MACON — A “next-man-up mentality” isn’t new in football circles.
Noxubee County High School coach Tyrone Shorter’s certainly has used the refrain in recent years as his squad has battled injuries in its usual gauntlet of non-region games.
That’s why you won’t hear any panic in Shorter’s voice as he discusses his team’s fortunes prior to another one of those games — a matchup against Class 6A power Meridian at 7 p.m. Friday at Tiger Stadium. After games against Starkville and Columbus and another one next week against West Point, Shorter knows there isn’t too much his team won’t experience against some of the state’s biggest and toughest opponents.
Still, the veteran coach is itching to get all of his players back healthy so the Tigers can start clicking on all cylinders.
“I think we have a lot of talent on this team,” said Shorter, whose team beat Shannon 34-12 last week. “We’re not full blast. We don’t have all our weapons, but we’re finding a way.”
A defense that returns eight starters from the 2017 state championship squad has been a force for the Tigers in their 2-1 start. Last week, senior running back Ja’Qualyn Smith powered the offense with 19 carries for 135 yards and two touchdowns. The return of running back Bobby Shanklin, who rushed for 50 yards and a touchdown, provided another weapon for an attack that is still without Mississippi State commitment Kyziah Pruitt.
Shorter said Pruitt’s status is uncertain for this week and for next week. He said his goal is to have him back ready for the first game of district play, which just so happens to be against Louisville on Oct. 5. Noxubee County will play on the road against West Monroe (La.) and Glenwood (Ala.) following its date against West Point.
Shorter also hopes quarterback Khristopher White can return to health and round into form to lead the offense. Against Shannon, White was 4-for-11 for 19 yards. Senior Maliek Stallings was 3-for-7 for 81 yards, but he rushed for 33 yards and had a touchdown in the victory.
“Maliek is giving us a spark,” Shorter said. “We’re kind of limited in what we can do in our passing game, but we are running the ball really well. My offensive line is doing a great job, but it is kind of making us one-dimensional. I don’t like that. We are not really passing the ball like I want to.”
Still, Shorter said the Tigers are finding ways to win. Against Columbus, Noxubee County used a mix of solid defense, buoyed by interceptions, to turn the tide in the second half. Against Shannon, Smith delivered one of his best efforts to help the Tigers wear the Red Raiders down.
“Shanklin is going to add another dimension to our offense,” Shorter said. “Ja’Qualyn won’t have to do as much, but the offensive line has been healthy. They have been our rock.”
Shorter also credited his coaches for doing their best to keep the players focused and upbeat through all of the injuries and after the season-opening loss to Starkville.
“They are doing a great job of putting the kids in position to be successful,” Shorter said. “We are asking the kids to go out and play as hard as they can.”
Part of that effort includes “grinding.” That hasn’t been a word Shorter has used very often in the last few years. The Tigers typically fly to the football and rely on their speed and aggressiveness to attack opponents. While they might be doing that again this year, you get the sense they aren’t doing it at 100 percent yet, which is something Shorter hopes is coming very soon.
Until then, Shorter said Noxubee County will rely on its defense to play its typical hard-nosed style.
“The defense is really starting to get back in sync,” Shorter said. “The three seniors we lost last year played a big part. Now we have some guys trying to step up and to be the leaders we need on defense. From week one to now, our defense is playing really well. We are still making some mistakes, but we have got (linebacker Chaokang) Brooks back this week. (Defensive lineman Verdell) Clemons has been bothered by an ankle, but he had a good game this week. Once we get back healthy and stop making mistakes, I think our defense can be really, really, really good.”
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.