Daryl Jones likes basketball.
As a coach at Callaway High School in Jackson, Jones is in a perfect spot.
Last year, Callaway beat Forest Hill for the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 4A state title. The Chargers then went on to beat Hinds AHS for the MHSAA/EnviroTurf Grand Slam Championship.
The title added the Jackson area”s reputation as the hotbed for basketball talent.
Jones” job is to duplicate that success — as the school”s football coach.
In his first year at the school, Jones, a former football coach at Columbus High, is making progress. He has guided the Chargers to an 8-3 record for their first winning season since 2004.
On Friday, Jones will return to the Golden Triangle to lead Callaway against New Hope (9-1) in the first round of the MHSAA Class 5A North State playoffs.
“One thing we want to do as a program is to compete well in the playoffs,” Jones said. “We have done pretty good around the Jackson/Metro area, but we haven”t fared that well outside the Metro area. In order to compete hopefully for a state championship, we have to learn to compete well against teams outside the Metro area, and across the state.”
Jones was hired in the spring to take over a program that had posted three consecutive sub.-500 seasons. The Chargers went 5-5 in 2005. But Jones didn”t let the challenge of coaching football at a “basketball school” overwhelm him. Instead, he set out to build a championship foundation like the basketball program.
“We had pretty good athletes,” Jones said. “It was just a matter of getting them pointed all in the same direction. The nucleus was here, so as a staff what we had to do was to build team chemistry and camaraderie and get everybody going in the same direction. I think we have done a pretty good job of that so far.”
Jones said the support of a solid coaching staff and the school administration have helped the Chargers get off to a fast start. He also has made efforts to build relationships with parents so they understand what the program is trying to do and how the coaches will try to accomplish their goals.
“Once you get parents involved and they believe in the program from there we just work hard every day in the offseason program and the guys end up believing, and as they continue to work hard they have success.”
Jones said he has developed a good relationship with Callaway High boys basketball coach Wayne Brent. He said both of them strive to build quality young men and that his goal is to achieve the same success the boys basketball program has attained.
In fact, he and his players watched three to four weeks ago as the Callaway High boys basketball players wore their championship rings at school.
“Our guys want the same thing, and they”re willing to do the same thing,” Jones said. “Hopefully one day they will get to wear that ring on their finger.”
To do that, the Chargers will have to snap the Trojans” five-game winning streak. The Chargers will look to
senior quarterback Mark Thigpen (18 touchdowns, 1,800 total yards), senior wide receiver Denzel Knight (11 total touchdowns), junior running back Devonte Wright (800 all-purpose yards), senior linebacker Clarence Barnes, who suffered an Achilles injury earlier in the season, and senior defensive back Lance Daniels.
“I think it”s going to be a tremendous first step,” Jones said of the challenge his team faces Friday. “They have had a great year and have a great coach. I think he might have won won game in his first year and they have consistently gotten better. For us to go to New Hope and beat a team that plays in the Golden Triangle, where they play good football in that area, would speak volumes about our football program.”
Jones, who also coach at Jim Hill High in Jackson and was the quarterbacks coach at Jackson State. He was named the team”s interim head coach in 2005 after James Bell was fired following a 2-6 start. Jackson State lost its final three games of that season.
Jones then moved on to coach at Columbus High, where he went 3-7 and 6-5 in two seasons before moving back to the Jackson area to be closer to his family. Jones” son, Daryl Jr., is a sophomore fullback on the Callaway High football team.
Jones said he enjoyed his time at Columbus and believed then and still feels Columbus is an area that can produce a state champion.
“I think we were heading in the right direction,” Jones said of his two years at Columbus High. “Even though we did not reach the level of success I hoped for, I do know you can win in Columbus. Even though they haven”t had success in recent years (1-10 and 3-8 in the past two seasons) and they don”t have a football tradition, all of the pieces are in place.”
Jones believes Columbus High has the facility, the staff, the administration, and the feeder program in place to produce a solid program. He said he never felt pressure from anyone in the community to produce a winner, and that he was proud to be able to help produce quality young men. He feels Columbus coach Bubba Davis and his assistant coaches are doing the same thing.
“If they keep plugging away the results are going to show and they will get it turned around to have a successful football program,” Jones said. “I think the community should just stay with them because you can”t change the coaches every three years and expect to win championships.”
Jones points to the program Michael Bradley and his coaches have built at New Hope (“To get the football program off the ground and to do it in three years is a testament to his hard work and the hard work of his staff,” Jones said) as an example that football programs in Lowndes County can be champions.
His goal is to help Callaway get to the same level.
“We are fortunate. We are having a great year,” Jones said. “We hope to continue on this week.”
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.