Great expectations set stage for River''s Centennial season

POPLARVILLE Tenth-year head coach Tim Hatten expectations are sky high as his eighth-ranked Pearl River Wildcats enter their Centennial season of football in 2011. Since Hatten arrived on campus in the summer of 2002, he has guided The River to four (2003 through 2006) of its unprecedented 19 state championships and an NJCAA national title in 2004. But the Wildcat squad, which cranked up in 1911, hasnt clinched the MACJC crown since 2006. Hopes are high that will change in 2011. We set very high goals for our guys each and every year around here, said Hatten, who boasts a 73-19 win-loss record over the past nine seasons. Not only do we set out to win a state championship, but a national title as well and I feel weve got as good of a chance as ever to accomplish both of those goals this season. The Wildcats return 14 starters from last year 6-3 team with nine on offense and five on defense. Talented NJCAA All-American and All-Region 23 quarterback Melvin German out of Dunbar High in Fort Myers, Fla., and All-Region wide receiver Steve McNair, Jr., of Oak Grove High highlight the group; but there plenty of more experienced talent that graces the roster. We had a good team last year and, based on that, well be solid this go-around, said Hatten, who saw his 2010 Wildcats finish 5-1 in the MACJC rugged South Division. Recordwise, we finished in a three-way tie with Co-Lin and Gulf Coast in the division, but our two North Division losses were costly. PRCC 42-36 defeat to North Division foe East Mississippi a week after Co-Lin won a 21-14 road decision proved to be biggest setback, as it cost the Wildcats a playoff spot due to the overall record tie-breaker with Gulf Coast. In this league, you beat each other up on a week-to-week basis particularly in the South and any one loss can end youre chances of winning it all. Weve been the poster child of that over the past couple of years. Pearl River is picked to finish second in the South behind Mississippi Gulf Coast, ranked second in the NJCAA preseason poll, in the coaches preseason balloting; while defending South champ Copiah-Lincoln is tagged third ahead of fourth Hinds, fifth Jones County, sixth East Central, and seventh Southwest Mississippi. Co-Lin captured the South crown a year ago via its sixth-week victory over The River and went on to can North runner-up and defending state champ East Mississippi in the opening-round of the playoffs to nab a berth in the state title bout. The Wolfpack fell to Gulf Coast in the 2010 championship game after MGCCC defeated North champ Northwest Mississippi in the first round. German and McNair will be complimented by an impressive group of returning sophomore starters, including wide receiver Jonathan Duncan of Petal High, wide receiver Leonard Johnson of East Marion High, offensive lineman Chandler Matthews of St. Stanislaus College (in Bay St. Louis), wide receiver Seth Roberts out of McKay Academy in Tallahassee, Fla.; wide receiver Snoop Rollins of North Forrest High, running back Steve Simon of East Marion High, and running back Marquis Smith of Hattiesburg High. German, who was a redshirt in 2009, led the state in passing a year ago completing 240 of 369 passes (65 percent) for 2,728 yards and 16 touchdowns. He threw only six interceptions the entire season with three of his picks coming in the Wildcats 24-21 season-finale victory over division rival Jones County. What can you say about Melvin, Hatten said. He had an incredible season last year and he going to be better this time around. With our (spread) offense, youve got to have a solid quarterback and Melvin is one of the very best to ever play here. McNair, the son of the late Alcorn State and NFL legend Steve McNair, Sr., led the league with 56 receptions (6.2 per game) and his 631 receiving yards (70.1 per game) was ranked fourth-best statewide. He also averaged 24.8 yards on kickoff returns, which was fourth in the league. Roberts was another prime German target a year ago, as the led the team in receiving yards with 733 (81.44 per game) on a second-best 49 catches, as well as topping all Wildcats in receiving TDs with six. His reception and yardage totals were second-best statewide. Simon and Rollins both finished the 2010 campaign with 44 receptions for 439 and 392 yards, respectively. Simon also was the Wildcats top rusher a year ago with 262 yards on 68 carries. Weve never been a really great running team, Hatten continued, but we never set out to be. We finished at the bottom of the league in rushing yards and attempts last year (594 yards on 239 carries) and that could very well be the case again this year. Everybody knows that Pearl River is going to throw the ball down the field. Newcomers that are expected to contribute immediately on the offensive side are running back Markeyus Johnson of Forrest County A.H.S., running back Kollin Johnson of St. Stanislaus College (in Bay St. Louis), wide receiver Shawn Jones of North Forrest High, and wide receiver Jovante Wilson of Picayune High. Matthews will be complimented on the O-line by Cody Conkle, Levi Freeman, and Conner Jones, all from Petal High; and Jordan Sutherlin of Bay High. Were on the down side as far as experience goes with our offensive down guys up front, but this group of freshman has a tremendous amount of potential, Hatten said. This bunch could develop into one of the best O-lines weve had here in a while. On the defensive side, new coordinator Jim Nowell returning starters include lineman Alton Bailey out of Armwood High in Seffner, Fla., linebacker Chris Bermond of Hancock County High, defensive back Derrick Bourne of Columbia High, linebacker Quan Fletcher, a Marshall University transfer out of Kroc High in Miami, Fla., and lineman Ketrick Wolfe of Sumrall High. Nowell, who was Hatten classmate at Southern Mississippi in the late 1980s, drew gobs of praise for his efforts thus far. Jim brings lots of energy to the entire team…not just on the defensive side, Hatten said. He been around some big-time programs on the high school and collegiate levels. His motor runs 90 miles an hour 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Bermond and Fletcher finished fourth and fifth on the team, respectively, in tackles last season. Bermond boasted 71 tackles (30 solo, 41 assists) to Fletcher 69 (28 solo, 41 assists), while both finished with two quarterback sacks and eight and six tackles for loss, respectively. Bailey had 29 tackles (six solo, 23 assists) and an interception, while Bourne had 27 (12 solo, 15 assists) and a pass pick. Sophomore DB Rashod Merritt of Lumberton High will see plenty of playing time in the secondary, while freshmen who are expected to contribute include linebackers Brandon Dedeaux and Maurice Jones, both out of Picayune High; lineman E.J. Pearson of Forrest County A.H.S., and linebacker Jamal Taylor of Lumberton High. Nowell, a Magee native, served as LSU assistant strength and conditioning coach under former head coach Nick Saban (now at Alabama) from 2000-2002 before moving on to West Virginia as head strength and conditioning coach under former head coach Rich Rodriguez from 2002-2004. He returned to the Magnolia State as Mississippi State strength and conditioning coach under former head coach Sylvester Croom from 2004-2006 before heading to Western Kentucky in an identical capacity from 2007-2010. He also has stints as a defensive coach at Mississippi high schools in Byram, Clinton, and Madison Central; as well as Escambia (Fla.) and Greenville (Ky.) Hatten quickly admits that The River plus-eight turnover margin tied for first in the league with Co-Lin is the primary reason the Wildcats finished 5-1 in the division last year. That (turnover margin) is always a huge factor to success, he said, and we were fortunate that we excelled in that area last year. Besides Gulf Coast and Pearl River, three other MACJC teams are ranked in the NJCAA preseason top 25, including Northwest Mississippi at No. 9, East Miss at No. 16, and Co-Lin at No. 19. That right there tells you the respect our league has from top to bottom, Hatten said. We (MACJC) had five teams in the top 20 of the nation top 25. Besides Nowell, Drew Causey returns for a fourth season as coach of the offensive line, while defensive line coach John Creech is back for a ninth year. Troy Davis will coach linebackers for the third straight season along with wide receivers coach Leroy Frederick who entering his fifth year. Defensive backs coach Ervin Jackson returns for a fourth season, while third-year assistant Marcus Jordan is handing video coordination. Johnny Tart, who returns to the Wildcat staff after a four-year haitus, assists Hatten with quarterbacks; while his younger brother, Melvin, returns for a seventh straight season and will coach running backs. Student assistant coaches are Frankie Smith and Gage Whitten. PRCC also copped a No. 12 national ranking in The Sporting News Juco poll and the No. 22 spot in the JC Gridiron balloting. MGCCC is No. 2 in The Sporting News poll and No. 5 in JC Gridiron along with No. 4 Northwest Mississippi and No. 14 East Mississippi. Those two polls include California schools, which are not members of the NJCAA. Defending North Division champ Northwest, which hosts Pearl River in the season opener Thursday, Sept. 1, in Senatobia, is picked to repeat as division champs in the preseason state poll; followed by 2010 runner up East Mississippi at No. 2. Coahoma is tagged third, Itawamba fourth, Northeast Mississippi fifth, Holmes sixth, and Mississippi Delta seventh.

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