New faces and new questions are aplenty at PCS as the Bobcats prepare for the 2018 football season. The biggest change to the program comes on the coaching staff, as longtime head coach Joey Hawkins retired in March. As the PCS head coach from 2009-2017, Hawkins compiled a 71-39 record, including one appearance in the MAIS Class AAAA Championship in 2016. In Hawkins’ final season with PCS, the Bobcats finished with a 6-6 overall record and had a first-round exit in the playoffs with a 28-23 loss to Madison Ridgeland Academy.

Replacing Hawkins is out of state hire Derek White, previously the head coach at Ben Lippen School in South Carolina. White talked about his transition to PCS and move to the Pine Belt.

“It’s been a transition,” White said. “My family and I moved here about early June, so we’ve been established, we’re ready to go.”

White inherits a program that, although made the playoffs in 2017, had its fair share of ups and downs. The season started with four straight wins against West Marion, Columbia Academy, Adams County Christian and Simpson Academy. However, district play proved to be a struggle for the Bobcats, as the team went 1-5. Many of those district losses were by close margins. The team lost to Lamar by a score of 32-22, Parklane Academy 41-40 and Jackson Academy 17-10.

This season, White will also be faced with finding players on his roster who can fill the void after some notable departures from last season. Most notably, quarterback Brandon Thornton has switched schools and will be playing at Oak Grove for his senior season. Thornton was a dual threat on offense for the Bobcats, throwing for 1,280 yards and 11 touchdowns through the air along with six rushing touchdowns and 624 yards on the ground.

White says that the competition at quarterback is still ongoing, and features a mix of players.

“Always a competition,” White said. “We’ve got some upperclassmen and some young guys [competing], but we’ve got a long ways to go.”

Whomever the quarterback is to start the season, they will have a few returning options to lean on. Though 2017 leading rusher Sheldon James has graduated, the team returns senior Alden Rhian, who rushed for five touchdowns and 645 yards last season. At the wide receiver position, senior Taylor Bailey is a name to keep an eye on. Bailey only had one catch for 12 yards last season, but as a senior on a squad with a lot of youth, he could be called to be a leader in the receiving corps

White talked about what his offense and defense need to do this season to be successful.

“[We have to] score points and stop people from scoring,” White said. “We’re going to do what we’ve got to do to manufacture points and we’ve got to do what we’ve got to do to stop people [defensively], that depends on personnel. I’m not a set guy on what I like to run, but at the end of the day I want to run what we’ve got [personnel-wise]. We want to give ourselves a chance to win.”

Stopping opponents from scoring should be one of the main focuses of the defense for PCS in 2018. Out of their five losses from the regular season last year, the team allowed opponents to score over 30 points in four of those contests. Keeping opponents to under 30 points per game in 2018 could translate to more wins for the Bobcats.

Linebacker Camp Tice is a player to watch on the defense. His senior presence will give the team a player they can rely on and can help the younger members of the unit grow.

Schedule-wise, PCS will play the same opponents as they did last season, with home and away games flipped. Three games to keep an eye on this season are the Bobcats home contests against Lamar, Parklane Academy and Madison-Ridgeland Academy at home this season. PCS lost to those three teams by close margins on the road last season so home-field advantage could play a factor. However, Lamar is coming off of a MAIS AAAA-D2 championship victory and Parklane Academy made an appearance in the MAIS AAAA-D1 championship game. Both games will be tough matchups for the Bobcats

“Our schedule is pretty tough from top to bottom,” White said. “What we’re worried about is week one. Our goal is to win the opener, we want to win the opener and we want to win the last one we play. If you win the last one you play, you’re usually pretty good.”

In terms of personnel, many questions remain and many positions are still in flux as the season approaches. For the offense, Alden Rhian and the running game will have to be effective to see success, especially given the uncertainty still surrounding the quarterback and wide receiver situations. On both the offense and defense, the upperclassmen will have to show leadership and supplement the performance of the other team contributors, a sentiment Coach White also echoed.

“Our upperclassmen are going to have to lead this football team,” White said. “We’re very young and we have a lot of talent in the youth. If we don’t hit an injury bug we’ll be a lot better at the end of the season than we are at the beginning of the season.”

Image courtesy of: https://www.pcsk12.org/athletics