• Jared Redding

Q&A with George County HC Matt Caldwell

George County head coach Matt Caldwell walks on the sidelines. Photo courtesy of Keith Warren, MHSAA.

Jared: "Talk about where your team is at in this point of the season, already matching last year’s win total this year and surprising an Oak Grove team who has also surprised. What has been the main difference in between this year’s team and last year’s team?"

Caldwell: "The main thing is experience and leadership. A lot of these guys have been starting two years for us already. We have four offensive lineman, when they were freshman, we brought them up after ninth grade and have started ever since. A lot of it is that. We have a good group back, with eight starters on defense and nine starters on offense. So, just a lot of experience has helped… They’ve been through the fire, strife and trials. They worked hard and kept focused through all the bad stuff."

Jared: "Having West Jones on the ropes like y’all had them earlier in the year. Do you feel like your team learned something after that loss?"

Caldwell: "We did. It made them realize that we can play with anybody. It made us believe that we can hang with those guys. No one wants moral victories, but we were in position to win that ball game with two minutes left, but didn’t finish it. It showed us ‘hey, if we play to our maximum potential, we have a chance to be in every ball game with a chance to win it in the fourth quarter. If we do that every week, we have a shot.”

Jared: "McKinnley Jackson has been as advertised this season so far with 15 tackles for loss and six sacks. Where do you see improvement in him this year from last year and how do you think he’s progressed as a leader?"

Caldwell: "He’s an absolute leader, in the weight room, in the classroom, everywhere. He does what he’s supposed to do. Even in practice, when things aren’t going well on defense, the coaches don’t have to fix much because [Jackson] will fix it. Even with reps, he’ll pull young guys aside and work with them on technique and stuff. In game, he’s played really well. He’s a special young man. His energy is good, effort is good, play has been awesome. People feed off that. There’s no doubt he’s the physical and emotional leader of our team. Without a doubt."

Jared: "We talked about how good Jackson has been, it seems like the strength of your team has been the whole defensive unit as a whole. Talk about how the defense has progressed this year and stopping Oak Grove like y’all did last week. What has been the key defensively?"

Caldwell: "They’ve been there for two years for us. Those guys have stepped up and seen things. They are prepared really well. James Ray runs that side of the ball and really has our guys ready to play. Our defensive guys have brought in. We have Davis, Daniels, and other guys doing an outstanding job. McKinnley gets a lot of attention and he’ll take up two or three guys every play, which allows other guys to make plays. It’s not just one guy. Jackson gets a lot of attention, and rightfully so, but theres a lot o other guys out there as well."

Jared: "Getting that first region win was huge, but it doesn’t get easier with Brandon up next, along with Pearl down the road and Petal. Just talk about what makes this region truly the SEC West of 6A football?"

Caldwell: "It really is. I was joking with our principal the other day saying that we started with Auburn and now we have LSU next. They’re all super talented teams and players. Pearl is who they are, super good. That bunch at Northwest Rankin, their record doesn’t show how good they are. Petal, they’re an awesome staff. It’s just a brutal schedule. There are no weeks off. Anyone can beat you in this region. Everyone is really well coached and prepared. In all my 24 years of coaching, this is the toughest region I’ve ever been in, that is for sure."

Jared: "Going up against Brandon and that offense, is it safe to say that this may be the best offense that your team will play all year long?"

Caldwell: "Definitely. Will Rogers and that offense are so good. They have a good offensive line, good receivers, running back, all of it. What a lot of people don’t really talk about a whole lot is that defense. They will get after your tail defensively. Will Rogers gets a lot of love, and he should, but they have an overall good unit."

Jared: "George County has had a lot of success as a program around the 2000’s. Just talk about what George County to special?"

Caldwell: "We’re a 6A school by numbers, but the community has a 2A, 3A feel to it. We have that small town feel. The kids all grow up knowing each other. That doesn’t happen in most 6A schools. We have such pride in our community. That means a lot to our guys. The guys from that ’07 team are still around, the ones that lost to South Panola in the state championship. Alonzo Lawrence is still around coaching our defensive backs. They see him every day. Those were special times. Community means a lot here."

Jared: "Scott and Howell have nine total TDs in between them. What is it like have those two guys? Does it kind of create that ‘pick your poison’ mentality?"

Caldwell: "They have different skill sets, and that creates a lot of problems for the other defense. They encourage each other really well. They give us a good feel. That offensive line are in their third year of playing high school football. They are getting better too. We’re not where we want to be yet offensively though. They have that blue collar mentality, and thats what we want from our team."

Jared: "How do you feel like your team is handling themselves at this point of the season, especially after matching last year’s win total?"

Caldwell: "We say it all the time, it doesn’t matter what you do or who you are, our goal is to get one percent better every day, all of us. If you maintain that throughout practice. We don’t really have to worry about the end result, as long as we see that we did everything we could. Our guys have really bought into that. That is the approach we’ve taken."

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