Raise Gold Ball, Rinse and Repeat
At the beginning of the 2016 season, Jafharis McKines and his Bassfield teammates were ready to defend their 2A crown for the fifth straight season. Little did he know at the time that it was going to be their final chance to win a championship wearing black and gold.
Three games into that season, it was announced by the Jefferson Davis County School District that Bassfield and their neighbors 12 miles north at Prentiss would consolidate. Falling enrollment numbers and budget cuts by the state made it difficult for both high schools to continue on.
At season’s end Bassfield came up short of making another state championship game, falling to Bay Springs in the 2A South Half title game. Their cross-county and divisional rival, Prentiss, made it to the second round and fell to Union. In the offseason that followed, a new championship caliber program was born. Thus the Jefferson Davis County Jaguars were inserted in the 3A title conversation.
Change did not come easy. Protests and lawsuits by county residents followed the decision to combine the two schools. McKines knew that a unified group of football players would make the community forget all the noise.
“There was a little (tension) starting off, but we all knew what to expect under our head coach. There was a lot of competition, and it was only going to make us better as a team. The way we work each other is special. We are only getting better,” McKines told SES Mississippi.
Developing a championship contending team needed the right man in charge. That man was Lance Mancuso. He compiled a 118-20 record and won five state championships in eight seasons leading Bassfield Yellowjackets, establishing them as one of the best small school programs in the country.
But Mancuso’s task of meshing a once playoff contending team at Prentiss with the juggernaut he built at Bassfield. He expected a lot out of McKines and needed him to be a leader in his well-oiled, Wing-T running machine.
“[Mancuso] wants the best out of me. He knows my standards and all. He keeps me on track and pushes me to be the best. He always tell me to not let adversity get in the way,” McKines said.
It didn’t take long to show that JDC was legit. They proved it against the big boys. Their inaugural game was a 25-10 win over 6A foe Harrison Central. McKines had 12 carries, 134 yards and two TDs. They defeated 5A Wayne County 48-34 two weeks later.
“Coach told us that size doesn’t matter, it is about the effort you give. Always give your all no matter the circumstances and the results should be tolerable,” McKines said.
As the season progressed, the Jags put up video game like offensive numbers. McKines was running all over the place and the Wing-T was steamrolling opponents all the way to Oxford. There McKines and his teammates met up with a team whom many considered to be the best in 3A, the 14-0 Yazoo County Panthers. A week earlier, the Panthers defeated North Panola in a game that was considered by some to be the de facto 3A championship. A week later JDC upended Yazoo County 36-7. Not Bassfield, not Prentiss, Jefferson Davis County won the 3A state championship. Though Bassfield once upon a time won four consecutive state titles, JDC has something the Jackets could never boast about. They’ve never seen a season where they didn’t win the title. Not just yet, at least.
McKines ended the season with 160 carries, 1,419 rushing yards, and 22 TDs. Safe to say, it was a good year, but McKines wants more in 2018.
“This past season was tolerable, but I can’t settle for less. I’m looking to improve my work ethic and recover,” McKines said.
**Photos courtesy of Keith Warren, MHSAA