• John Macon Gillespie

Richardson, Tupelo D Not Sleeping On Anyone

Tupelo(7-0) is sitting pretty with a 3-0 start in division play and nice, shiny, number two ranking in the SES top 10. This Friday nigh Trent Hammond’s team has a chance to get a important win against their most bitter division rival, South Panola.

“We play every game like it’s a championship game. We feel like we can’t sleep on anybody and every game is a trap game,” Senior defensive lineman McKenzie Richardson told SES Mississippi.

Much of the Golden Wave’s success this season can be credited to their impressive defense. While they might be taking a backseat to the top-ranked Clinton Arrows in the rankings, their defensive unit takes a backseat to no one.

It’s likely that you’ve heard of “snap, crackle and pop,” the nickname given to Tupelo’s trio of talented linebackers, Jett Johnson, Diesel Howell and Peter Gray. The secondary, led by Tay Standifer and Chris Shannon, is impressive, as well. However, the most important group has been the defensive trenches.

“We’ve been together for three years, so we know how each other plays,” Richardson said. “Also, we are short and we stay low and we are quick off the ball. We talk to each other and we encourage each other. We are very coachable.”

“We have to keep the guards off the linebackers so they can make a play. If we do that, plus blow up the traps and counters, the defense works.”

While the spotlight doesn’t alway catch the likes of McKenzie Richardson, Trey Rogers, Devonte Thomas, Kerry McKenzie, Ke-Jon Dowden-Gladney and others in the defensive trenches for Tupelo, that is where all the solid play is originating from. At least from what these eyes can tell from seeing the Wave against Columbus. They shut that rushing attack down, and that’s been the norm for them this season.

“We are very competitive,” He said. “We have this trophy that the coach gives the winner of body counts at the end of every week. There is only one so we compete to get it and it’s really fun. Trey Rogers is the strongest, but I’m the fastest.”

So far Tupelo’s defense is allowing just 12 points per game, while having surrendered only 84 points through seven games. Four times the Wave have allowed 10 or less, including a shutout of the Hernando Tigers, who averages 36 points per game.

“The intensity we bring to the field, the chemistry we share with each other and the physicality,” Richardson said when asked why the defense is so effective.

Richardson is the leader of the unit and his stats have reflected that so far in 2016. He has tallied 46 tackles, 10 tackles for loss and a sack. However, being the alpha of the group is a role he inherited after watching many talented players get their turns in front of he and his current mates on the defensive line.

“Everybody that we played behind was a dog. They were good with their hands and quick out of their stance,” He said. “ We teach each other whenever we see each other mess up. We show each other what we can to make each other better.”

Against Southaven Tupelo held just a 10-7 at the half, a lead they had stolen back with a score late in the second quarter. In the end, the Wave would cruise to a 38-7 win.

“We had a slow start. We came in thinking the game would be easy and we weren’t playing to our potential. Coach told us that we weren’t being ourselves,” He explained.

This week Tupelo has opportunity. Not to beat one of the state’s best teams, which is custom when they face South Panola. Yet, it gives Tupelo to get a big win against the Tigers, who are usually doing just that against the Golden Wave. As far as meaning for the season, it would simply be division win number four. Another step in the journey. After all, Tupelo beat USP on their way to the 6A title game in 2013 before falling short. Beating the Tigers has to be just a step on the journey.

It would also be a huge coop for the #themblankets twitterverse. Also for WTHS who makes promo videos that schools from all parts of Mississippi attempt to emulate.

“We stay focused and don’t let the Twitter and the talking get us out of our zone,” Richardson said. “In all of that stuff makes us play a bit harder, but we already have a mindset that we will be going all the way. It’s not going to be easy for us. This team is special. This is a great program to be a part of.”

**Photo by Markietha Swinney.

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