GLEN — At Alcorn Central, the theme for the Golden Bears football team could very well be “Why not us?”
“That’s what I have been saying and encouraging our players with all along,” said AC head coach Matt Meeks, who enters his fourth season leading the Bears. “People ask me all the time, ‘what is the difference between Central and a school like Kossuth?’ And I tell them, ‘not a lot is different except for the culture and the winning mentality.’ I played for Kossuth and we had a lot of success. So did (assistant coaches) Forrest (Wright) and Heath (Wood). Now we are doing our best to build that same winning culture here at Alcorn Central.”
“I truly believe it can be done, and we have made progress in that direction over the past three years.”
To that point, Central’s first two games last year, against Thrasher and Middleton, were canceled due to COVID. Those were two winnable games for Meeks’ squad.
They finished the 2020 season with a 2-7 record.
“When this group of juniors and seniors were in middle school they beat Kossuth, Booneville, and Belmont, so they know what it feels like to win. We just have to put all the pieces together for an entire season, pick up a win or two that might be considered upsets, and that winning mentality I talked about will likely grow.”
In the entire 51-year history of the Alcorn Central football program, one could count the total number of winning seasons on one hand. But one of those campaigns ended in an unbeaten regular season and a trip to the second round of the playoffs. The Bears finished that season 11-1 under the leadership of former head coach Cecil Stroup.
So, yes, winning has been and can be done in Glen.
“On top of everything last year, after having our first two games canceled, we lost Charlie (Staley) to a leg injury against Walnut and had other injuries that hindered us. We were competitive in some division games (a narrow loss at Kossuth proves that point) so we are getting a lot closer. Then in the spring, we should have beaten Belmont in a home scrimmage, and they are a team that beat us about 30 points or more last year. Their coach even came over to me after the game and told me he thought we were the most improved team in the area. That was a very encouraging thing for me and our players,” said Meeks.
Now Central turns it’s attention to the 2021 gridiron season that begins Friday night with a home scrimmage against Myrtle, a vastly improved 1A team that will be a challenge for the Bears. Then after a bye week to open the season, AC will be on the road for weeks two and three, traveling to Thrasher and Falkner before opening their regular season home slate against perennial powerhouse Smithville on Sept. 17.
The purple-and-gold return seven starters on both sides of the ball this year and will have the luxury of a stout quarterback that is adept at both running and throwing with accuracy in the form of junior Reed Johnson, who hasn’t played since starting in middle school due to his dedication to baseball.
“I just went up to him one day last spring and asked him if he’d like to come out and give it another try,” said Meeks. “He said ‘why not.’ So now we have a mobile starting quarterback that can run over and through defenders as well as make accurate throws, even on the run,” said the Central head coach.
“And our front seven on defense will be stout as well,” he continued. “My philosophy is ‘we’re gonna continue to put pressure on you from all angles whether it be offense or defense. Offensively we’re gonna line up and run it straight at our opponents. It’s up to them to stop us. I want opposing coaches to really have to game plan for us because we will not be an easy out.”
The Golden Bears offense will center around the play of Johnson but will also have talent, along with experience, in the backfield and along the line of scrimmage.
Lining up behind, and even beside, the AC signal-caller will be senior wing-back Staley, junior wing-back Chadwick Sanders and senior fullback Colt Fields.
“We have a group of 11 seniors, but we also have a large junior class,” said Meeks. “Experience will be an asset for us this year.”
In their multiple base offense, which combines elements of both the wing-t and the flex, the Bears will normally line up with two tight ends. Filling those starting roles will be juniors Clay Langston and Reed Roberson. When the coach decides to use a true wide receiver he will go with sophomore Davis Hardin.
The offensive line will be anchored by junior center Rylan Pleasant. He will have senior left guard Dylan White, senior left tackle Tyler King, senior right tackle Taylor King (Tyler’s twin brother), and a mixture of seniors Cole Harvell and Rafael Rorie at left guard.
“Dylan is kind of our unsung hero,” said Meeks. “He does a lot of the grunt work. He’s also a team captain and a weight room warrior who never complains and just goes out and works hard to get better.”
When Central’s opponent has the ball, the Golden Bears will line up in a base 4-3. Leading the charge up front will be senior defensive ends Fields and Scotty Quinnerlly with the King twins at the tackle spots.
The linebackers will be White at the ‘Mike’, Staley at ‘Sam’ and Sanders at ‘Will’. Patrolling the defensive backfield will be a pair of young first-year corners that will need to grow up in a hurry in the form of Adrian Prather and Chandler South. Freshman Talen Kemp, who started a few games on varsity last year as an eighth-grader, will be the free safety while sophomore Riley Lambert will be at strong safety.
Kemp will also serve as the Golden Bears backup QB.
Meeks said Wright will coach the offensive line as well as serve as AC defensive coordinator while Wood will work with receivers, defensive backs and special teams.
“We’re short one assistant this year to what we normally have and that’s largely due to the school system having so many vacancies that haven’t been filled yet,” said the Bears coach. “But we will give it our best shot with the hand we’ve been dealt. We have a pretty athletic line, one of the best since I’ve been here and we will average around 230 pounds per man. We’ve had to start freshmen and sophomores in key positions in recent seasons but we will be an older, more experienced group this year.”
The Golden Bears will compete with the usual lineup of division opponents in Booneville, Kossuth while welcoming new league mates Water Valley and Mantachie while Belmont has moved down to Class 2A for the next two years.
“To make the playoffs all we have to do is win just one of our division games and we are in,” Meeks said as he pondered the possibilities. “It won’t be easy .. it never is. But it’s doable.”