• Jared Redding

Rowdy's Five: Best Football Counties

Louisville players celebrate winning the MHSAA Class 4A State Championship on Dec. 1, 2018 in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. (Photo Courtesy of Keith Warren, MHSAA)

Hello, everyone! Welcome to Rowdy’s Five, where at the end of each list, you will either share it with everyone you know or dowse me with salt. Either way, thank you so much for joining me.

There are 82 counties in the Magnolia State, and every single one of them has at least two high school football teams. Some of them are more successful than others in terms of wins, championships and the hardware that come with them.

Today, I’m here to pinpoint the five counties in Mississippi that produce the best brand of high school football, historically speaking.

NOTE: These are ranked in no particular order.

Oktibbeha County

Before the natives of the county wake up on Saturday and watch their Mississippi State Bulldogs, they get to watch two highly successful football teams battle every Friday night. Sometimes these two schools are playing literally at the same time while being just 500 yards away from each other off Mississippi Highway 25.

The Starkville Academy Volunteers were a private school juggernaut in the mid 70s, winning four straight titles from 1974-77. They added another one eight years later in 1985, a year after Starkville High School earned their first state title in 1984. The Yellowjackets then won back-to-back in ’94 and ’95 and another one in 2001. The Vols ended a 20-year drought in 2005 with their sixth state title in school history.

Six years later, both lost in the big game in 2011 with only SHS winning it the following year in 2012 as a member of Class 5A. Three years later in 2015, Starkville was able to win it in 6A led by legendary head coach Ricky Woods, and in 2017, Starkville Academy won it all in Class AAA.

The consistency that both have had long-term is just staggering.

Winston County

It’s easy to look at this past season with Nanih Waiya and Louisville both winning their respective classifications in the MHSAA and say they’re a lock to make this list. However, there is a lot more to this county’s success on the gridiron than just 2018.

Louisville is the winner of nine gold balls, the third most of any program in the MHSAA. They were a dynasty back in the early '90s, and they woke back up in the late 2000s with back to-back titles in ’07 and ’08. Five years later, they won class 3A behind the arm of Last Chance U star Wyatt Roberts. Then the aforementioned title last season. Another interesting note: they are a perfect 9-0 in state championship games. Wow.

Winston Academy has been through rough times the past six seasons, but if you look back at what they were in the late 90’s, you’ll be pleased. They are the winners of six state titles, four of which came from 1997 to 2000.

Nanih Waiya’s success as a football program has mainly come from the past five years. The Warriors have gone 65-10 since 2014. After falling just short of the 1A title in 2017 against Simmons, they got their revenge last year to win their first state championship and end a 54-game winning streak for Simmons. Look for them to try and repeat this season.

In Class 1A, Noxapater is a program that usually makes some noise year in and year out. Their only school state championship came in 2011, but they claim 10 division titles and 20 playoff appearances.

Panola County

No, it's not just because the most storied Mississippi high school football program just so happens to be in this county, but it is a big reason.

South Panola set the standard for all Mississippi high school football programs with their 11 state championships. They single-handedly put Mississippi high school football under the national spotlight with their 89-game winning streak from 2003 to 2008, with the icing on the cake being that they earned Mississippi’s only national title in 2010.

However, this county wouldn’t be on the list if there weren’t other teams in the county having gridiron success as well, specifically North Delta and North Panola.

The North Delta Green Wave have won championships in 1994 and 2000 and went on to win six division crowns from 2003 to 2012. Their neighbors up north in Sardis have also had a few division crowns under their belt the past couple of years.

The North Panola Cougars have gone 35-5 the last three seasons, but have yet to go to the state championship game, let alone win it. However, with Carl Diffee at the helm and the winning culture he brought there, don’t be surprised to see them there sometime soon.

Rankin County

This one of five counties in the Jackson-Metro area. Most of these counties have solid football programs at their disposal, but the 25-time MAIS champions reside on the east side of the Pearl River. What do most people associate Jackson Prep with? Probably just winning in most things, but particularly football.

The only really big championship drought this team has had since the early '70s were seven years in the '90s. Other than that, it's been championships as far as the eye can see. They’ve won six titles in a row; no team in the MAIS or the MHSAA have done that, not even South Panola. There are other good programs than Prep in Rankin County, however.

Pearl and Brandon both have had 30+ winning seasons since the playoff system began in 1981. However, Pearl is the only one of the two programs that have won a state championship. The Pirates became the third team all-time in Mississippi to finish 16-0 in their championship run in 2017, and they’re currently one of the 6A South favorites going into 2019. Brandon is also a contender for 6A this season and an outstanding program, but they’ve never won a gold ball after failing to do so in their only appearance in 2012. Tyler Peterson, however, is likely going to have them contending for a while now.

Lauderdale County

On the west side of the Mississippi-Alabama boarder lies Lauderdale County, and a few consistent football programs, as well as one of Mississippi’s winningest football programs.

The Meridian High School Wildcats are winners of three state championships in 1985, 1990 and 2008. Since 1981, when the MHSAA playoff system began, they’ve made 31 playoff appearances and won their division 15 times. They’ve also been a factory for producing quality college football talent and a few NFL players. Safe to say that they’re a tradition-rich program, just like their neighbors west of them in the county.

Lamar School is another dynasty in the making within the MAIS ranks, having won three straight AAAA-II state championships. In all, they’ve won six state championships out of the nine they’ve appeared in.

Honorable mentions: Covington, Scott, Simpson, Smith, Clay

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