SES Previews: Can Calhoun County Continue Success?
Football fans in Calhoun County, Mississippi, had plenty to cheer about a season ago.
For the first time since 2012, all three schools in the Calhoun County School District (Bruce, Calhoun City and Vardaman) qualified for postseason play. The county also saw its first state championship since 1996 with the storybook title win by Calhoun City.
To say the least, fans in Calhoun County are excited for what 2017 could have in store. Let's take a look at what to expect from these three county rivals this season.
The Trojans hold more question marks about what their on-field production will be than Calhoun City and Vardaman, but the athletic potential on the roster gives fans hope. Bruce, a 2A school, graduated 19 players a season ago in a campaign that gave the Trojans four wins and a one-week playoff appearance. Bruce is now having to find new players to fill significant talent gaps that are left from the mass exodus of the 2017 class, not to mention trying to find a fit at quarterback.
The current front-runner for the Trojan quarterback appears to be senior Trent Hall. Hall helped Bruce secure a postseason appearance a season ago by snagging two late interceptions as a defensive back in the Trojans' win over Okolona. Hall does not have any known experience at quarterback and will be leading a young team into battle.
Inexperience does not necessarily mean bad play, however. New Bruce Head Coach Clint Faust has been around football in North Mississippi for 13 years and knows how to successfully work in a program. Although this is Faust's first head coaching job, I believe that he has the attitude and strategy needed to return the Trojans to their former glory. It just may not happen this season.
Calhoun City has the potential to establish what I like to call a “mini-dynasty” this season. The Wildcats finally broke through and won their first state championship since 1989 last season, but it is the pattern of success before 2016 that leads me to use the term “dynasty.”
The Wildcats have made it to the state title game and lost nine times in school history, including five times since 2006. Two of those losses came in 2013 and 2014 to former 2A powerhouse Bassfield. Bassfield won 8 state titles in their school history, including four straight from 2012 to 2015. In some seasons, Bassfield proved to be the one of the few teams that could match (and beat) Calhoun City.
Now that the Wildcats are over the hump of finally winning another state championship, they have the opportunity to establish themselves as the “new Bassfield” of 2A. Granted, Calhoun City still has a way to go before they reach a total of eight state championships, but they can claim the title as the new “big dog” of the 2A classification for the next few seasons with another state championship this year.
Don't think I'm speaking in completely hypothetical situations here either. Calhoun City has the talent and the coaching to make it to Oxford and compete for another championship this season. The Wildcats are led by athletic quarterback Jo Jo Gray who is accompanied by a plethora of running backs and receivers that will make every team on City's schedule this season lose sleep at night. Sure names like Jesse Nabors, Tyreece Quin, Taylor Liles and Brandon Clanton are gone, but head coach Perry Liles has established a farm system at Calhoun City that produces athletes like crazy, and he has a ton of weapons at his disposal.
The running joke of the off-season (at least where I'm concerned) has been focused on Vardaman's relocation into 1A South for the next three seasons. While the relocation is geographically inconvenient for the Rams, it also could prove to be their biggest obstacle to repeating as a playoff team.
For years, Vardaman hailed as a dominant team in Region 1-1A and finally returned to a competitive level last season after three seasons that produced a total of five wins (counting a forfeit). Now, the Rams are faced with the task of playing teams like Noxapater, Nanih Waiya, Sebastopol and French Camp along with familiar opponents in West Lowndes and Hamilton (side note: Nanih Waiya defeated Smithville 54-3 last season. Smithville was such a 1A powerhouse that they advanced to the 1A North Finals. Nanih Waiya is good.). The Rams' new region, Region 3-1A, has multiple teams that will be good enough to deserve a playoff spot but will not be one of the top four teams that advance. It's going to be a dog fight.
So can the Rams jump the 1A South hurdle? They have plenty of talent on their roster, although graduation took some key players from the Rams as well. Senior quarterback Trae Owen will lead the charge accompanied by phenomenal skill players like Patrick Pratt, Michael Williams, Kody Townsend and Wesley Casey. Vardaman has the pieces in place to have a really really good football team this fall, but will it be enough to punch the Rams' ticket to the postseason?
Fans in Calhoun County, as always, will be in for an exciting season this year, and with opening kickoff about a week away, they don't have long to wait until it gets going. Will these three schools have what it takes to be formidable opponents in 2017, and could one of them hoist the golden ball in December? My gut says, “yes.”
**Photos (in order) are courtesy of Paige Gray, John Macon Gillespie & Sherry Williams