With Jarquez Hunter running wild, Neshoba Central will be tough to beat: 2020 5A high school football preview

Here is an inside look at the 2020 Neshoba Central Rockets football team.


Head coach:

Patrick Schoolar (5th year, 29-22 overall)

Key players:

QB Eli Anderson

RB Jarquez Hunter (pictured above; photo by Keith Warren)

LB Jaharan Griffin

Last season:

10-4 (7-0 in Region 2), lost to West Point in the North State finals

2020 Outlook:

Patrick Schoolar has quietly built Neshoba Central into one of the most consistent programs in 5A North, and the Rockets look like a team that could make some real noise in 2020.

They nearly broke through a year ago after a rough 0-3 start to the season. The Rockets lost close games against Grenada, Germantown and Tupelo before rattling off 10-straight wins, including two in the playoffs.

“We are a program that is where we want to be,” Schoolar said. “We’re going to get everyone’s best shot, and we’re going to give them our best shot.”

The Rockets return plenty of talent off of that team that grew up so much in 2019, including arguably the best running back in the state in Jarquez Hunter.

Hunter, rated as a three-star prospect by 247Sports, earned at least 15 scholarship offers after turning in a remarkable 2,000-yard junior season in which he averaged 9.8 yards per carry and scored 31 touchdowns. (Auburn and Tennessee are reportedly the top two teams on his list, but Ole Miss, Memphis Tulane and Vanderbilt are still in the mix.)

Hunter will be running behind an offensive line with several new starters, but returns some talent in seniors Y’zaevious Williams (6-foot-2, 270) and Dayne Parkerson (6-foot-3, 280).

Schoolar expects younger guys, like junior Barron Parkerson and sophomores Zander Ben and Dylan Hutchinson, among others, to step into bigger roles.

Another key piece is quarterback Eli Anderson, another returning starter with tremendous potential. Anderson, just a junior, returns after completing 58 of his 120 passes for 987 yards with 10 touchdowns and seven interceptions as a sophomore.

“It’s no secret that our offense runs through Hunter,” Schoolar said. “We’re going to be a little different offensively, but having one of the top players in the state and also our quarterback back is huge. We have some younger guys who can step in as well, but they are going to have to learn quick.”

As good as Neshoba Central looks on paper offensively, they should be even better on defense, where Schoolar returns eight starters and loads of young talent.

Three of the Rockets’ four leading tacklers were sophomores last season. The other was a freshman.

Junior linebacker Jaharan Griffin led the team with 156 stops last season, averaging just over 11 tackles a game. He’ll be flanked by outside linebackers Kelbee Holmes, who was right behind Griffin with 141 stops a year ago, and Hunter, who doubles as one of the best linebackers in all of 5A. He was credited with 77 tackles, snagged four interceptions and led the team with seven sacks last season.

In the secondary, junior Ty Matthews (107 tackles in 2019) and sophomore Elijah Ruffin (86) return at the safety positions and senior Gy’derius Easley is back after receiving significant playing time at corner.

Up front, the Rockets have one of the more exciting young players in the state in junior Maxton Woodward. The 6-foot-3, 290-pound interior lineman notched 77 tackles as a sophomore last season.

Aside from Woodward, junior Jashawn Mathis is back after recording 18 stops in 11 games as a sophomore. Another junior, Landon Case, appears ready for a heavier workload after recording eight stops despite seeing limited action in just five games.

“Our defense will be our strong suit until our offense gets going,” Schoolar said. “It starts with that front seven, but we have depth (across the board), and we’ll use that to our advantage.”


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