FULTON – When fourth-year Itawamba Community College head football coach Jon Williams addressed the media last Thursday during the annual ICC Football Media Luncheon, he wasn’t very interested in talking about last season’s 24-23 victory over then No. 3 nationally ranked East Mississippi or the fact that his squad is currently ranked No. 16 in the current preseason rankings. Instead, the Panama City, Fla., native focused on the 2013 season, specifically East Central Community College, who the Indians will host for the season opener on Aug. 29.
“That was a good win (over East MS), but it has nothing to do with 2013 so we have filed it away in the past and are moving on,” Williams commented. “A lot of people think that we are going to be pretty good this year, but I would like to remind everyone that those preseason rankings are somewhat mythical in that there is not a whole lot to base it on. While we appreciate the respect for our program to be recognized as one of the top programs in the country, at the end of the day what matters is where we finish. I hope I can stand here in front of you at the end of the season and talk about where we finished and how proud I am of our record and our ranking.”
The Indians, who finished 6-3 in 2012 and narrowly missed the postseason, lost two games by a combined five points. This season, the squad will lean on a veteran offense under the leadership of second-year offensive coordinator Jason McManus, who runs a fast pace, up-tempo style attack.
“Typically the second in this offense is always better,” McManus said. “I’m excited because we do have a lot of retention on our side of the ball. We have guys who have a lot invested in Itawamba Community College and have a lot invested in this program.”
The fiercest battle offensively in practice seems to be taking place at the quarterback position where North Carolina’s Andrew Goodman, who led the Indians to two victories to open 2012 before being sidelined by a shoulder injury, is currently duking it out with Mooreville’s Griff Loftis who took over after Goodman’s injury and led the Indians the rest of the way. Loftis, who struggled some initially after being thrust into the starting position, rebounded nicely and led the Indians to three-straight wins to close out the year, including the victory over East Mississippi while completing 156 of his 250 passes for 1716 yards, 13 touchdowns and 13 interceptions.
“Andrew Goodman was a starter going into last year and started the first two games and did a nice job,” McManus said. “We were right on schedule and then he got hurt. We ended up playing Griff the last seven games and once he got his feet wet and got started he really did a nice job… Once he got going he showed that he could win in this league and that we can win a championship with him.”
The quarterback battle, which also includes freshman Chase Watson from Saltillo, is said to be very close and the coaching staff plans to announce a starter the week of the first game.
Running backs Chris Ingram and Tobias Lofton return and should provide the team with a nice one-two punch from the backfield. Ingram, who was injured early in 2012, will serve as the power back while Lofton, who rushed for 365 yards and one touchdown as a freshman, is described as more of a speedy, slashing-type runner.
Coach Williams, who is now coaching the offensive line, points to a more effective running game a way to make it over the hump and back into the playoffs.
“If you look back, there were two games last year where we put ourselves in bad situations by not being able to run the ball,” he said. “That is a big focus this year… If we are able to get our group to gel up front and play as one, we will be able to run the football and hopefully that takes us over the hump… We can throw the football with the best of them, but we have had issues running the ball, and I put that on myself. If we are going to point the finger at anybody about not being about to run the football, I want it to point at me.”
Perhaps the most electric weapons in the Indians’ arsenal this season will be at the wide receiver position where sophomores Jarvis Bentley and Sanford Seay were recently named two of 247Sports.com’s Top 100 JUCO Players. Former IAHS Indians Shante Rogers will also be a threat as the versatile sophomore is capable at any of the four receiver positions.
“I see myself being kind of like a switch player,” Rogers said. “I feel like I can play the inside, the outside or even in the Wildcat quarterback… In high school, I did a lot of the same things and I feel confident playing any position.”
Sophomores lead the defense
While the offense may hold an experience edge, the defense will also feature of a host of sophomores including four returning defensive linemen, four linebackers and a couple of defensive backs.
Nose guards DQ Reynolds and Malcolm return up front, along with Randal Boyd and Cameron Wiggins. Linebacker CJ Jackson, who is the team’s top returning tackler with 72 total in 2012, is back along with Carderious Dean, Ted Esom and Stanley Childs.
The secondary may be the least experienced unit with only Darius White and former IAHS player Austin Shumpert returning. Shumpert, defensive coordinator Sean Cannon said, has taken on more a leadership role among the defensive backs.
“It’s my second year so I take it upon myself to make sure that everybody knows the plays, knows what’s going on and where to line up and what not,” Shumpert said. “The difference this year is that I am more confident in myself. This being my second year I have kind of got the feel for it… Everywhere you look (at this level) players are good. In JUCO, everybody is trying to make it to D1 so they will give you their all every play.”
Getting the hang of it
This time last year Cody Crane was lynchpin on AHS’s offensive line as the Indians embarked on last season’s spectacular 12-1 run. Crane, now a freshman at ICC, is currently learning what it takes to be a college offensive lineman.
“It has been tough,” Crane said about going up against ICC’s defensive linemen in practice. “I don’t win every time, but I’m getting better every day… The biggest change for me has been the maturity level and competition on both sides of the ball. There is no dominating force every time you go to practice, it’s back and forth every day… We had several guys come back on the offensive this year, so I’m hoping that they are trying to coach me up and get me ready for next year.”