MABEN — The East Webster High School football team may play the most emotionally charged home opener in school history at 7:30 tonight when it plays host to Vardaman.
East Webster will make its debut under new coach Doug Wilson. It also will play its the first on-campus athletic event since a tornado in late April did major damage to the school”s campus.
Countless hours have been spent rebuilding various parts of the football stadium. As of late Thursday, the field had makeshift wood bleachers on the visitors” side. The delivery of the new scoreboard also was delayed, and rain this week put a damper on last-minute work being done to prepare the concession stand and press box area.
The student-athletes also have felt the strain. Practices have taken place up the road, while classes haven”t resumed on campus. Some days, players may attend school one place, eat lunch at another, and practice football at yet another.
“I told our coaches the other day that if I had to pick a team for my first head coaching job, it would be this team,” Wilson said. “It has nothing to do with talent. It is all about the type of kids we have. This group has responded well to everything we have asked them to do. In some ways, it is almost like nothing ever happened.
“We could not have asked for a better group from the standpoint of what all they have gone through. Every day has been a different deal and a different schedule. We have had to stay on a tight schedule, too, with so much busing here and there. Every minute counts, and we have tried to make the most of them.”
On the field, the Wolverines should have a chance to be pretty good. Longtime coach Jimmy Carden retired after the Wolverines went 13-1 last season and lost to Calhoun City 23-21 in the third round of the Class 2A North State playoffs. Carden moved into administration at the school, but hasn”t left the program he loved so dearly behind.
“Jimmy was one of the best I have ever been around,” Wilson said. “He could see something on a football field before anybody else could. All of this out here, he built. That includes the field house, the concession stand, the seating areas, everything. He had a vision for the type of facilities he wanted this program to have.”
The football field house also was damaged in the April 27 storm. Carden was at the stadium Thursday overseeing the finishing touches on the new dressing facilities for the football team.
“If I become half the coach he was I will feel like I have been successful,” Wilson said.
Wilson and his staff feel the Wolverines have some talented playmakers. However, the squad will be young and very inexperienced.
“Offensively, we only have two kids who have played four quarters of aggressive football,” Wilson said. “We have a pair of linemen who played every snap last season. For the rest of the offense, they will be learning on the fly. The majority of our experience returns on the defensive side of the ball. However, we will be counting on some newcomers there, as well.”
Senior Darius Dear will get the nod tonight as starting quarterback. Freshman Monterrious Davis is the two-back. Junior Codie McKee and junior Nick Reynolds will share time at halfback. The flanker is sophomore Marques Reives, while the tight ends are junior Brett Flora and senior Andy Dunn.
The line includes freshman Wesley Harrison at left guard, sophomore Colby Williamson at left tackle, junior Charles Mosley at right guard, and senior Dylan Henley at right tackle. Freshmen Dakota Cissna and Brock Flemmings are expected to share time at center.
“We will run the ball more than we will pass,” Wilson said. “We are really proud, though, of the progress Darius has made. He has really emerged as a leader. We have been looking at three players at quarterback but decided to give him the nod after last week”s scrimmage. Darius had a bad injury and didn”t play his 10th-grade year. Last year, for the most part, he was recuperating. It is good to see him back out on the field and having a chance to contribute.”
Senior defensive end Brennan Sparks, senior nose guard Charles Guyton, and senior Codie Silver are returning starters.
Linebackers include freshman Deangelo Liggins, junior Thomas Brooks, junior Austin Cunningham, and sophomore Jermarcus Ivy. The ends are Sparks and junior Jake Williams, while Guyton is nose guard and sophomore Laterris Powell is a tackle. Corners include Silver, Dear, and sophomore McKinley Hollenhead.
“We are going to play as many kids as possible,” Wilson said. “We have that many kids that are equal and who have worked that hard. We want to give them a chance to prove themselves if the opportunity presents itself. It will also help to keep one of the units fresh if we play a lot of people. This will be especially important early in the year, when it is still hot.”
Hollenhead will handle punting duties. Eighth-grader Tyler Cosby will place-kick. Williamson will handle kickoff duties. Tyler is the son of former Mississippi State kicker Artie Cosby.
Wilson and his staff feel like the road will be a tough one to repeat as Class 2A, Region 2 champions. A year ago, the Wolverines didn”t lose a game in region play.
“The region is going to be very tough this year,” Wilson said. “Eupora is going to be very strong. Ackerman is going to be very strong. It is a pretty much a toss-up with everybody else. Our first region game is Ackerman. They had a tough season last year, but they have a lot going for them with so many kids coming back.
“The biggest thing is week in and week out we are going up against some great football coaches. These coaches are veterans who know what is going on.”
Wilson is in his 12th season at East Webster and 10th season on the coaching staff. Philip Jordan (offensive coordinator), Stephen Edwards (defensive coordinator), Kenny Williamson (special teams/game management), and volunteer coach Jason Smith will assist Wilson.
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