It is still up in the air on whether or not Coahoma County High School will have a football season, but first-year head coach McKinley Scott is moving forward as if everything is proceeding as planned.
Two Red Panthers (1-9, 0-5 in Region 3-2A in 2019) division opponents – O’Bannon and Charleston - cancelled their 2020 seasons late last week due to the COVID-19 pandemic. CCHS was scheduled to play at O’Bannon Oct. 9 and host Charleston Oct. 16.
The starting date of the season was already moved back to weeks to Sept. 4. The two games scheduled prior to the new starting date were automatically cancelled. The Red Panthers’ one victory in 2019 was at West Tallahatchie, but this year’s matchup at CCHS was set for before the new starting date. As it turned out, the Choctaws also cancelled their season recently.
Just six teams are left on the Red Panthers’ schedule.
“We’re still working on things,” said Coahoma County School District athletic director Shun Readus. “We aren’t even sure we’re going to have a season with everybody around canceling, so we’re still in the waiting game.
“Within the next two weeks, we’ll know something for sure.”
Readus said a decision about stadium capacity for fans has not been made at this time. He did say he does not expect a big live streaming system.
CCSD schools are scheduled to start with the hybrid system Aug. 24.
The Red Panthers have not had a chance to practice as a team.
“That’s the way I’m going now as if there’s going to be a season,” Scott said. “If things change, we’ll make sure we let everybody know.”
Readus, who is also the Coahoma County Junior High School and CCHS assistant principal, and CCHS principal Cortney Jackson will make the final decision whether or not there is a season.
“Me, I just try to make sure that I follow all the protocol I’m supposed to as a coach to keep it safe,” Scott said. “If the athletic director principal decides if they want to cancel the season, that will be their decision.”
Scott has had a chance to look at senior Lamont Lee, who has been the starting quarterback since his freshman year. He said Lee is capable of throwing the football and has shown his leadership abilities.
“It’s actually a great thing,” Scott said. “It would be nice to have a lot of veterans, but at least we have a veteran at the quarterback position, a nice size kid and a great leader.”
Lee also plays the wide receiver position. If CCHS does not have a season, he plans to transfer and play his final year at Clarksdale High School.
Scott said his goal is to know more of his starters and who his assistant coaches will be a week into school. He hopes to have at least 35 athletes on the roster.
With Coahoma Early College High School ending its football program, many former Tigers are planning to play for the Red Panthers in 2020.
“I’m hoping that it will (increase the amount of players on the roster), but I mean right now, when stuff is going on, I’m not seeing any contact with guys,” Scott said. “I really don’t know, but I will have an effect on what we’ve got going on. I think it will increase the number in some way.”
Key Red Panthers in 2019 included junior twins running back and outside linebacker Christian Banks, who won the team’s most improved player, and running back Chrishunn Banks, who won the team’s coaches award.
The Tigers were a playoff team in 2019 and two of their key players were senior defensive back Kendrick Honeycutt and senior defensive lineman Jeremiah Brassell Jr. Honeycutt was on the Second team All-State and Brassell Jr. was on the Second Team Super 22 for Region 3-3A.
As former Tigers become Red Panthers, Scott believes the athletes will jell as one.
“Pretty much, it’s like this,” Scott said. “Football brings people together. I just feel like no matter what background, they come into a football setting, you’ve got great leaders over you and children learn to fall in line. Of course, it’s going to be very competitive because they’re coming from Aggie. They want to play. They want to start. It’s the same way as Coahoma County. They want to start. For a new coach in this situation, it’s a plus for me. Now, I have a great group of guys that’s being very competitive, which is the No. 1 source that you want in your program.”
The Red Panthers play at Crumpton Field, next to the high school and junior high, but it is CHS’s field. This year, the Wildcats are expected to play on their own new field at CHS. If all goes as planned, the Red Panthers have access to Crumpton Field every Friday night, unlike in the past when they had to play on a different night or field occasionally.
“I’ll be honest right now,” Scott said. “I can’t even say that it’s our field. It’s Clarksdale’s field. I don’t know when they will be done with their field. As far as thinking about a field, now, I’m not thinking about it.
“I’m not worried if the field will become mine or if it doesn’t. It doesn’t matter to me as long as we play a game.”
CCHS is scheduled to play at CHS in the opener Sept. 4.
“I can’t say what it feels like in this area because I’m new here,” Scott said. “I just know from my standpoint when it’s a rivalry game, everybody steps up. Everybody plays hard. A 2A school will play harder than they would playing on a normal day. A 2A school will look like a 3A school. I think it’ll be very hard this time because a 4A school in our opener and then with the COVID-19 and getting the guys in late, it’s going to be a challenge. I know the guys will be up for it. I know Clarksdale will be up for it – a big rivalry. Everybody wants to see some sports. It’ll be a great game, no matter which way it goes.”
Scott said one of the Red Panthers’ toughest district games should be against state runner-up Northside. For now, he is attempting to build a family environment with his team.
“I guess my biggest focus now is on my guys. I haven’t been doing the film study,” Scott said. “I guess I won’t start until I actually start seeing people play. Once they start playing and I see we’re going to have a season, we can start evaluating them. Right now, the ultimate goal is Coahoma County. That’s the team that I’m trying to evaluate.”
Even with a larger roster than past, Scott said many athletes will play two ways, just as they did when he coached at Rosa Fort High School. However, there will be more opportunities for substitutes to come in during the games.
“That’s the ultimate goal for any coach to be able to have guys go one way,” Scott said. “Even with the guys coming over, that’s still impossible. You’re always going to have guys that are two-way guys, especially your guys that are really, really good. They’re going to be two-way. Even at a 4A school where I’ve coached at, we’ve had guys going two-way.”
Scott said he is excited to be coaching and believes the Red Panthers have an opportunity to be successful, but he has small goals.
“Right now, everything is changing with COVID,” Scott said. “The goal now is to actually just play, to be able to get out and give the guys an opportunity to get out and have fun. The main thing going in is getting the guys acclimated to my system and try to bring them together as a team.”
Scott succeeds Mario Lane as head coach. He is the eighth CCHS head coach since 2011 and the third in four years, but said when the players see he genuinely cares about them, they will buy into his system.
“When it comes to that, I think children are very intelligent,” Scott said. “Children can sense. They’ve got a great sense when somebody genuinely cares about them. They’re going to ask questions like that. If they see a passion going into the game and the passion that you have with them, they’ll buy into it. Mainly they see, ‘You know what? This guy really does care about how we play and how look and how we’re going to win.’”