Here is an inside look at Class 1A entering the 2020 Mississippi high school football season. (Feature photo by Keith Warren)
PRESEASON 1A TOP 5
Head coach: Zach Jones (6th year, 53-18 overall)
Key players: QB/RB Robert Henry, WR K’nylan Willis, LB Da’Byron Conerly
Last season: 12-4 (8-0 in Region 4), lost to Nanih Waiya in the 1A championship
The Wolves are No. 1 in SBLive’s preseason poll for a reason – Lumberton returns its starting quarterback and lead rusher Robert Henry, it’s top receiver and eight key starters on defense. How good is Henry? He rushed for at least 100 yards in nine of the 10 games in which he carried it at least 10 times, but he also went over the century mark in three of the five games he had fewer than 10 carries. Senior wide receiver K’nylan Willis is back after averaging nearly 25 yards on 33 receptions. Da’Bryon Conerly returns as the lead tackler on a defense that held opponents to 13.9 points a game a year ago.
Head coach: Roy Rigsby (1st year)
Key players: QB/RB KD Carter, WR/DB Lane Bailey, DB Kyle Phillips
Last year: 12-3 (7-1 in Region 2), lost to Nanih Waiya in the third round of the 1A North State playoffs
Roy Rigsby takes over for Casey Orr at Noxapater after going 18-27 in four years at Natchez. KD Carter returns after putting up a 2,125-yard season as a sophomore. Finding younger guys to step up will be key for the defense, which lost five of its top six tacklers, but there’s talent in the secondary with Carter doubling as a great safety and sophomore corner Kyle Phillips coming off a breakout freshman season.
Head coach: Stan Platt (5th year, 34-15)
Key players: QB Quinton Knight, RB/LB Goldman Butler, TE/LB John Eaton
Last year: 11-2 (5-0 in Region 1) lost to Noxapater in 2nd round of 1A North State playoffs
Region 1 is crowded with good teams, but Biggersville might very well end up on top in 2020 thanks to a stable of returning talent. Senior quarterback Quinton Knight returns after racking up 1,236 total yards as a junior, and senior tailback Goldman Butler looks to improve on his 1,447-yard, 26-touchdown rushing performance. The defense returns its top 10 leading tacklers, including linebackers John Eaton and Bryson Pollard, who each tallied 13 tackles behind the line a year ago.
4. Nanih Waiya
Head coach: James Courtney (3rd year, 29-3 overall)
Key players: RB Austin Sanders, LB Taylor Higginbothan, TE/LB J.T. Stokes
Last season: 14-2 (8-0 in Region 2), defeated Lumberton 28-13 to capture the 1A state title
The defending 1A champs have their work cut out for them if they are going to repeat, starting with finding a replacement for graduated quarterback Donovan Turner. Sophomore Tanner Courtney is the only returning player who attempted a pass last season. Senior running back Austin Sanders should provide some leadership in the backfield as he looks to build on his 1,236-yard junior season. The defense returns its top tackler in linebacker Taylor Higginbothan and key lineman Cody Warren, but must replace playmakers Tylan Glass and Shia Moore.
Head coach: Shaune Holiday (8th year, 39-31 overall)
Key players: QB/DB Khi Holiday, WR/DB John Avery Herrod, WR/DB Noah Foster
Last season: 8-4 (5-3 in Region 1), lost to Baldwyn in first round of 1A North State playoffs
Khi Holiday returns after passing for an amazing 3,261 yards and rushing for 1,437 more with a whopping 58 total touchdowns. Starting tailback Josh Berry is also back, as are top receiving targets John Avery Herrod (81 catches, 1,127 yards) and Noah Foster (55 catches, 1,491 yards). Senior linebacker Tucker Huggins looks to build on his team-high 113 tackles from a year ago, but someone must replace his older brother Justin and splendid safety Houston Collier.
1A STORYLINES TO WATCH
Noxapater’s new man
Former Tigers’ coach Casey Orr took the job at 4A Kosciusko after revitalizing the Noxapater program in his six years at the helm. Noxapater was one-and-done in the playoffs for four-straight seasons from 2015 to 2018 before advancing to the third round last season. Now, it’s up to new coach Roy Riggs to raise that bar again.
One big Holiday
You don’t see many 1A quarterbacks making all-state teams, but Tupelo Christian Prep’s Khi Holiday is primed to do just that. At 5-foot-9 and 165 pounds, Holiday is lightning in a bottle. He’s received interest from some FBS programs, but lacks Division-1 offers. That could change if he continues to connect with splendid receivers Noah Foster and John Avery Herrod and puts TCP football on the map.
Region 3 open for business
It wasn’t too long ago that you could go ahead and pencil in Simmons as the top dog in Region 3-1A, but those days are over. The Blue Devils were a perfect 40-0 from 2015 to 2017, capturing three-straight state titles. But after losing to Nanih Waiya in the 2018 finale, the Blue Devils went 5-6 last season. That opened the door for West Bolivar and Leflore County. With Leflore opting out of the 2020 season, this region is certainly up for grabs again.
3 ‘CAN’T MISS’ GAMES
It’s odd to play a game with such massive implications right out of the gate, but that’s exactly what we’ll have when the Eagles visit the Lions in Week 1. Will Tupelo Christian be able to protect Khi Holiday from Biggersville’s experienced defense and ferocious pass rush? This might be a preview of the North State Final.
Stated plainly, this game could go a long way to determining the winner of Region 2. Noxapater pulled out a 35-33 win in overtime a year ago after the Tigers rolled to 435 rushing yards and Khi Holiday put up 393 yards of total offense by himself.
Rivalry games are always fun, especially when one team has a score to settle. Nanih Waiya held the Noxapater offense scoreless in a 14-2 win a year ago, but good luck limiting the Tigers’ splendid rusher K.D. Carter to under 15 carries two years in a row. This game could very well determine the Region 2 champion and prove crucial in playoff seeding.