BOONEVILLE – The spotlight shines brighter than ever on Northeast Mississippi Community College during its 61st campaign on the gridiron.
The Tigers join 12 other members of the Mississippi Association of Community Colleges Conference (MACCC) as the only two-year institutions in the country to remain on target for a football regular season in the fall of 2020.
The National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) moved its championship in the sport to the spring semester due to concerns surrounding the worldwide coronavirus pandemic. So too did the California Community College Athletic Association (CCCAA).
However, the MACCC stayed its course and formulated plans for a six game season.
“I believe the (MACCC) athletic directors and the presidents have made an excellent choice by moving forward,” said Greg Davis, who enters his sixth year as head coach at Northeast.
Davis essentially hit the reset button on the Tigers’ coaching staff during the offseason. His only returning colleague from Northeast’s 2019 edition is defensive backs instructor Cedric Shell.
New to the Tigers this season are offensive coordinator Nick Coleman, defensive coordinator Jonathan Webster, wide receivers coach A.J. Erdely and defensive line coach Parrish Huddleston.
Some of the biggest potential storylines for Northeast are at quarterback, including the emergence of Kevin Hurley. The Walnut native played the position at the prep level, but was a linebacker for the Tigers as a freshman.
“Coach Coleman really likes how Kevin plays,” said Davis. “He can naturally spin the football. He’s a big framed guy. I think that ultimately he’s got a chance to be a really good football player.”
JT Moore and Michael Putt are also in the mix behind center for the Tigers. They both led their respective alma maters, Northside High School and Heritage Academy, to state championship appearances during their senior seasons.
“Our quarterback room is as deep as what it ever has been,” Davis said.
The tandem of signal callers will throw to a group of rookie wideouts. Only three athletes on the current roster had at least one catch for Northeast last year and just one of those, Alex Cornelison of Iuka, is a receiver by trait.
The Tigers should benefit from the addition of Western Michigan University transfer Cam Coleman. The four-star prospect held offers from SEC members Florida, Kentucky, Missouri and Tennessee before signing with the Broncos.
Andison Coby of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., is another heralded prospect. He had offers from Power Five schools such as Syracuse and Washington State after securing All-Palm Beach County first-team honors with 56 receptions and 884 yards as a senior.
Dallas Payne hopes to build upon a strong 2019 campaign that saw him rank second in the Magnolia State with more than 1,200 receiving yards and third with 17 touchdowns at Saint Stanislaus High School.
“We’ve got a really good group of receivers,” said Davis. “We knew this group was going to be young, but I think that we’ve upgraded athletically out the roof. There’s a lot of speed out there.”
Shawn Dalton Weatherbee is back with the Tigers after starting in left field during the abbreviated baseball season last spring. The Thrasher High School graduate is Northeast’s top returning rusher with 296 yards and a pair of scores to his credit in only six contests.
Corinth’s Tameron Patterson had three consecutive 1,000-yard seasons and 19 separate outings with 100-plus yards on the ground while Gary Banks ran for 1,641 yards and 16 touchdowns during his senior year at Olive Branch High School.
“Shawn Dalton did a wonderful job for us and he’s kind of our catalyst. He’s a rare combination of speed and strength,” Davis said. “We’ve got three good backs.”
One key difference when compared to the previous campaign for the Tigers is their maturity on the offensive line. Four returners plus three transfers give Northeast seven sophomores to go to battle with in the trenches.
Among those linemen are centers Tanner Lawson of Corinth and Jakob Welch, guards Noah Ford and Ellis Barry, plus J’Shun Bodiford and Will Derico at tackle.
“The offensive line is much improved,” said Davis. “These guys that came back have steadily gotten better. We’re a bigger group, but I think their overall knowledge of the game is much better.”
The tight ends remain a valuable commodity for the Tigers with Nathan Barham and Calvin Jones of Corinth High School serving admirably in that role.
Northeast has manufactured multiple elite athletes over the last two decades across the defensive line, including active NFL players such as Mario Addison of the Buffalo Bills and Anthony Rush of the Seattle Seahawks.
The next potential breakout stars at that position for the Tigers could be Cedric Hillsman and Stephon McGlaun, who made the transition to lineman after starring at quarterback for Tupelo High School.
Hillsman earned MACCC All-State recognition during his inaugural campaign after recording team-highs of 10.5 tackles for loss and five sacks to go along with 40 overall stops.
Northeast boasts one of the most prolific linebackers in the country in Saltillo’s Jamarcus Smith. He finished his freshman season ninth in the NJCAA and second in the MACCC with 9.9 tackles per game.
Tayvius Duckett of Tishomingo County High School was stellar down the home stretch as well. He tallied 37 takedowns and two interceptions.
“I’m really excited about those two guys and their leadership qualities,” said Davis.
Providing extra depth at linebacker are newcomers Carter Bonds of Corinth and Reginald Hughes. Bonds was decorated as the 2019 Daily Corinthian and Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal Defensive Player of the Year after racking up a sensational 178 tackles.
Kedarius Shell-Dixon and Tony Washington return as starters at safety for the Tigers. The duo combined for over 100 stops, six pass break ups and two fumble recoveries.
Two transfers highlight the corners in Deantre Prince and Keyshawn Cobb. Prince was a three-star recruit that started four games as a true freshman at Ole Miss while Cobb came from Fort Scott (Kan.) Community College.
The Tigers opened the 2020 season by defeating Holmes Community College 35-10 on Thursday, Oct. 1.They will be on the road Saturday at Mississippi Delta.