running game after rushing for 1,011 yards with 12 touchdowns. Preston Jeffries, who had 215 yards with three touchdowns, will see time at running back as well. Three-star offensive lineman Xavier Hill will anchor a young line up front. Hill is an Alabama commit. Defensively, the Conquistadors will lean heavily on nine returning starters including all three linebackers. Jevon Banks (103 tackles) returns to anchor the defense along with South Alabama commit Latarius Carr. Johnny Setchfield, who had a team-high seven sacks a year ago, will anchor the defensive line along with promising sophomore defensive end Walter Nolan. Javien Adams (103 tackles) is back at strong safety after totaling 103 tackles a year ago, good for second on the team.

Petal: The Panthers started off last year 1-6 before winning their next five games and reaching the second round of the 6A playoffs. Mississippi Gulf Coast CC commit, Decarlos Nicholson, returns at quarterback after passing for 1,446 yards with 11 touchdowns. He also rushed for 507 yards with four touchdowns to lead the Panther offense. Also back for Petal is the tandem at running back or Micah McGowan, who rushed for 1,219 yards with 13 touchdowns, and Rashad Handford (951 yards, 13 touchdowns). Defensively the Panthers have some inexperience to overcome but will lean on linebackers Ja’korian Newsome and Sam Marlowe. Defensive lineman R.J. Proctor also is a returning starter in that front seven, while Michael Windham and Tyler Dailey will anchor the secondary.

SLEEPER

Oak Grove: It should be noted that Oak Grove was overlooked entering last season and ended up battling for a title in a terrific state championship game against Horn Lake. This year’s Warrior team has talent again but must replace Ole Miss signee John Rhys Plumlee at quarterback. Nick Milsap is back at running back after rushing for 681 yards with six touchdowns. Brandon Hayes, Liam Breithaupt and Tavion Smith all return at receiver. Javarian Jenkins (129 tackles), Joey Griffith (165 tackles) and Tyree Jackson are all back at linebacker to anchor the defense. Oak Grove will feature some new faces this year but many coaches believe several of thos new faces are big-time talents.

Warren Central: Never count out the Vikings. It can be argued that Head Coach Josh Morgan does more with less than just about any 6A coach in the state. He’s rebuilt a solid program. Warren Central has Jerrious Stovall back at running back after rushing for 1,037 yards with 11 touchdowns last year. He leads a ground game that averaged 233.8 yards per game. Demond Patton returns as the top receiver for the Vikings. Linebacker Malik Sims (76 tackles) returns to anchor the defense.

CLASS 6A PRESEASON TOP 5

  1. Starkville
  2. Madison Central
  3. Brandon
  4. Pearl
  5. Oxford

GAMES TO WATCH

Aug. 23: Starkville at Brandon

Aug. 30: Brandon at Madison Central

Aug. 30: Oxford at Starkville

Sept. 13: Pearl at Madison Central

Sept. 27: Pearl at Petal

Oct. 11: Horn Lake at Olive Branch

Oct. 11: Brandon at Petal

Oct. 18: Oxford at Horn Lake

Oct. 18: Madison Central at Starkville

Oct. 18: Gulfport at Harrison Central

Oct. 25: Oxford at Olive Branch

Nov. 8: Pearl at Brandon