One year ago, Coahoma County was scrambling to put a coaching staff and roster together two weeks prior to the football season.
Things are different headed into 2018 as new coach Mario Lane, who came from Ruleville, had the summer to work with athletes and hire three assistant coaches.
The Red Panthers (2-8-1 in 2017) had just two coaches last season.
“We’re going to try to work the junior high and the high school together to give us more manpower in coaching,” Lane said. “We brought in two new coaches, along with the junior high coach that was here, so we have about five total for the seventh through 12th (grade) program.”
Latarius O’Neal is the junior high head coach and will work with the offensive and defensive line for the high school team; Christopher Wilks is the defensive coordinator, running backs and linebackers coach; while Javis Robinson is the wide receiver and defensive backs coach.
Lane said he is looking for one more coach to assist on the offensive side, work with the quarterbacks and be the offensive coordinator for the junior high team.
Sophomore Lamont Lee, who was lost for the 2017 season in Week 3 with a broken right ankle, is the quarterback.
“I can’t even feel it anymore,” Lee said of his broken ankle, adding he felt significantly better three-to-four weeks after the injury.
Lee’s goal during the summer was to stay healthy and get stronger and is hoping for the Red Panthers to have a better season.
“I think it will be different because of the way our coaching staff is pushing our team and they’re bringing in new guys,” he said. “I think it will be great for our team. I’m looking forward to the season.”
One of the two wins last season was with Lee at quarterback.
“I think he’s going to do a good job for us at quarterback,” Lane said.
“He’s catching on to the scheme real well. He’s just in the beginning stage of teaching. We’ve just got to get him focused and used to being a passer.”
The Red Panthers spent much of the summer working on strength and conditioning, agility, jump roped and ran, but not as much as Lane wanted to.
“We had to get into installation of our offense and defense,” he said.
Lane said he did not see the full roster prior to the start of school, but the athletes who participated in the summer program made progress.
“In the past, they haven’t had summer practice, so we implemented a summer program, which is in the beginning stages,” Lane said.
“We didn’t get the attendance we wanted, but we did get the guys here.
“We did get some installation and some conditioning of the guys to install new systems. We’re still in the teaching phase going over into the season, but it’s just part of building a program.
“We’re a couple months ahead (of where we would have been without practice), which is important because football season is only three months long, so I figure that, instead of us starting an install period right now, we were able to get a 30- to 45-day head start on that. We’ve still got a ways to go, but I do think we should be in better conditioning earlier than what I was anticipating.”
Ideally, Lane said he hopes to have his athletes at their best by district competition. The Red Panthers are in Region 3-2A and their first district matchup comes when Riverside comes to town for homecoming Sept. 14.
“Our expectation is just to come out and compete four quarters,” Lane said. “Our long-term goal, we say we want to make the playoffs and try to get a win in the playoffs, but right now, we just want to focus on the beginning of the season and being competitive early.”
Lane said he will be relying heavily on his seniors.
One senior is four-year offensive and defensive line starter Antwoinario Bryant.
He said the difference between the 2018 team and last season us because of “the commitment we have for each other. The way we work harder each and every practice and the amount of sportsmanship we show each and every practice to get better.”
Bryant said the summer program was beneficial.
“It brought us closer together with the new coaching staff,” he said.
Two key skill players are senior wide receivers and defensive backs Markevius Phillips and Jeffery Fisher, who will also see action at running back. Phillips had seven interceptions, 37 tackles and 15 pass breakups last season. Fisher had seven interceptions, 46 tackles and 22 pass breakups in 2017.
The Red Panthers will run a spread with multiple formations and have a balanced attack. It will be a one-back system with three to four wide receivers in the game at a time.
“We try to be physical in the box and we try to space you out in the perimeter,” Lane said.
The running backs will be by committee.
“We’re just going to shuffle in at running back until we can find somebody that’s going to make a home in the backfield,” Lane said.
Junior Clintavious Davis is one of those running backs. He filled in at quarterback after Lee’s injury last season and finished with 800-plus passing yards and 300-plus rushing yards. He had 26 tackles, two fumble recoveries and 21 tackles at cornerback.
Roderick Hollins and senior Dewayne Rucker are also running backs.
Hollins, Fisher, Tony McCray, who is a transfer from Lake Cormorant, and Nautica Brown will see action at wide receiver.
“A lot of what we’re doing, we’re just doing it by committee right now,” Lane said.
Senior Rayshamond Brown, Kontavious Drake, Bryant, Christopher Rucker, Dale Kirksey, senior Tajhan Williams and Martin Williams are offensive and defensive linemen.
“We’re by committee everywhere,” Lane said. “Those offensive linemen, they’re two-way guys. They’re platooning on the defensive line as well.”
Lane’s goal is to make sure his athletes are able to play a variety of positions.
“We want to teach them where we can be able to make adjustments on the fly and not be handicapped because someone goes down,” Lane said. “That’s why we’re trying to get these guys to play as many positions as possible on both sides of the ball.”
The defense will be multiple fronts, including a four-man front.
Senior Alshun Ross was a Red Panther as a sophomore but played for Clarksdale High School as a junior. He is back at Coahoma County and will be a linebacker and have some some special duties on offense. Davis and Dewayne Rucker will also play linebacker.
Special teams may be the biggest question mark.
“We’re in the process of trying to put together some kickers and punters,” Lane said. “We haven’t nailed none of those positions down.”
Ross and Christian Banks will have opportunities to play kicker and punter, while skill athletes including Fisher, Phillips and Hollins will be return men on special teams.
“We have a decent group of skill guys that makes it a little easier at the return position that we can stick a number of guys back there and I think the production level will be the same,” Lane said.