There are high expectations surrounding this year’s Sumrall team, and at the forefront of these expectations is the senior class. Sumrall returns many key figures on both sides of the ball, something that has primed them for possibly a historic season.
“There is no doubt about the expectations,” Sumrall head coach Shannon White said. “This is the best senior group we’ve had, just a lot of good football players in this group. For some of these guys, this will be their fourth year to start. They have a lot of games under their belt. They’ve been through a lot to get to this point. So the expectations are high for them not only to give us leadership but to perform on Friday night.”
Sumrall started last season in a Wing-T style offense after having no clear replacement for 2016 graduate Rhett Harvey. Star wide receiver Dannis Jackson started the season as quarterback, but after a 36-0 week one loss to South Jones the offense changed again. Billy Garrity was then moved to quarterback and allowed for the Sumrall offense to pass the ball. The Bobcats finished 6-7 after being knocked out in the first round of the playoffs.
This year the Bobcats return many of their offensive weapons, most notably senior wide receiver Jackson, who for the second year in a row eclipsed 1,100 receiving yards and had over 10 touchdowns. While Jackson’s ability to be able to go up and grab the ball is essential for his game, much of the offense will depend on Garrity’s comfort as a quarterback.
Last year the offense averaged 24 points per game and was shutout twice last year. At the same time, the Bobcats had four games where they scored over thirty points. The biggest concern for the offense heading into this season is the offensive line.
“[The offense will be decided] based on how well we pass protect,” White said. “Right now we are really struggling this summer with the offensive line. Just trying to find five starters. We just have not got those five together yet. We’ve got some good battles going on. If those guys come around, then we have a pretty good chance of being good on offense if they don’t we won’t be any good.”
Names to remember:
Senior running back Ty’rek Preston is being groomed to be the go-to every down back. Last season, Preston ran for 491 yards and three touchdowns. Preston had a three-week span of 100-yard games, but his hot hands died down midway through the season. Entering his senior year, Preston has 33 games of experience under his belt and could be the difference in making the Sumrall offense go from good to great.
“I think [Preston] is much improved and I think his speed is better,” White said. “He has to be a total back; he has to run it, he has to block for us, pass protect and run routes too. So that’s a lot and were wanting him to do those things on a high level. That’ll be the deciding factor on how he plays if he can do all three of those things.”
Senior wide receiver Zane Berry is another name to watch for this season. White explained that Berry is one of the most improved players heading into the season and that his speed has also improved. Like Preston, Berry has seen a lot of playing time in over 25 games. Berry has 883 yards in his career and 59 catches over the last two seasons. Berry’s new speed combined with his ability to run solid routes and reliability when catching the ball leaves no defense safe, which is why White will have Jackson and Berry on opposite ends for the upcoming season.
Much like the offense, Sumrall’s defense had highs and lows last season but features several big names. The Bobcat defense gave up 29 points per game last season with six teams scoring 30 or more points. However, last year featured many young players that gained much-needed experience.
“We think we’ve got the best defense since I’ve been here,” White said. “Now how well do I don’t know. Poplarville scored over a 100 points the last two years and Greene County scored over a 100 points the last two years. It’s not like we’ve been a dominant defense either. This should be a good defense. I think our front four is definitely the best part of our team.”
Sumrall may have the best defensive line in the Pine Belt. The unit is led by senior Solomon Landrum, who totaled 83 tackles, 16 tackles for loss and three sacks. Complimenting him are sophomore Cole Daniels and senior Nick Oatis, who combined for 123 tackles, 21 TFLs, and 6.5 sacks. If one had to nitpick at this group, it would be forcing more turnovers as Daniels was the only one to recover two fumbles last season.
“We’ve got four guys up there that are big and strong and pretty good,” White said. “Our front four should be pretty good. I’ll be disappointed, shocked or whatever you want to call it if they don’t play well.”
In the secondary is senior Nijewel Coleman, who for the second season in a row had over 100 tackles. Coleman has proven to be a game changer as he recorded 118 tackles last season to go along with three interceptions and three fumbles.
Games to watch:
The two most notable games for Sumrall this season will be its season opener against South Jones and its matchup against Poplarville. As mentioned earlier, South Jones blew out Sumrall at home to start the season last year. This year Sumrall begins the season on the road at South Jones, with much of that team returning many starters. Taking a big win against the Braves would certainly set the tone for the rest of the season.
Like everyone else in Region 7-4A, dethroning Poplarville is the goal. While Greene County also blew out Sumrall last year, the Wildcats will have to replace their top rusher and quarterback Derrick Grice, who totaled 32 rushing and passing touchdowns.
With that said, the focus is on Poplarville as Sumrall looks to have the best chance of taking down the defending region champs. It will be a tall order having to go on the road for that matchup as the ninth game of the season, but it could decide the region championship.