September 10, 2013 11:16:09 PM
STEENS -- Adjustments don't seem to faze Jay Jay Swanigan.
But it's one thing to transition to a new school and then discover you're going to have to play on both sides of the football for your new team.
Swanigan spent the offseason with his new teammates at Immanuel Christian School to help ease his move from Columbus High School. It wasn't until last month that he first experienced what it means to play on both sides of the football, but he was up to the task in a season-opening victory against Delta Academy.
That's when Swanigan and his teammates discovered they were going to have to face a new challenge. After the first game, freshman playmaker Dearius Young informed his teammates that he and his family were moving from the area so his father could take another job. Young's announcement came after he had three touchdowns and an interception in a 46-8 victory at home.
Swanigan, who was just settling into his role as quarterback/linebacker/safety, knew he and his teammates were going to have to make some changes.
Coming off a loss to Winona Christian in their first game without Young, Swanigan and the Rams bounced back in impressive fashion, rallying to beat Carroll Academy 18-15 on Friday. Swanigan helped supply the drama, hitting KC Cunningham with a 44-yard touchdown pass with 30 seconds remaining that secured the victory.
"Coach (Greg Watkins) called the play. I wasn't expecting to run that play," Swanigan said. "When he told it to me, I talked to my line and told them if they blocked, we were going to win this game. They did their best, and I give them a lot of credit for that. I put God first and I put my trust in them and I saw KC across the middle and I hit him."
True to the team's mantra "Many parts, one body," the final touchdown was a group effort. The offensive line covered the blitz, Swanigan read the coverage on Cunningham, and Jaelin Bankhead provided the block that ultimately helped Cunningham score. Swanigan said the Rams (2-1, 1-0 district) will need similar contributions in their next two non-district games against New Site and Heidelberg Academy, which are both on the road, before they return to Mississippi Association of Independent Schools Class A, District 2 play with a game at Greenville Christian on Sept. 27.
Swanigan said it has been an easy transition stepping into a leadership role. He also feels right at home being a vocal leader who motivates his teammates in the weight room, on the practice field, and in games. He knows he is expected to do that even more now that Young is gone.
"When we first found out Dearius was leaving, it hurt all of us. It crushed all of our hearts," Swanigan said. "We weren't practicing hard, but we came together as a team and we got closer when Dearius left. We knew he played a big and an important role on the team, so we all knew we had to step up and be leaders."
Swanigan said the first district win gives the team confidence to know it can have success without a playmaker they were counting on. He hopes he can continue to deliver like he did against Carroll Academy, when he was 13 of 19 for 219 yards and three touchdowns.
Watkins said he talked to the entire team about filling roles and contributing to the team's success. He said the Rams weren't focused in a disappointing loss to Winona Christian but they rebounded and regained the right mind-set. Now he hopes Luke Hudson and B.J. Shirley can keep producing at linebacker and that the defensive line can continue to play at a high level.
On offense, Watkins will look to Swanigan, Cunningham, and Bankhead to power the Rams. He feels Swanigan is prepared to move into a bigger role.
"You always want your quarterback to step up and be one of the leaders," Watkins said. "Jay Jay coming from Columbus only played on one side of the ball. Playing on the defensive side of the ball has been a big adjustment for him. He did a whole lot better job in the second half and stepping up and making a few plays.
"To become a leader, you have to lead by example first. Here in the last few weeks he has done that, and all of the guys since Dearius left, there have been several of them, who have stepped up and taken on leadership roles. I think that is the way the guys look at it, we are many parts and one body."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.