• John Macon Gillespie

Houston Aiming for the Hill Top of 3A

Pictured(in maroon/white): #40 Rish Alford, #14 Allen Robertson | Photo courtesy of Mitzi McGee

Some things are just different about this year’s Houston Hilltopper football team.

For starters, it’s still somewhat strange to not see current Northwest Mississippi CC running back Urriah Shephard not quarterbacking the Hilltopper offense. A fixture on Friday nights in maroon, Shephard had quarterback the team from the 2014 season through last season.

Then there was the death of freshman offensive lineman William Anderson back on September 10th, following a JV game, which sent waves of sadness and shock rippling throughout the community.

However in year three under head coach Ty Hardin, the results are actually above par for the powerhouse 3A program. The Toppers are 9-1 heading into the playoffs after claiming their first division title since 1998. It is their eighth consecutive trip the playoffs, a streak that dates back to 2011.

“We have to be different, to be remembered,” junior defensive lineman Rish Alford told SES Mississippi. “Our coaches told us that in 20 years, no one is going to remember a team that went to North half. We’re trying to go further.”

Alford, who leads the team with 14 sacks, says the difference has been noticeable since spring ball earlier this year.

“For a long time Houston has just been going out in the first and second round. We want to win it all,”Alford explained.

The main difference, at least as Alford sees it, with the team this year is love for one another.

“No one is just thinking about themself, everyone is thinking about the whole team,” He noted. “The main difference this year is just the love we have for each other. And that started even before we lost William.”

Alford is a member of a junior class that has been playing together since the third grade. And those bonds are evident not only by the love Alford mentioned, but also by their camaraderie and selflessness on the field, as well.

And as Hardin likes to say, the town of Houston is very blue collar. That’s another quality this year’s team, and especially Alford who plays defensive line while standing below 6’ and weighing less than 200 pounds.

“Being a small defensive lineman, I also have to be different if I want to be remembered and help my team,” Alford said. “I have to work harder if I want to be the best, and that’s really a mindset we all have taken on this year.”

So far so good for the Hilltoppers, who enter the playoffs winners of nine straight. After dropping their season-opening contest on the road at Pontotoc, the Toppers have since notched wins over the likes of Calhoun City, Itawamba AHS, Hatley, as well they avenged their only division loss of 2017 by beating Choctaw County.

Offensively, they average over 31 points per game behind a high-powered attack that features Jalen May and Bobby Townsend. Meanwhile, Alford and Allen Robertson up front have anchored a stingy defensive unit.

This Friday Houston will host Kossuth in the first round of the 3A playoffs. With a win the Toppers would advance to face either Ruleville Central or MS Palmer. Booneville/Aberdeen and Water Valley/Yazoo County are the other two matchups in Houston’s quadrant of the 3A playoff bracket.

#Houston #JohnLukeMcCord

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