Here is an inside look at the 2020 Laurel Golden Tornadoes football team.
Ryan Earnest (first year)
ATH Xavier Evans
WR Kanarius Johnson
LB Jeremy Porter
10-3 (6-1 in Region 3), lost to Picayune in the second round of the 5A South State playoffs
Laurel is a team that has the potential to be one of the best in the state, but will also have a lot of new faces in key positions, starting at the top.
Todd Breland resigned following his eighth year at the helm of the program and after compiling an 82-27 record at Laurel.
Enter Ryan Earnest, who served as the Tornadoes’ offensive coordinator last year but is no stranger to being the man in charge.
Earnest should be familiar to fans in the Pine Belt. He led nearby Collins to a 42-15 record from 2012 to 2015 – including a 2A state title in 2015 – before leaving for Ridgeland.
Still, he said it was good to spend a year with the program prior to taking over.
“That’s the good thing about being here for a year,” Earnest said. “The kids know me already.”
Under Earnest’s leadership, the offense was absolute dynamite a year ago. The Tornadoes averaged 31.4 points a game with a balanced offense led by quarterback Xavier Evans.
Evans, now a senior, will look to build on his junior season in which he passed for 1,562 yards, ran for 1,500 more and accounted for 31 total touchdowns. However, he’ll be doing it in a different role.
Earnest made the decision to permanently move Evans to tailback this year after seeing significant improvement from last year’s backup quarterback Dexter Scott.
Scott, who is also entering his senior season, completed 26 of 54 passes for 371 yards with five touchdowns last season.
“We kind of moved Xavier to running back in the middle of the year last season,” Earnest said. “Dexter stepped in at quarterback and did a really good job, and he’s worked really hard and developed so much this off-season.”
And it gets better – Evans and Scott are just two of eight starters coming back on the offensive side.
Top running back Kiron Benjamin is back after rushing for 503 yards on 75 carries with 6 touchdowns last season.
The top five receivers are back as well – led by senior Kanarius Johnson, who led the way with 42 receptions for 714 yards and eight touchdowns as a junior. Right behind him is junior Tyrone Jones, who caught 37 passes for 472 yards and found the end zone four times as a sophomore.
Defensively, the Tornadoes return five starters.
Sophomore linebacker Jeremy Porter is back after recording 70 tackles, two sacks and two interceptions as a freshman a year ago.
Earnest is looking for some new faces to step up at defensive end, but two interior linemen return to shore up that unit – senior Ashun Pruitt (33 tackles in 2019) and Rashad Love (20).
Senior safety Rontavious Thomas is back after leading the Tornado defense with five interceptions a year ago, but there are still question marks at the other positions.
“We have some big shoes to fill defensively,” Earnest said. “But I expect us to have a typical Laurel defense – we’ll be very big with the ability to run to the football.”