• John Macon Gillespie

Column: I Can, I Will, I Must

Tupelo Christian Prep might not be a big school, even by private school standards. Their football roster, consisting of just over 20 players, might not have the biggest guys, but they have made the biggest impact on me so far this high school football season. And it’s not even close.

Sort of like their game on Thursday night against Fayette Academy wasn’t all that close. TCPS won the game 35-19 and were in control from start to finish. The victory brought the Eagles’ record to 6-1 this season with two games remaining.

The win only capped off what was a special day for me and the Eagles. I arrived in Belden, Mississippi, on the campus around 3:30 not knowing what to expect. I was immediately and eagerly greeted by head coach Shaune Holiday. It was my first time to meet him and shake his hand, although we had introduced ourselves on Twitter the night before when he so graciously invited me to come eat with team before their game.

Holiday couldn’t have been a better ambassador and leader of his football program and the school as a whole. However, coach(as I can’t help but call him) made it clear to me that it was not all about him. From the moment I arrived he wanted me to know that it was about the school, the kids, the parents and his assistant coaches. He wanted me to know they are who determine the success of the program and they also make it the special place it is.

From the time I arrived, until the time I left coach Holiday allowed me to be by his side. He wanted me to see the program and the people of the school through his perspective and man what a view it was.

The hospitality at TCPS didn’t end with coach, though. Assistant coaches David Wilkerson, Aubrey Boren, Clay Anthony and Grant Smallwood, were all stand up gentlemen and didn’t me

getting in the way of their game day routine.

Every time I turned around I had a parent offering a thanks for me being there or something to eat or drink. I can’t thank each and every one of them enough for their welcoming of me.

Last, but not least, the players. They were equally as welcoming of this strange dude walking around with a backpack and taking pictures and videos of them on his phone(strange guy I’m referring to is me).

Just about every player had a nice word to say about the coaches and the impact they had had on them as young men and football players. Coach Holiday was usually the first name off their tongue.

Before I finish up with some final words, I would like to single out a few players for their

performances. First, senior QB Caleb Kitchens threw two TDs(both to sophomore WR Cade Hall) and ran for another. Also, junior RB/LB John Mark Jolly rushed for two scores and made more plays than you could count on defense. Sophomore TE/DE Jack Gilmore was also big time player, as he was able to find open spaces and haul in quite a few passes, as well as making numerous plays on defense.

Finally, I’ll wrap it up with a few more words about Coach Holiday. His motto for himself and his team is, “I can, I will, I must.” This represents that his team will have no excuses and will not lay down once adversity arises. I heard it at least 10 times while I was there. He stressed to me throughout the day that he was implementing and creating a new culture around TCPS football. He loves to let his excellent coaching staff coach his players up and prepare them for battle, which frees him up to motivate and make an impact on his players on a personal level. He has a strong bond with each player, with some even calling him a second father. Not to mention his relationship with former players like Clayton Knight, who wears number 5 at the request of Holiday(5 is Holiday’s number from his playing days).

In closing I leave you with this. I watched coach Holiday call his wife just before kickoff and tell her he loved her, I was told this is something he does before each game. I will only say he never has to tell his players that, because he shows them much better than he could ever say it.

So go check out the Tupelo Christian Prep Eagles and see what they have going on. You won’t regret you did.

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