September 12, 2013 10:29:33 AM
Nobody is more old school than Tony Stanford.
The veteran coach has joked that 3 or 4 yards and a cloud of dust is just fine with him if that is what works for his football team.
Not much has changed in the three-plus seasons Stanford has been coach at Columbus High School. The Falcons have worked hard work in the weight room in an effort to be a more physical team and to compete with the best in Class 6A, the biggest classification in the Mississippi High School Activities Association.
Along the way, Columbus has made progress. If perennial state power West Point is a measuring stick, Columbus has made significant strides. In 2011, Columbus defeated West Point 35-27 in overtime. Last season, an 86-yard kickoff return by Aeris Williams in the second quarter was part of a 26-point surge that helped the Green Wave rally for a 26-19 victory in Columbus. The teams will meet at 7 p.m. Friday in the latest installment of the rivalry.
One of the negatives for Columbus (1-1) is Williams, The Dispatch's Prep Player of the Week, is back. The senior running back, who has given a verbal commitment to play football at Mississippi State, rushed for 246 yards and a touchdown and caught another for a score last week in a 55-33 victory against Starkville.
A year ago, Williams has 33 carries for 156 yards, so Stanford believes the Falcons will see another healthy dose of the Green Wave's featured back.
"A lot of it is the same," Stanford said of West Point's offense this season. "They're showing a lot more formations this year, and they're creating ways to get the ball to Williams. They are splitting him out and throwing it to him, they are getting him out wide and running speed sweeps with him, they are still running the power game with him in the backfield. They are creating different ways to get the ball to him. How are you going to miss him? But they hope you do."
Stanford said the primary difference is the Green Wave used to be more of a downhill, straight-at-you running team. This year, he said West Point has put Williams in the Wildcat formation and directly snapped the football to him in addition to all of the other wrinkles.
"He has great hands," Stanford said. "People may not realize it, but in seven-on-seven, they were going to get it to him. In the Starkville game, you watch the film and it looks like any way I can get it to him I am going to get it to him. He is a game-buster. Last year, I don't think they beat us if he doesn't return a kickoff for a touchdown and got them back in the ballgame. We really had control of him, but he is a tremendous athlete and you have to try to control him somehow."
Stanford said Tuesday he hadn't heard word if there was going to be any disciplinary action taken against senior Kevin Jackson, who was ejected from the Falcons' 20-16 victory against New Hope on Friday. Jackson was coming out of the pile of players when he contacted an official. Stanford said he spoke with the officials after the game and that they told him they would submit a report that the MHSAA would review and that he didn't need to contact the MHSAA.
MHSAA Associate Director Lonnie Tillman said Tuesday afternoon he had just returned from a trip out of state and that he hadn't had a chance to review any paperwork from the previous week. He said he and assistant director for athletics Robert Holloway would review the report and inform Columbus High if any penalties were levied against Jackson.
Last week, Jackson started at quarterback in place of senior Trace Lee, who suffered a blow to the head and had to leave the season opener against Noxubee County. Lee returned to help the Falcons rally for a victory against Lowndes County rival New Hope. This week, Stanford knows the offensive line will have to do a solid job to give Lee time and to open holes for Jackson and running back Kendrick Conner.
"I think our players realize this is going to be a physical ballgame," Stanford said. "You are going to have to get out there and be physical or you are going to kneel down and let them have it. We take a little pride in the last three or four years that we have been just as physical as anybody. We felt like we went out on the field and proved we have been just as physical as anybody. These seniors have been a big part of that, and I think they want to keep it going and show we are physical."
Stanford said Noxubee County and New Hope, which have offenses that primarily run out of the spread, did a good job of taking away the Falcons' strength. He feels West Point offers a game that will feature "best-man-win, whoever-wants-it-the-worst" challenges, particularly at the line of scrimmage, that are going to determine which teams wins.
That being said, Stanford said he remains a little leery of seeing Williams split out wide or in a variety of positions.
"Twenty-two has been standing out," Stanford said. "I hope we're up to the task. It scared me against Starkville because I thought it would be a closer ballgame than it was. They put up 55 points on Starkville. I just hope we don't give up 55 points."
To prevent West Point from hitting that number again, Stanford feels his players will need to play with more energy. Stanford said he saw flashes of that level in the fourth quarter last week when the Falcons rallied past the Trojans. He said Columbus will need to play with that urgency for four quarters against a team that is one of the favorites to win a state title this season in Class 5A.
"Two years ago when we beat them out here, that was probably the atmosphere I have seen here at this stadium since I have been here," Stanford said. "It reminded me of a state championship games. It was popping. The bleachers, everywhere it was filled with electricity. You could feel the hair on the back of your neck standing up. If you get that kind of effort you feel good. You can take getting beat if you get that kind of effort. What hurts a coach is when you don't get that kind of effort."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.