Expectations were high as Rick Johnston headed into his third season as the Lee Academy football coach.
The Colts squeaked into the playoffs his first two seasons and lost on the road in the first round. They finished 2019 with a 7-4 record, a trip to the MAIS Class 4A semifinals and a Region 1-4A championship that came with a bye in the first round of the playoffs.
Thanks to those achievements, Johnston has been named the Press Register All-Area coach of the year for 2019, while senior Brett Wilson earned MVP honors. Wilson played quarterback, wide receiver, cornerback, on special teams and was the punter.
“Our kids, our coaches, we’re all in this together,” Johnston said. “I wouldn’t be where I was without those guys. I love them to death. They did a super job for us this year. My coaching staff, they did a tremendous job preparing these guys to play every Friday night. We’re anxious to get back at it. It was a good year. We’re looking to build on it and move forward.”
Chad Foster was the offensive coordinator and head coach of the junior high district championship team, Shon Valvano was the strength coach and Foster’s father, Brad, was hired right before the season as a position coach.
“We brought him on when school started,” Johnston said. “He did a tremendous job for us. He’s going to be back next year. We’re excited about that.”
Wilson played in the MAIS Senior All-Star Game for Classes 4A, 5A and 6A on defense and special teams. He also earned Class 4A All-State honors for his play at quarterback.
Wilson welcomes the challenge of playing different positions.
“It’s fun,” he said. “I’m a versatile player. I like doing it all. It’s something I’ve always done.”
Wilson was the starting quarterback in the Class 4A semifinals at Riverfield Academy in Rayville, La. The Colts took a 14-0 lead in the first half as Wilson threw a 14-yard touchdown pass to junior Nickos Nolan and a 74-yard touchdown pass to junior Graydon Gullick.
On the final possession, with the Colts trailing 16-14, junior Luke Crumpton was inserted into the quarterback position. The Colts turned the ball over on downs, but Crumpton completed a 28-yard pass to Wilson during the drive.
Johnston has been in coaching for 26 years at Lee Academy, North Delta School, Kirk Academy and Strayhorn High School. Lee Academy went 4-0 against his three former schools in 2019. He lost once in the state championship as the North Delta head coach and won twice as a defensive coordinator. He lost in the state championship twice as the Kirk Academy head coach.
Following a 0-2 start, Lee earned a 35-6 win at home against Strayhorn. Crumpton got the start at quarterback, while Wilson played receiver.
Wilson talked about his leadership role as a senior in helping the Colts get on the winning track.
“I just tried to keep pushing them and telling them you know we’d get it turned it around, keep working hard and finish the year,” Wilson said.
Lee went 2-0 in district games beginning with a 21-3 victory at Kirk Academy Oct. 4.
Wilson returned an interception 45 yards for a touchdown and threw a 30-yard touchdown pass to Crumpton.
The Colts played North Delta twice. The first time was a district matchup at Lee Oct. 18 where the Colts won 28-21. Wilson threw a 10-yard pass to Nolan to set up a score. He ran for two touchdowns on quarterback keepers.
Lee won its home playoff game in the second round against North Delta 21-14 on Nov. 8. Wilson completed a 5-yard touchdown pass to senior running back Seth Campbell.
“It’s a rival game,” said Johnston about playing North Delta twice. “It’s a tough game to play because some of those guys on the coaching staff played for me, so it’s not a fun game to play, but, unfortunately, they’re in our conference. We have to play them every year. Then, the way the playoffs are now, we had to play them again twice in a three-week span. It wasn’t a lot of fun, but we were able to come out on top both times. We were blessed. We were very pleased to be able to get that ‘W.’”
Johnston, who was the Press Register All-Area coach of the year in 2017 as Lee maximized its potential by making the playoffs, talked about the higher expectations going into 2019.
“We had some really good skill people,” Johnston said. “We also had some linemen who can really play. We just didn’t have enough of them. We’re very thin up front, but the guys came together, played hard, believed in each other and we had a good year.”
Wilson began playing for the Colts in seventh grade and saw the potential coming into his senior season.
“We had good intentions coming into the year,” he said. “We’ve always worked hard - the senior class. We really wanted it as a team.”
He knew he would have to be a leader for Lee to have success on the field.
“I knew it was my last year and everyone was kind of looking up to me, so I did my best to lead them and set a good example,” Wilson said.
Johnston graduated from the University of Memphis and played baseball as an outfielder at Northwest Mississippi Community College. His football days go back to when he played for Magnolia Heights School as the quarterback, an outside linebacker and in the secondary and was a kicker and punter.
Even though Johnston played football in high school and not college, he knew what he wanted to do for a living.
“I just always loved the feeling of Friday nights, just fell in love with it at an early age,” said Johnston about being a football coach. “I was fortunate enough to coach some really, really good athletes. This group was certainly a testament.”
Johnston played in the 1984 MAIS All-Star Game on defense, as a receiver and kicker. Being involved with all aspects of the game has helped him at Lee.
“Back then, Magnolia wasn’t as big of a school as it is now and they were sort of like us,” Johnston said. “You have 25 to 27 so you’d have to play a lot of people both ways.”
Wilson believes the future is promising for Lee. He has not made a decision on where he will play college, but he expects to be close to home and to attend some Colts games in 2020. He was glad to be the Press Register All-Area MVP.
“I’m thankful,” Wilson said. “I appreciate it. I’m glad to get the honor.”
Offensive MVP — Lee Academy senior RB Gage Murphy (MAIS All-Star, Class 4A MAIS All-State team, played both sides of the ball as running back on offense and linebacker on defense)
Defensive MVP — Lee Academy senior defensive lineman Shane Griffin (played the line on both sides of the ball, MAIS All-Star, Class 4A MAIS All-State team as offensive lineman)
Special Teams MVP — Coahoma Early College High School senior punter, punt and kick returner Chris Russell (Second consecutive year winning All-Area special teams MVP, Region 3-3A special teams MVP, Region 3-3A Super 22 team, 1,457 total yards for everything, also plays running back, defensive back and quarterback )
Most All-Around Player — Clarksdale High School senior quarterback, running back, kick returner and punt returner Queston Skipper (Natural position running back, but stepped in at quarterback after an injury. 143 carries for 1,306 rushing yards and 13 TDs, 66 passing yards, 137 kickoff return yards for one touchdown, 129 punt return yards for one touchdown, four 2-point conversions)
Newcomer of the Year — Clarksdale freshman QB Kelley Jones (Made one start at South Panola in a loss and showed potential, 6 of 16 passing for 73 yards)
Junior C Jackson Spinks
Junior OL/DE Andrew Williamson
Junior WR/S Graydon Gullick
Junior OL/DL Chris Butler
Clarksdale High School
Junior RB Sammie Ray — 98 carries for 693 yards, 11 TDs; one reception for 51 yards, 1 TD
Senior WR Tommy Washington — 3 receptions for 67 yards
Junior WR Joshua Hollins — 20 receptions for 229 yards, 3 TDs; 10 kick returns for 239 yards; 20 tackles and one sack at defensive end
Senior WR Lewis Williams — 2 points on one 2-point conversion
Junior G Almetris Smith — 2 pancake blocks
Senior T Joshua Johnson — 25 pancake blocks
Coahoma Early College High School
Senior RB Markevious Brown — Region 3-3A Super 22 team, 116 carries for 746 yards, 4 TDs
Senior WR Thomas Williams Jr. — Region 3-3A Super 22 team, 11 catches, 300 yards, 2 TDs
Senior QB Willie Eagins Jr. — Region 3-3A Super 22 team; 91 of 175 passing for 1,238 yards, 9 TDs, 13 INTs; 74 carries for 452 yards, 3 TDs
Senior WR Malik Burnett — Region 3-3A Super 22 team, 20 catches for 193 yards, 2 TDs; 18 carries for 123 yards, 2 TDs
Coahoma County High School
Senior WR/DB Tarkevius Logan
Senior LB/DB Clintavious Davis
Senior OLB Landon Wong Class 4A MAIS All-State team
Senior RB/LB Seth Campbell Class 4A MAIS All-State team
Clarksdale High School
Senior CB Chris Williams — 32 tackles (21 solo, 11 assist), 1 tackle for loss, 1 fumble recovery, 1 forced fumble
Senior FS Samson Tinner — 37 tackles (24 solo, 13 assist), 5 pass deflections, 2 interceptions
Senior Chris Mullins — 17 tackles (10 solo, 1 assist), 1 sack
Junior DE/MLB Jordan Thomas — 38 tackles (24 solo, 14 assist), 3 hurries, 1 sack, 1 fumble recovery
Senior OLB/SS Donta Morris — 31 tackles (20 solo, 11 assist), 1 forced fumble
Junior S Matthew Mixon — 48 tackles (30 solo, 18 assist), 1 tackle for loss, 3 pass deflections, 1 fumble recovery
Junior MLB De’meric Strong — 113 tackles (85 solo, 28 assist), 7 tackles for loss, 2 hurries, 2 pass deflections, 1 interception, 2 forced fumbles
Senior DE/DT Zeilon Chestnut — 71 tackles (50 solo, 21 assist), 15 tackles for loss, 10 hurries, 41⁄2 sacks, 2 pass deflections
Senior DT Kaleb Brown — 65 tackles (45 solo, 20 assist), 20 tackles for loss, 7 hurries, 31⁄2 sacks
Junior DE/DT Vincent Sims — 44 tackles (25 solo, 19 assist), 2 tackles for loss, 1 hurry, 1 fumble recovery, 11⁄2 sacks
Coahoma Early College High School
Junior DB Kendrick Honeycutt — Second team 3A All-State, 24 tackles, 5 interceptions, 7 pass deflections
Junior DL Jeremiah Brassell Jr. — Region 3-3A Super 22 team, 63 tackles (52 solo, 11 assist), 61⁄2 sacks
Senior LB Corey Suggs Jr. — Region 3-3A Super 22 team, 95 tackles (73 solo, 22 assist), 6 tackles for losses, 5 sacks, 1 interception
Senior DL Marquette Lewis — Region 3-3A Super 22 team, 40 tackles (30 solo, 10 assist), 51⁄2 sacks
Junior DL Zemartae Williams — Region 3-3A Super 22 team, 53 tackles (47 solo, 6 assist), 5 sacks
Coahoma County High School
Junior LB/RB Eddie Henderson
Junior OL/DL Martin Williams