BOONEVILLE, Miss. (WTVA/NEMCC Athletics) - The Northeast Mississippi Community College football program will showcase a plethora of new talent during its 60th season of intercollegiate competition.
The 2019 campaign for the Tigers, which also happens to be the nationwide celebration of the 150th college football season overall, could feature as many as 40 newcomers out of the recently increased 60-man total player allotment.
However, Northeast has received its fair share of early recognition even with so many fresh faces on the roster. The Tigers are receiving votes in the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) preseason rankings.
Consistency will be a key for Northeast offensively and it begins in the coaching staff. Doug Saylor and Vince Sanders are back for their third years as offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach, respectively, while headman Greg Davis instructs the linemen.
The quarterback battle has been one of the biggest stories of fall camp. Three names have emerged as a possibility to lead the Tigers, including Madison's Reed Collins plus Georgia natives Patrick Felton and Jack Mangel.
Collins appeared in every game last season and even started against East Mississippi Community College and Holmes Community College. Felton threw for nearly 1,500 yards during his senior campaign at Tift County (Ga.) High School.
Mangle, who originally signed with Catawba (N.C.) College, was a Terrific 10 selection by the Athens Banner-Herald after setting a new Clarke Central (Ga.) High School record with 2,135 passing yards along with 18 touchdowns as a junior.
"Jack has done very well. He's very level headed and not up-and-down," said Saylor. "Patrick just brings a whole other dimension because he's very mobile and has unbelievable arm strength. When he gets out of the pocket, he can make plays. Reed is also solid coming back."
The Tigers have a trio of gifted true freshmen running backs that each racked up more than 1,000 yards on the ground during their senior years in Quynn Crawford, Kevon Jackson and Shawn Weatherbee.
Crawford paced a strong Charleston High School squad with 1,106 yards and 12 scores. Weatherbee, who is also a member of Northeast's baseball team, eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark in three consecutive seasons at nearby Thrasher High School beginning with his sophomore campaign.
Jackson led Louisville High School to the 2018 Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA) Class 4A state championship after scoring a sensational 22 touchdowns and averaging 7.4 yards per touch.
"Everybody wanted Kevon. He's starting to run the ball angry," Saylor said. "I'm really excited about Shawn because he's unbelievable. Quynn really has the home run speed and can make a lot of guys miss."
Four of the top five wideouts from last year in terms of receiving yards return for Northeast, including Northwest Rankin High School graduates Carson Banks and Montel Gladney plus Lake Cormorant's Xavier Malone and Sirmarcus Evans of Tupelo.
Banks, who gained NJCAA All-Academic First-Team distinction for compiling a perfect 4.0 grade point average (GPA), had 24 catches for 235 yards during his freshman campaign. Saylor also noted that Malone completed a terrific offseason.
Look for Madison's Hayden Brice, Leden Bryan from Fulton, Iuka's Alex Cornelison and CJ Wilder of Pelahatchie to make positive contributions for Northeast at wide receiver as well.
"You have a lot of guys that are doing really good things that I'm excited about," said Saylor. "We'll go with four wideouts a lot of times because I feel we're really good there. They're making a lot of plays."
Saylor plans to utilize the tight end slot frequently with the likes of Madison's Nathan Barham, Alex Henton of Fort Valley, Ga., and Troy (Ala.) University transfer Marquis Johnson at his disposal.
"I'd venture to say that our tight end position will be better than any team we play," Saylor said. "They can do things with the ball in space. They're big and they want to be physical at the point of attack."
Northeast's success on offense ultimately may boil down to how well a young line gels together. The only returning player with any experience at the collegiate level is guard Gabe Reeves from Mantachie.
However, the Tigers are not concerned about that development because of incoming big men such as Will Derico from Montgomery, Ala., Luther Fagalima of Crestview, Fla., Madison's Will Seabrook and Jakob Welch from Winona.
"They're very talented," said Saylor. "It took a minute for them to come around, but now they're hitting their stride. They're creating holes and keeping the quarterback upright. Everybody's doing a great job."
Paige Anders enters his second season as Northeast's defensive coordinator. Jake Landoll and Cedric Shell, who are the lone new additions to the Tigers' staff, will instruct the linemen and defensive backs, respectively.
Northeast has stockpiled some maturity on that side of the pigskin with sophomores Isaiah Forte, Isaiah Hill, Terry Joiner, Darius Shipp and D'Jordan Strong all filling key roles during the previous campaign.
Forte was a three-star prospect out of Montgomery, Ala., that started at nose guard one year ago. Kossuth High School's Hill and Shipp from Lewisburg High School give the Tigers further depth in the trenches.
Joiner is Northeast's top returning tackler with 49 stops, including 30 solo takedowns, from his linebacker slot. Strong, who is committed to the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, follows him after posting 22 tackles as a freshman.
Anders praised rookie linemen Chaokang Brooks and Cedric Hillsman. Brooks had 19 sacks during his junior campaign at Noxubee County High School while Hillsman guided Peach County (Ga.) High School to the 2018 Georgia High School Association (GHSA) Class AAA title contest with over 70 stops.
"Chaokang came in and is doing a really good job. He's a high motor guy who loves to get to the quarterback," Anders said. "Cedric is a big time playmaker. He has shown so much energy and he runs as well as a linebacker. I'm loving what he's brought so far."
Joining Joiner at linebacker are freshmen Tayvius Duckett and Jamarcus Smith. Duckett was Tishomingo County High School's leading tackler while Smith averaged almost nine stops per outing at Saltillo High School.
"Tayvius is very physical and works extremely hard," said Anders. "I've been really, really impressed with Jamarcus. He's made an impact immediately. I'm very happy to see how well he's picked things up and come along."
The Tigers gain the skills of a tandem of state champions in the defensive backfield. Drew Leverson and Tony Washington won the MHSAA Class 6A crown with Horn Lake High School while Jonteavis Garnett and Kendarius Shell-Dixon were part of Louisville's MHSAA Class 4A title team.
Washington is a two-star safety that participated in the Bernard Blackwell All-Star Game. Leverson was the hero in Horn Lake's championship tilt after grabbing an interception late in the fourth quarter to seal the victory over Oak Grove High School.
A pair of athletes that earned Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges (MACJC) All-State distinction one season ago grace Northeast's special teams unit in Michael Baugus and Terrance Rowe.
Corinth's Baugus, who was also named to the prestigious Fred Mitchell Award watch list at the conclusion of his inaugural campaign in the City of Hospitality, finished in a tie for the most made field goals in the MACJC with six and averaged nearly 37 yards per punt.
Rowe, who hails from Aberdeen, placed third in the Magnolia State with 572 kickoff return yards. Okolona's Jacquez Ford and Wilder should handle long snapping duties while Cornelison will hold on point after and three-point tries.
"The kicking game is so critical in our league," Davis said. "We've placed a lot of emphasis on punts and punt coverage. We're going to see what we have. Ultimately, we really like what we've got."
Northeast christens the new season on Thursday, August 29 by welcoming Southwest Mississippi Community College to the Booneville campus. Kickoff is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. at Tiger Stadium.
- Gifted rookies prevalent at most positions for Tigers
- Patterson to miss rookie season with Colts
- Tigers release 2018 baseball schedule
- Tigers young again, but talented
- Bulldogs defensive dominance downs Tigers
- Gardner's experience crucial for Tigers
- Chiefs sign top draft pick Speaks to rookie contract
- Jaguars rookie safety Woods retires instead of reporting
- Raiders rookie Abram to miss season with shoulder injury
- Tigers, Indians renew rivalry on Thursday