Teams that just missed the Top 10

Senior tackle Reed Buys. Photo by Chris Brooks.

The Mississippi Gridiron Top 10 was released last week and like every year, there were many teams in the discussion to be ranked and all had merit. Here is a list of teams that were in consideration to be ranked.

Warren Central: The Vikings are always in the discussion and will once again be in contention in Region 2-6A with a chance to host a first round playoff game. Warren Central has reached the second round of the playoffs each of the last three years and return six starters on both offense and defense. Will starting a new quarterback for the third consecutive season go as smoothly as previous seasons? If the answer to that question is yes, Viking opponents had best watch out. These Vikings will once again lean on a physical running game led by Southern Miss commit Corey Wilson, Jr. and Jerrious Stovall. Fans also know to expect the defense to be solid. Warren Central will be tested early in the season with games against Oxford and Pearl in the first two games of the season.

Laurel: The Golden Tornadoes will be very explosive on offense. They were in our Top 10 at one point before barely missing out. Laurel returns both quarterbacks from last year in Xavier Evans and Sinclair Ulmer, along with both running backs in Zias Perryman and Michael Terrell. Offensive lineman and Florida State commit Charles Cross returns to lead up front. Scouts rave about Cross’ NFL potential. The concern will be on defense with five starters returning. The Tornadoes have a chance early to make some serious noise with games with Hattiesburg, Petal and Oak Grove in Weeks 2-4. Win 2 of those games and you’ll likely find Laurel in the Top 10.

Madison Central: Like always, the Jaguars are expected to be in contention in Class 6A after reaching the 6A North State Championship each of the last three years. The question mark is that Madison Central has just four starters back on each of the side of the ball. Jimmy Holiday is back at quarterback and top target Myles Hopson is back at wide receiver to lead the offense. Peyton Rea returns to lead a defense that must replace six of its top seven tacklers. Again, Madison Central has the opportunity to make an early season statement by going on the road at Brandon and then following that with two games against coast teams in Ocean Springs and D’Iberville. A trip to face defending 6A state champion Pearl is on the schedule for Week 4.

Oak Grove: The Warriors definitely have one of the most talented teams in the state despite only four starters back on offense and the need to replace a lot on the offensive line. Quarterback and Georgia commit John Rhys Plumlee returns, along with wide receiver Kevin Barnett, to lead the offense. Defense will have to carry the team early with seven starters back led by defensive end and Mississippi State commit Jack Harris. Free safety Jarius Reimonenq is also returning. The Warriors will be tested in the first four weeks with games at Wayne County and at Laurel,  then a home game with No. 2-ranked Hattiesburg.

Pearl: It was hard not to rank the defending Class 6A state champs following a 16-0 campaign but a special class of 29 seniors is hard for any school to replace. Pearl scored 72 offensive touchdowns last year but only two players return who reached the end zone. Three starters on offense are back and all three are offensive linemen. Pearl will be breaking in a new quarterback in Gunnar Dennis. The Pirates will likely be a run-first team this year led by Biloxi transfer Kenyatte Harrell. Defensively the Pirates have six starters back including the entire defensive line led by defensive end Jordan Bailey. The Pirates can make a case to be ranked with early tests against Brookhaven at home and then back-to-back road games at Warren Central and against Madison Central Week 4.

East Central: The 2017 season was one to remember for the Hornets. East Central reached the Class 4A state championship game for the first time ever and have the intangibles to be a top 10 team in 2018. The Hornets must replace its top two offensive guys from a year ago in Tony Brown and Brad Cumbest and also will be breaking in a new quarterback. Will Young will be the new quarterback and he’ll have some playmakers around him to lead the run-heavy attack in Cameron Gray, Dylan Grinsteinner and Ryan Evans. Promising linebacker Avery White returns to anchor a defense that returns eight starters. Like last year, East Central has two open dates and will have two tough road games back-to-back in September at Jefferson Davis County and Hazlehurst.

Poplarville: The Hornets have had a lot of success each of the last two years and have a chance to do the same this year. Poplarville brings back eight starters on both sides of the ball and is the slight favorite to reach the Class 4A state championship out of the 4A South. Antonio Barnes is back at quarterback to lead the offense and is expected to throw the ball more. Tyson Holston, Ross Barnett and Cory Knight are the main running backs to lead the run-heavy offense and to replace the absence of Austin Bolton. Barnett returns at linebacker along with defensive backs to Caziah Daniels and Canaan Ray to lead the defense. The Hornets open the first three games on the road including the first two against rivals Picayune and Pearl River Central.