BOONEVILLE • The spotlight will shine brighter than ever on Northeast Mississippi Community College during its 61st campaign all-time on the gridiron.
Northeast joins 12 other members of the Mississippi Association of Community Colleges Conference (MACCC) as the only two-year institutions in the country to remain on target for a football regular season in the fall of 2020.
The National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) moved its championship in the sport to the spring semester due to concerns surrounding the worldwide coronavirus pandemic. So too did the California Community College Athletic Association (CCCAA).
However, the MACCC stayed its course and formulated plans for a six game season. The Tigers christen their abbreviated schedule on Thursday, October 1 by hosting Holmes Community College.
“I believe the (MACCC) athletic directors and the presidents have made an excellent choice by moving forward,” said Greg Davis, who enters his sixth year as head coach at Northeast.
Davis essentially hit the reset button on the Tigers’ coaching staff during the offseason. His only returning colleague from Northeast’s 2019 edition is defensive backs instructor Cedric Shell.
New to the Tigers this season are offensive coordinator Nick Coleman, defensive coordinator Jonathan Webster, wide receivers coach A.J. Erdely and defensive line coach Parrish Huddleston.
“They are as good of a group as you can get,” Davis said. “I’m really pumped up about what they can do. I don’t have to worry about certain things because these guys get it done. It’s a testament to them as individuals.”
Some of the biggest potential storylines for Northeast are at quarterback, including the emergence of Kevin Hurley. The Walnut native played the position at the prep level, but was a linebacker for the Tigers as a freshman.
Hurley actually accounted for what turned out to be the winning points with a fumble recovery for a touchdown during Northeast’s thrilling home victory over rival Itawamba Community College one year ago.
“Coach Coleman really likes how Kevin plays,” said Davis. “He can naturally spin the football. He’s a big framed guy. I think that ultimately he’s got a chance to be a really good football player.”
JT Moore and Michael Putt are also in the mix behind center for the Tigers. They both led their respective alma maters, Northside High School and Heritage Academy, to state championship appearances during their senior seasons.
“Our quarterback room is as deep as what it ever has been,” Davis said. “These guys are very coachable and have picked up the offense. I’m really excited about having all four of these guys going out there and competing.”
The tandem of signal callers will throw to a group of rookie wideouts. Only three athletes on the current roster had at least one catch for Northeast last year and just one of those, Alex Cornelison of Iuka, is a receiver by trait.
The Tigers should benefit from the addition of Western Michigan University transfer Cam Coleman. The four-star prospect held offers from Southeastern Conference (SEC) members the University of Florida, the University of Kentucky, the University of Missouri and the University of Tennessee before signing with the Broncos.
Andison Coby of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., is another heralded prospect for Northeast. He had offers from Power Five schools such as Syracuse (N.Y.) University and Washington State University after securing All-Palm Beach County first-team honors with 56 receptions and 884 yards as a senior.
Dallas Payne hopes to build upon a strong 2019 campaign that saw him rank second in the Magnolia State with more than 1,200 receiving yards and third with 17 touchdowns at Saint Stanislaus High School.
“We’ve got a really good group of receivers,” said Davis. “We knew this group was going to be young, but I think that we’ve upgraded athletically out the roof. There’s a lot of speed out there.”
Shawn Dalton Weatherbee is back with the Tigers after starting in left field during the abbreviated baseball season last spring. The Thrasher High School graduate is Northeast’s top returning rusher with 296 yards and a pair of scores to his credit in only six contests.
Corinth’s Tameron Patterson had three consecutive 1,000-yard seasons and 19 separate outings with 100-plus yards on the ground while Gary Banks ran for 1,641 yards and 16 touchdowns during his senior year at Olive Branch High School.
“Shawn Dalton did a wonderful job for us and he’s kind of our catalyst. He’s a rare combination of speed and strength,” Davis said. “We’ve got three good backs. They all three bring something I think a little different to the table.”
One key difference when compared to the previous campaign for the Tigers is their maturity on the offensive line. Four returners plus three transfers give Northeast seven sophomores to go to battle with in the trenches.
Among those linemen are centers Tanner Lawson of Corinth and Jakob Welch from Winona, guards Noah Ford of Blue Springs and Columbus’ Ellis Barry, plus Montgomery, Ala., products J’Shun Bodiford and Will Derico at tackle.
“The offensive line is much improved,” said Davis. “These guys that came back have steadily gotten better. We’re a bigger group, but I think their overall knowledge of the game is much better.”
The tight ends remain a valuable commodity for the Tigers with Nathan Barham from Saint Andrews Episcopal School and Calvin Jones of Corinth High School serving admirably in that role.
Northeast has manufactured multiple elite athletes over the last two decades across the defensive line, including active National Football League (NFL) players Mario Addison of the Buffalo Bills, Daniel Ross with the Las Vegas Raiders and Anthony Rush of the Seattle Seahawks.
The next potential breakout stars at that position for the Tigers could be Cedric Hillsman of Fort Valley, Ga., and Stephon McGlaun, who made the transition to lineman after starring at quarterback for Tupelo High School.
Hillsman earned MACCC All-State recognition during his inaugural campaign in the City of Hospitality after recording team-highs of 10.5 tackles for loss and five sacks to go along with 40 overall stops.
“Both of those guys contributed a year ago. They give us some experience and that will help us,” Davis said. “We’ve got a good group of defensive linemen. We don’t really have the big, big guy like we’ve had in the past. I’m really excited to see those guys work because they are very mobile.”
Northeast boasts one of the most prolific linebackers in the country in Saltillo’s Jamarcus Smith. He finished his freshman campaign ninth in the NJCAA and second in the MACCC with 9.9 tackles per game.
Tayvius Duckett of Tishomingo County High School was stellar down the home stretch as well. He tallied 37 takedowns and two interceptions, including a key pick during the aforementioned triumph versus Itawamba.
“I’m really excited about those two guys and their leadership qualities,” said Davis. “When you’ve got those two guys in the middle, good things happen. They’re anchors of our defense. They’re really good at what they do.”
Providing extra depth at linebacker are newcomers Carter Bonds of Corinth and Reginald Hughes from Tunica. Bonds was decorated as the 2019 Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal Defensive Player of the Year after racking up a sensational 178 tackles in a single season.
Kedarius Shell-Dixon of Louisville and Horn Lake’s Tony Washington, who both won state titles at their respective high schools, return as starters at safety for the Tigers. The duo combined for over 100 stops, six pass break ups and two fumble recoveries.
Two transfers highlight the corners in Deantre Prince and Keyshawn Cobb. Prince was a three-star recruit that started four games as a true freshman at the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss) while Cobb came from Fort Scott (Kan.) Community College.
“That’s a group that we think is going to be really solid,” Davis said. “Our corner group is as good as I’ve ever seen it here. We have a lot of versatility and team speed. It’s really fun to see those guys play every day.”