FULTON, Miss. (WTVA/ICC Athletics) – In 2018, the ICC football team finished 5-4, a win away from the playoffs. However, this season, the Indians will combine a mixture of key returners and a lot of new faces to make a push for the program's first playoff appearance since 2015.
"We have a lot of question marks that need to be answered quickly," said Coach Sean Cannon, who is in his sixth season in leading the Indians."
"Having a returning quarterback, a couple of running backs and an experienced linebacker core gives us a chance to break in some freshmen and help get them the needed game experience before we start division play."
Key Pieces Return on Offense
Quarterback Clark Mills (Ecru) returns as the Indians' signal caller this season. In 2018, he threw for 1,794 yards with 14 touchdowns and 10 interceptions on 128 of 225 passing while rushing for 108 yards and one touchdown on 48 carries.
Mills lost his favorite target, South Alabama signee Jamel Thomas (Caledonia) who had 934 yards and eight touchdowns on 59 catches last season. Offensive Coordinator Chad Cook will look for sophomore running back and receiver Qua Tucker (Dadeville, Ala.) along with freshman receiver Qua Davis (Biggersville) and tight end Tyler Day (North Little Rock, Ark.) to pick up where Thomas left off last season.
The Indians return running back Hiram Wadlington (Oxford), who rushed for 655 yards and eight touchdowns on 117 carries last season. He and Tucker are expected to get the bulk of the carries out of the backfield again this season. Tucker, who started last season as a defensive back, rushed for 143 yards and two touchdowns on 14 carries while only playing five games on the offensive side of the ball.
Sophomores Cameron Orr (Fulton) and Jakob Cunningham (Louisville) will anchor the line that helped the offense average 411 yards and 31.9 points per game last season. Buddy Baughman (Shannon) has emerged as one of the top newcomers on the line.
Defense Looks to Grow Up Quickly
Defensively, ICC will look for sophomore linebackers LeKendrick Jones (Holly Springs), Keshun Parker (Calhoun City) and Jamal Shumpert (Fulton) to step up both on and off the field as the Indians break in a brand new defensive line.
"No one up front has taken a snap at ICC, so our inexperience can't be an excuse," Cannon. "We feel like we have some pretty good athletes up front but none with any college experience. The linebackers need to be our heart of the defense this season."
Shumpert is the top returning tackler from last season. He was fourth on the team with 57 total tackles, recorded 5.5 tackles for a loss of 14 yards while adding a pass break-up and a blocked kick. Parker was right behind him with 52 tackles, three sacks and led the team with 13.5 tackles for a loss of 41 yards while returning a fumble for 26 yards. Jones had 45 tackles with a pair of sacks and 9.5 tackles for a loss of 36 yards to go along with two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery.
Two bright spots on the defensive side of the ball this preseason have been defensive lineman LaDerrick Despenza (Hamilton, Miss.) and linebacker Corley Hooper (Ecru), both freshmen.
"The defensive backs will be another position like the offensive line, where we need some newcomers to fill some roles that we lost to graduation," Cannon. "They will have to grow up quickly for us to have a chance early in the season."
Sophomore defensive back and Memphis commit Sylvonta Oliver (Senatobia) and Kenneth Martin (Columbus) will be the leaders for the Indians' secondary, who will be under the direction of first-year coach Marcellus Speaks. Oliver recorded nine tackles with one interception returned 38 yards for a touchdown and four pass break-ups. Martin had 41 total tackles with three pass break-ups, 1.5 tackles for loss with a forced fumble, a blocked kick, a fumble returned for six yards and an interception returned for 25 yards.
New Faces on Special Teams
The Indians lost all three specialty position players from last season – punter Hayden Franklin (Pontotoc), long snapper and current Mississippi State Bulldog Thomas Cox (Fulton) and kicker Caleb Comer (Caledonia).
"Anytime you have the same punter, kicker and long snapper for two years you get used to the consistency," Cannon. "We feel like we have some viable options that can do a good job for us in the specialty area."
Kicker Skylar Grissom (Fulton) and punter Brett Benjamin (Kossuth) will take on the special team duties this season.
Despite the youth and inexperience in key positions, Cannon knows there is no time to waste before ICC's season opener against Pearl River on Aug. 29 in Fulton.
"One thing about this league, no one is going to feel sorry for you when we cross the white lines, so our guys have to have great preparation leading up to game one and continue to get better each week," Cannon. "We don't have a lot of time from the start of camp until our first game, so our focus has to be on getting our foundation laid, getting our schemes down and getting in shape during preseason practice."
ICC will have only four home games while living on the road the majority of the season.
The Indians will open the season at home against Pearl River before going on back-to-back road trips to East Central (Sept. 5) and East Mississippi (Sept. 12). ICC will host Coahoma (Sept. 19) for its annual Military Appreciation Night and will make the short trip to Booneville to face rival Northeast (Sept. 26) at the midpoint of the season.
"Having the same schedule as last year helps with being familiar with our opponents this season," Cannon. "It doesn't make it easier, but it helps."
ICC will host Holmes (Oct. 3) for Homecoming and face Delta (Oct. 10) for its only back-to-back home dates of the season. The Indians will close out the season with road trips to Southwest Mississippi (Oct. 17) and Northwest (Oct. 24).
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