By Mark Stowers
Retooling and rebuilding in the Mississippi Association of Junior and Community Colleges is always an uphill battle. With 14 tough teams in the MAJCA across the state, the Mississippi Delta Community College Trojans are looking to build on the success they worked hard for last season. The 3-6 overall record might not look like much at a glance. But underneath those numbers were some hard-fought games and plenty of freshman growth that should pay off more this season. Trojan Head Coach Jeff Tatum enters his seventh season as the main gridiron Trojan. His assistant coaches, Defensive Coordinator Michael Turner (former Trojan), Special Teams/Defensive Backs/Strength Coach, T'Darryl Grays and Offensive Line Coach, Jordan Martin, have been working to help mold a winner in Moorhead.
Offense – Spread Em Out
Coach Tatum serves as the offensive coordinator and looks to continue teaching his creative offensive schemes he created in the late 80s. MDCC was the first school to go to the "One Back" system – still in use today – during his first stint on campus, according to Tatum.
"Coach (Wookie) Gray and I sat down with (NFL Coach) Mouse Davis, who at the time was popular with the Run and Shoot Offense. What people know as the Jet Sweep, we were the first ones to use it in college football. At the same time, my philosophy is to put the players in the best situation for them to be successful."
He notes that his coaching style isn't predicated on his pride. Take away the run, then he'll look to throw and vice versa. With that in mind, he's looking for the Trojans to improve upon last year's record.
"We struggled the last two years and we've had a couple of coaching changes," Coach Tatum said. "We had some success late in the year and we're using that to springboard into the 2019 season."
The One Back system will be prominent and Coach Tatum will rely on sophomore running back Patrick Jackson, who had 503 rushing yards on 161 carries with six touchdowns in 2018.
"He'll be our featured guy for us. He had a great season last year and a good spring. We'll find a lot of ways to get him the football, both running and receiving," Tatum said.
Two returning receivers, Labarron Jones and Dejohn Poke, will be called up on as well.
"Both of those guys started for us last year and got better this spring," he said.
Receiver Tommy Washington's name will be called more this season after a productive spring practice, according to Tatum. But the strength of the team will be the returning offensive line, where there's a 'lot of Trojan' to be found.
"We got two big tackles coming back. John Wrister and Byron Clayton. Both those guys are 6-foot, 8-inches and about 400 pounds," Coach Tatum said.
Center Justin Brownlee is coming back from a broken ankle suffered early in 2018 and will anchor the line at center.
"Those are the guys we're really counting on this year," he said. "One of our biggest concerns is at quarterback."
With very little experience between sophomore quarterbacks Jacob Krumm and Melvendrick Johnson, the Trojans will be looking for one of them to emerge as a leader and starter.
"Both played for us in the spring and had a pretty good spring but are untested. They haven't been thrown in the fire yet. The quarterback is a very, very important position on any team and they really need to be successful for us to have a good year."
Defense – Aggressive
In his second season in charge of the defense, assistant coach Michael Turner lives under the mantra, "actions speak louder than words." He's looking for players who do and not say.
"We want people who are bought in," he said. "I've got four (championship) rings in my house but it's about the journey and not the ring. The process and the grind and the sacrifice. That's what we try to instill in these young men."
Turner will run both odd and even fronts with a 4-3 and a lot thrown in to fit the situation.
"I like to keep it simple and make them fly around. I give them options and each layer of the defense has an option," he said. "Loose and fast. Go play and have fun."
In looking at his competition in the league, Turner notes "we'll either make some people mad or make some people change their minds."
The defense will have several key returning players.
"We're going to be somewhat seasoned," Coach Turner said. "We've got the four up front and one linebacker coming back."
Defensive linemen Rodney Mason and Rashaun Williams return to help anchor things up front.
"We're counting on them to become leaders and be mature and balance the process, so to speak," Coach Turner said. "At linebacker we've got Isaiah Karriem coming back and we've got on our 'back end', George Jackson as a safety that's going to be good for us. He's a work horse now. And we have Kyle Kass and we're expecting great things at corner. He's big time. He's big, he can do it all and now we have to sit back and see if he's put it all together."
Turner has high hopes based on the dedication and hard work and talent he's been watching in the weight room and on the practice field.
"If we don't make the playoffs, we underachieve this year. I think we have a shot to disturb some people. We are fast and we are athletic," Coach Turner said.
Assistant coach T'Darryl Grays heads up the strength and conditioning in addition to his special teams and defensive back coaching. The players tout their "Grays Built" physiques built in the spartan-esque weight room but they know his motto is "mind over matter."
"We're going to push our kids extremely hard, but we're going to take care of them," Grays said. "I try to develop an explosive athlete but one that is mentally strong. The most disciplined athlete is the one that will win."
Grays touted Jackson and Kass as well but added "Colton Mallard-Wilson played a good bit last year but wasn't a starter. He's taken on a leadership role in the weight room and in the position meetings. He's a technician. I'm expecting a breakout year from him and he's letting the younger kids know what my expectations are."
Another defensive player Coach Grays will be looking forward to getting on the field is Te'Metric Stewart.
"He had an excellent spring and he worked his tail off in the weight room. He's another guy who's taken on a leadership role," Coach Grays said. "As coaches, if we can keep them together and get the kids to believe, we'll be there in the end. We'll have a chance to do something special."
Special Teams – Experience and Confidence Abounds
With both kickers returning for the Trojans, Coach Tatum hopes to have a solid kicking game this season. Kicker Spencer Romero was 3-for-5 in field goals and hit 15-of-17 PATs. Punter Lane McGregor punted 34 times last season with a 37-yard average and hit a 55-yarder. He pinned opponents inside the 20 seven times.
"McGregor came in last year and is mentally tough for a punter and that's unusual for a punter. He's come back stronger," Coach Tatum said. "Romero will live to be 100 years old. He has what you love in a kicker. He's kind of flaky but has a lot of confidence in himself."
In last season's game with Coahoma, the Trojans had to hit the extra point to win.
"They called two timeouts to ice him. He came over and said, 'Coach, they are trying to ice me but they are wasting their time. When we go back out, do you want me to call a timeout to show them they are wasting their time? I'll ice myself.' I said, 'no, you go back out there and kick it through the uprights.'"
Romero did and won the game.
The MACJC is comprised of 14 community colleges and MDCC competes in the North Division against the likes of perennial National Championship winner and contender East Mississippi, Northwest, Itawamba, Holmes, Northeast and Coahoma. The South Division includes Jones College along with Copiah-Lincoln, Mississippi Gulf Coast, East Central, Hinds, Pearl River and Southwest Mississippi.
"The conference will be strong," Coach Tatum said. "In the North it will probably be a two-team race between Northwest and East Mississippi. They both have great winning traditions and good facilities, which unfortunately is what kids look for these days."
Tatum notes the rest of the North teams will be fighting for third place. In the South, Coach Tatum knows Copiah-Lincoln has a good group of veterans coming back but aren't on the Trojan schedule. He also picks Jones and Hinds to have plenty of returning players and be tough competition.
"We've got our work cut out," he said.