First-year Nanih Waiya head coach James Courtney takes a simple philosophy into this year’s football season. If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it.
The Warriors are coming off a 15-1 season that saw them lose in the state championship game to Hollandale Simmons. The Warriors lost a ton of skill kids from last year’s offense that averaged more than 47 points a game and 377 yards a game.
Gone from that offense is Taemaus Glass (1,907 yards rushing), Chris Smith (1,249 yards rushing) and Bryce Stanton (1,398 yards passing and 692 yards rushing).
But Courtney isn’t fretting his situation.
He brings back one of the biggest, most experienced lines in Class 1A football. The Warriors are led up front by Caleb Warren, a 6-foot-5, 310-pound offensive tackle who has committed to play at Ole Miss. He is joined by 6-foot-2, 260-pound senior Kyle Holdiness, at right guard while senior Chanley McDaniel will be at center, sophomore Cody Warren will be at left guard and senior Blake Sheets will be at right tackle. 6-foot-2, 275-pound senior Cole Misso is also expected to see a lot of playing time on the line.
“We are going to run the football,” Courtney said. “It’s not a big secret. We have four linemen returning up front and think those guys have a chance to be pretty good. We’ve got to have the big boys up front open up some holes for us. And then we are going to throw the ball off the play-action pass.”
While the Warriors will put new skill players on the field, there’s still plenty of talent there, Courtney said.
Leading the offense this year is Eupora transfer Donovan Turner while junior Shia Moore and sophomore Austin Sanders will get most of the carries. Devean Turner, a 6-foot-2, 235-pound junior will be the fullback.
Deon Hickman, Coley Taylor, Tylan Glass and Janus Williams will be the wide receivers while 6-foot-4, 200-pound senior Jake Kight will be the right end.
“You can’t replace guys like we lost last year but Shia and Austin are going to be really good,” Courtney said. “They are eager to put their stamp down as the next great Nanih Waiya running backs and it looks like they are next in line. Shia is a big guy and Austin is a nasty runner. We are pleased to have them, that’s for sure.”
On defense, the Warriors will base out a 4-3. Up front, Kyle Holdiness, Blake Sheets and Tyree McClendon will all see playing time at defense end. At defense tackle, Caleb Warren, Dewonta Carter, James Resh and Cole Misso are all expected to rotate.
At linebacker, Devean Turner, Shia Moore, Tylan Glass and Taylor Higginbotham are all expected to see playing time. At cornerback will be Deon Hickman, Janus Williams, Franklin Jenkins and Tyquan McCulley will all see playing time while Austin Sanders and Coley Taylor will be at safety with Donovan Turner rotating.
“Depth is a concern,” Courtney said. “A lot of those guys are playing both ways. Of course, I would think depth would be a concern at any 1A school. But we will rotate our lineman and try to keep those guys fresh. We’ve got three corners and three safeties and have to provide some depth for those guys. The whole secondary is new and those guys will get better the more reps they take. Effort isn’t an issue, just inexperience. The tools are there, we just have to train our eyes to where they are supposed to be. The more games we get under our belts the better we are going to be.”
The Warriors the defending 3-1A champions but Courtney knows repeating won’t be easy.
“For us, it’s going to start with Noxapater,” Courtney said. “They are going to be really good and have just about everybody back. French Camp is always going to be tough and Leake County has a lot of good athletes. Then you throw in Hamilton, West Lowndes and Ethel seems like they are going to be a lot better. It’s going to be a grind and we know we will get everyone’s best shot.”