August 7, 2017 9:17:22 PM
WEST POINT -- West Point High School assistant football coach Roger Burton does not hold back on the praise of lineman Terence Cherry.
"He is the best defensive player I have coached in two decades of coaching," Burton said. "People familiar with my career know how many great defensive players that includes.
"Terence is different. He is special. He can change the entire complexion of a game on any snap."
If numbers are needed to back up the praise for the 6-foot-2, 260-pound Cherry, those are available. He had 17 sacks for the Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA) Class 5A state champions last season.
"We think we can go back-to-back again," Cherry said. "We lost a lot of seniors but this team is going to be even better. We have a lot of starters this year who started last year and they helped take the team to the top. I think we are going to do very well this year."
West Point beat Laurel 29-8 in the Class 5A state championship game at Davis Wade Stadium. The 14-1 season included a pair of wins over region rival Oxford and the school's first football state championship since 2010.
"(In 2015), we lost to Oxford in the third round (of the playoffs)," Cherry said. "After that, people started doubting us for the next season. After the Starkville game, we started clicking. We just had more confidence after each win. Beating Oxford had been hard to do that. When we did that in the regular season, we knew we had a chance to have a special season. Our coaches kept pushing us. We knew the championship was in site."
With as many as seven starters returning on offense and defense, West Point will now shift from a mind-set of chasing a championship to repeating as champions.
"We are more hungry now," Cherry said. "Even though we are the champions, anyone can take that from us. We will have to be more on guard this season, because everybody is going to give us their best shot."
West Point coach Chris Chambless is aware of the expectations. He knows Cherry will play a huge role in helping a defensive unit, which only allowed three touchdowns in four postseason wins a year ago.
"(Cherry) is a dominating force," Chambless said. "Each year, there are four or five of those around the state. He has been that way for three seasons for us. Coachable, talented, hard worker. We know our defense is in good hands when he is leading the way."
Leading the way has been a point of emphasis during the off-season.
"Working on being a better leader is something I have been working on," Cherry said. "Last year, I wasn't that good a leader. This year, I have been working on that, focusing on pushing my teammates more. As a senior, it is important to be the leader."
Cherry said he has been taking to heart instruction from the coaches in that department.
"Coaches talk all of the time about being a leader," Cherry said. "They tell us to be leaders. If you have a lot of leaders on a team, you can achieve more."
Follow Dispatch sports writer Scott Walters on Twitter @dispatchscott
Scott is sports copy editor and reporter
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