FULTON — Itawamba Community College sophomore wide receiver JaNardreon Jones remembers his learning curve in junior college football.
“As a freshman, you have to grow up real fast in this league,” Jones said. “You can’t stay on the sidelines and be patient. You have to come out and prove yourself and be ready to go.”
Jones did just that a year ago as the former Noxubee County High School standout caught 31 passes for 454 yards and two touchdowns.
The Indians are expecting even bigger numbers when Jones and the rest of his 19th-ranked teammates kick off the season one week from today at third-ranked Copiah-Lincoln Community College.
The buzz word was “youth” at Wednesday’s ICC Media Day. Itawamba will boast one of the youngest rosters in the entire Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges.
“We have a lot of freshmen but they have come in ready to play,” Jones said. “We are going to have some big-time impact players out of that group. We just have to get them caught up on the plays and the way we do things around here.”
Last season, ICC finished 6-4 but qualifies for the MACJC playoffs for the first time under then-fourth-year head coach Jon Williams. Williams resigned during the summer to take a coaching position at Southern Mississippi.
Sean Cannon moved up from defensive coordinator and will make his ICC head coaching debut against Co-Lin.
“We are really excited about what lies ahead,” Cannon said. “We know we begin the year ranked. There are five teams ranked from our state and we play the other four. So the challenges are numerous. We will have to really grow up on the fly with so many new faces.”
Jones said the offense has only seen minor changes under a new regime. New offensive coordinator Nick Coleman said the squad will play more up-tempo and hopes to run “at least 100 plays” per game.
“Pretty much in our league everyone is going to a spread and to an up-tempo type offensive attack,” Jones said. “It’s fun out there playing in that kind of system. We have not had a lot of changes. It’s still the same philosophy. We are just doing it at a much faster pace.”
ICC finished second in the North Division in 2013. The season ended with a 49-21 playoff loss at South Division champion Jones Junior College.
With ICC returning only one running back, no quarterbacks and only one offensive lineman from last season’s team, the wide receiving corps will be asked to take the lead.
“We have worked really hard during the summer with our weight conditioning,” Jones said. “We had a great year last year but we also so how far we have to go to really compete with some of the elite teams in the state. That is the challenge now.”
For Jones, the challenge is becoming a leader after being a follower just a season ago.
“It’s really a neat feeling,” Jones said. “Some of the freshmen will come to you with everything, from class to practice. They just want to know each and everything they can know. I have enjoyed being one of the guys they look to. Last year, I needed that kind of guidance. So this year, I am more than happy to give it.”
Follow Scott Walters on Twitter @dispatchscott.
Scott was sports editor for The Dispatch.