SCOOBA — When the number flashed on his phone, Cliff Collins knew who was on the other end.
After eight seasons as defensive backs coach at East Mississippi Community College, Collins felt like a major part of the Lions’ football family. After one season as an assistant coach (defensive backs) at Jackson State, Collins is back in Scooba as the new defensive coordinator.
“I have to admit I was excited when that call came in,” Collins said. “This really feels like home. After being a part of so many championship seasons, it is great to be back, leading a unit. I look forward to the challenge of getting these guys back on top.”
Despite lots of wins and championships, very few changes took place in the early years under Stephens. However, there were a lot of changes prior to Stephens’ 10th season as head coach at EMCC.
The Aug. 31 opener against Jones County Junior College will mark the first time new coordinators have debuted on both sides of the ball.
David Boykin is the new offensive coordinator after a two-decade run on the high school level, including the past three seasons at Starkville High School. Boykin replaces Marcus Wood, who is now in administration at EMCC. Wood served as the offensive coordinator in each of Stephens’ first nine seasons.
Collins follows William Jones (five seasons), Jordan Lesley (three seasons) and Ed Holly (2016) in the defensive coordinator chair.
Holly is the head coach at Westminster Christian School in Florida.
“Very excited about David and Cliff and what they are going to bring to our program,” Stephens said. “Marcus did a tremendous job. We are excited to see what David can do. He is an EMCC man, having played baseball here. It is great for your program when you can bring someone home like that.
“On the defensive side, we are bringing someone home there, too.”
Former EMCC and Ole Miss standout Bo Wallace has replaced Clint Trickett as the quarterbacks coach. Davern Williams enters his fourth season as defensive line coach, while Justin Sanders will begin his second season coaching the secondary.
The final coaching spot is expected to be filled today with the announcement of running backs coach Courtland Hays, who comes over from North Alabama.
On defense, Collins knows the blueprint for success. He was part of the EMCC national championship seasons in 2011, 2013, and 2014. Lesley coordinated the defense for those final two championships.
“We just have to get back to the attacking, relentless style of defense Jordan played,” Collins said. “It starts up front. If you look at the 2014 national championship team, they didn’t allow a rushing touchdown until the bowl game. Three of the four up front are in the NFL. That is the type of talent we have to get in here on a consistent basis.”
The 2014 squad allowed 7.6 points per game and posted a school-record five-straight shutouts in the regular season. While the 2016 EMCC squad finished second nationally with an 11-1 record, it allowed 20.4 points per game.
“It starts with attacking the quarterback,” Collins said. “You really have to challenge the quarterback on every snap in this league. You want to impede his thought process. You have to apply pressure and you have to take him out of his comfort zone. This league revolves around the quarterback.
“Other than that, it’s about passion and energy. The successful defenses of the past played with a lot of passion and energy. You have to take it personally when you give up a first down.”
Collins said his biggest take-away from this past season was learning more about organization.
“It was just refreshing to see how things are done at a different place,” Collins said. “I feel deeply indebted to coach (Tony) Hughes for the opportunity to spend a season there. There are so many more details at a Division I program. I just watched how a season comes together at a higher level. It was a rewarding experience.”
On offense, the challenge will be to keep a well-oiled machine going at its normal pace. EMCC has scored 50 or more points 36 times under Stephens, who has had a major hand in shaping the offense.
“This is a great opportunity to get into college coaching,” Boykin said. “The statistics speak for themselves. Traditionally, the teams here have played offense as well as anyone ever has in this league. Our challenge is to continue that tradition.”
Follow Dispatch sports writer Scott Walters on Twitter @dispatchscott
Scott was sports editor for The Dispatch.
You can help your community
Quality, in-depth journalism is essential to a healthy community. The Dispatch brings you the most complete reporting and insightful commentary in the Golden Triangle, but we need your help to continue our efforts. Please consider subscribing to our website for only $2.30 per week to help support local journalism and our community.