Coaching football isn’t complicated for Chris Chambless.
While many coaches lay awake at night coming up with an extra formation or a set of plays that will give their team a competitive advantage, Chambless has kept it simple for the West Point High School football team.
“West Point football is all about running the football,” Chambless said. “It is about blocking and executing. It’s as simple as that. If you run the ball and you run it with authority, you will win games.”
This season, West Point ran the football with authority and won a Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA) Class 5A State championship.
For his team’s success, Chambless is The Dispatch’s Large School Coach of the Year.
After splitting their first two games, West Point won its final 13 to capture the school’s first football state championship since 2010, and eighth overall. Chambless has won three of those in 11 seasons as head coach at the school.
“This program is all about winning state championships,” West Point senior Demarrio Edwards said. “When you don’t do that, you don’t measure up to the past. It can be intimidating at times. It can be frustrating at times. However, you know that is what you sign up for when you accept your uniform.
“It feels great to be fortunate enough to be the senior class that brought a championship back home. We had to work really hard to get the job done. When you hold up the gold ball, all the hard work pays off.”
The question is frequently asked “What is West Point football?” Most players can sum it up in a few words.
“It’s ground and pound. That is what we do,” West Point junior running back Chris Calvert said. “We want to run the football and then we want to run the football more. The team’s success really comes down to the offensive line. If they block and execute then we always have a chance. Our defense was excellent this season, so it’s not like we had to do a lot of offense.
“We just had to be patient and we had to continue to believe in what we were doing.”
West Point ran for 3,646 yards and 47 touchdowns. The Green Wave averaged 243.1 yards per game. West Point had this success with junior Chris Calvert sidelined for more than half the season with concussion symptoms.
“The joy you find in coaching comes from you watch players learn life lessons,” Chambless said. “Football teaches you how to handle everyday situations that come up in life. It’s about coming together as a family. It’s about overcoming adversity to reach a common goal. The expectations are always high. We have a built a program where winning championships is the goal.
“To be able to learn along the way is very rewarding. This group was special. They worked hard. They overcame everything that was put in front of them. To be able to see them rewarded with a championship is very pleasing.”
West Point dealt with physical and mental hurdles. In 2014 and 2015, West Point’s season ended with a playoff losses to region rival Oxford. Despite being ranked No. 1 in preseason in Class 5A, West Point had to validate that ranking and clear a huge mental hurdle by snapping a five-game losing streak to Oxford.
“Beating Oxford was our most important win,” Edwards said. “That is why the guys really believed that we could do this. We always talk about winning championships. It is another thing to believe that you can do it. After we won the game, everybody on the team had a higher confidence level.
“The thing about our coaches is we were always prepared. We knew exactly what the other team was going to do. If we executed, we would have a chance. There were no surprises because we were always motivated, prepared and ready to go. This team really enjoyed playing the game.”
West Point beat Oxford 22-8 in the fifth week of the regular season and 41-0 in the playoffs. Another upset chance was avoided a week after the regular-season win with a 20-17 region win at Clarksdale.
By then, transfer quarterback Clayton Knight was finding his stride and taking over the offense. Marcus Murphy was excelling as a full-time running back, taking up the slack of Calvert’s absence and showing why he could be the state’s top recruit next season.
West Point won its final nine games by 14 or more points, including a dominating 29-8 victory against Laurel in the state championship game.
Defensive coordinator Roger Burton led a unit that allowed three touchdowns in four playoff victories.
“Our defense was outstanding,” Chambless said. “They were physical, aggressive, hard-nosed. They played the type of defense that we like to play at West Point. The last couple of seasons, the defense was not up to that championship level. Last season, we played well on that side of the ball but a few pieces were missing.
“This season, it all came together early. Confidence is important in football. We built that throughout the season.”
With juniors dominating on both sides of the ball, West Point will try to repeat as state champions. Fortunately, Chambless has carried the program down this road — winning titles in 2009 and 2010.
“Repeating is a unique experience,” Chambless said. “It is a huge challenge because everybody is gunning for you. The kids are ready. Now that the program is back on a championship level, the kids are excited about a chance to keep it there.”
Follow Dispatch sports writer Scott Walters on Twitter @dispatchscott
Scott was sports editor for The Dispatch.