While many high schools throughout Mississippi and the nation are canceling their football seasons in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, all local teams in Coahoma County are scheduled to play.
As the seasons proceed, teams will be facing unprecedented challenges.
Clarksdale and Coahoma County high schools are starting two weeks late on Sept. 4 with abbreviated schedules. Each school has two district opponents that canceled their season as of Monday.
CHS, CCHS and Lee Academy will all be practicing new social distancing policies and making sure proper sanitation is taking place to minimize the chance of anyone contracting the coronavirus.
However, out of all of the challenges, the senior football players may be facing the toughest obstacle. In a time where recruits are not traveling to games to see what prospective signees can do, face-to-face meetings are not occurring and colleges are not holding camps, seniors are still trying to earn athletic scholarships to play football.
Coahoma County High School wide receiver, quarterback and strong safety Lamont Lee, Clarksdale High School wide receiver Josh Hollins and Lee Academy right tackle and defensive tackle Chris Butler are finding alternative ways to show they are capable of playing college football.
All would continue to pursue their dreams if the COVID-19 pandemic does cause the 2020 football season to be canceled somewhere along the line.
Lee is prepared to transfer if the Red Panthers do not have a season.
“Honestly, if they cancel – Coahoma County – I’ll probably go to Clarksdale,” Lee said.
If the Mississippi High School Activities Association cancels everyone’s season, he still would not get discouraged.
“I probably would just try to send my workout videos to colleges,” Lee said.
Even before his senior year, colleges are still taking notice of Lee.
“I can’t do any college visits,” Lee said. “I had two colleges that offered me this summer, but I couldn’t go to any colleges.”
Hinds Community College and another school in Chicago have already made Lee offers.
“Hopefully, somebody will offer me my senior year,” Lee said.
Lee has been sending his highlights and workout videos to schools through Twitter. He said he is also interested in playing for Northwest Mississippi Community College, Pearl River Community College and Northeast Mississippi Community College.
The Red Panthers have started practice for 2020.
“We’ve been having practices the last two weeks,” Lee said. “We’re doing strength and conditioning in the weight room. We’re on the field running drills and all that.”
Full practices began this week.
Lee has been the starting quarterback his first three years of high school, but he hopes to see more action at wide receiver and strong safety as a senior. His plan is to play receiver in college. He played quarterback to help his team.
“It’s real important,” Lee said. “You’ve just got to come in and do what you’ve got to do to help your team succeed.”
First-year CCHS coach McKinley Scott is Lee’s third head coach in high school.
“It’s actually helped me because every year I have a new coach and I can still have the system running well,” Lee said. “I just try to do what’s best for us.”
Lee said having different coaches helped him learn more systems.
Lee said the coach his freshman year, Malcolm Jones, implemented a passing offense. The coach his sophomore and junior year, Mario Lane, was different.
“He liked to run the ball and make people bite on the run and then throw the ball,” Lee said.
Lee said he expects Scott to implement something new, but he does not know what yet.
“This year, I haven’t seen too much of the system,” Lee said.
Since the Red Panthers have just six games on the schedule, there will be fewer chances for scouts to notice athletes. That makes earning a playoff spot more important ever to Lee.
“If we make the playoffs, then we can have a little extra time because there’s more games,” Lee said.
The Red Panthers were a playoff team Lee’s sophomore season. The ultimate goal is to win a state championship.
“That’s the goal for every team,” Lee said. “I just want to have a good senior year. That’s it. Just go out and compete every game.”
Lee hopes to play in the NFL. His favorite team is the Seattle Seahawks. His cousin DK Metcalf, a former Ole Miss player, is a receiver on the Seahawks.
Lee said he is also a fan of Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson.
The Wildcats only have two district opponents and Hollins understands the importance of making those games count in his effort to sign with a college.
“I take every game serious because you never know when your last one is,” Hollins said. “You want to go all out every time you step on the field.”
Greenwood, the district champion for the last three years, and Rosa Fort high schools were two Clarksdale opponents to cancel their seasons.
“I wanted to get revenge on Greenwood,” Hollins said.
With the coronavirus pandemic in full force, Hollins said it is very important that his games were filmed the last three years to show recruiters. That does not take away the challenges he faces.
“It’s been harder,” Hollins said. “It’s been very hard because we didn’t have camps in the summer, so we couldn’t get noticed by that.”
Hollins has sent film to East Mississippi Community College, the University of Southern Mississippi and Coahoma Community College.
“I’ve just been trying to work on my craft and reach out to schools,” Hollins said. “On Twitter, colleges have days where they have players to send film.”
Of the schools Hollins sent film to, he said EMCC his first choice. EMCC canceled its 2020 season, but Hollins understood the decision.
“It’s just for the safety of the players,” Hollins said.
While Hollins’ college destination has not been determined, it is safe to say he will be playing football somewhere in 2021.
“I have one offer from Delta State, but other than that, Holmes (Community College) has been very interested in me,” Hollins said.
He has also been working with senior Wildcat teammates quarterback Tamera Allen, running back Sammie Ray and linebacker De’meric Strong.
“I’ve just been trying to work on my craft, going to the field every day, trying to stay in shape,” Hollins said.
Hollins’ favorite NFL team is the Green Bay Packers because of quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Former Wildcat Elgton Jenkins is also a guard on the offensive line for the Packers and has talked to Hollins about his experience.
“He said it’s good, it’s great,” Hollins said. “It’s a good opportunity.”
Whatever route Hollins takes, he will continue pursuing his dream of playing in the NFL.
“I would like to go to a DI school,” Hollins said. “If not, after I go to JUCO. I’ll just work my way up from there.”
If the MHSAA cancels the 2020 season, Hollins will still actively send film to schools and do all the same things to stay in shape.
“I would just continue to send my film to schools and just keep working every day,” Hollins said.
Hollins is counting on having a season and being successful.
“We’re trying to bring home a state title this year,” Hollins said.
CHS has been a playoff team all three years of Hollins’ high school career, but never advanced past the second round. He believes 2020 could be different.
“We have to all come together as one, as a team and play for each other,” Hollins said.
“All the groups have the game potential, but we’ve been together through all the years.”
The Colts have their full schedule for 2020, but Butler acknowledged it was still harder for colleges to notice him during COVID-19.
“Hopefully, the season will still continue and I’ll get film and I’ll get it out to scouts or whoever,” Butler said.
Butler said no college has approached him yet, but he has already sent film to Belhaven University and Itawamba Community College. His family also has a strong history with CCC.
“I had a couple (family members) that went out here,” Butler said. “They were pretty good. They stopped playing.”
Butler’s family members to play for CCC were Vonderrick Green and Tang Green. Both graduated from then-Coahoma Agricultural High School.
Butler said he does not have a backup plan in place if the Colts’ season is canceled, but he feels he already has enough film to send schools and will continue to work out in the weight room.
Even if he does not have the opportunity to play college football, he still hopes Lee’s games move forward as planned.
“It’s very important since it’s my senior year and I want to play the whole season,” Butler said.
The Colts have more than 30 athletes on the 2020 roster. They have had around 20 athletes on the roster in the past.
“It’s a lot more opportunity for them and me to get better,” Butler said.
Butler said having a deeper roster will afford him more opportunities to rest during the games.
Butler said his goal for 2020 is to help Lee Academy get back to the state playoffs.
He added squandering a 14-point lead and losing in the Class 4A state semifinals at Riverfield Academy in Rayville, La., is motivation to be successful in 2020.
Players and coaches use the disappointing loss to motivate teammates.
“I hear that a lot,” Butler said.
“I think things will go pretty well like last year.”
Butler plans to major in agricultural engineering and hopes to play in the NFL one day.