Franklin Co. coach leads soccer teams in strong start
MEADVILLE — The Franklin County High School boys and girls soccer teams were left in unfamiliar territory Monday afternoon.
Both teams lost their first games of the season against Florence High School, both by a score of 4-0, dropping them both to 17-1 on the season.
For the boys, Monday’s loss was the first regular-season loss in 38 straight games. It was a minor blip in what had been an unblemished season so far, but senior boys center midfielder Hoby Mullins said it would only help everyone going forward.
“We knew this team was a 4A powerhouse,” Mullins said. “We knew they would be tough. We played good, but we’re just going to keep going with the momentum we’ve built with all these wins and hopefully bring a state title to southwest Mississippi for the first time.”
Both Mullins and senior girls forward/center midfielder Si’Edriq Middleton credited head coach Jeff Long for their 17-0 start to the season. In two years as Franklin County’s head coach, the boys’ and girls’ combined record is 71-7-2.
“He doesn’t holler at us and stuff,” said Middleton, who has 22 goals and 10 assists so far this season. “He can talk to us in a good way and make us understand and not make us feel like we’re doing badly.
“If we have a question, he’ll show us what we’re doing wrong and how to fix it. During a game, if we make mistakes in the first half, he’ll do that, and it’ll be a totally different game in the second half.”
Mullins, who has tallied 36 goals and 12 assists this season, said he thinks Long is the best soccer coach in Mississippi.
“He has four or five state championships I believe,” Mullins said. “He just breaks it down and makes the game simple. He’s different from any other coach we’ve had.”
Long, who coached at Warren Central High School for two years and Clinton High School for 13 years before moving to Franklin County, said he’s enjoyed coaching both the boys and girls this season.
“We have some athletic players, and they’re just a great group of kids,” Long said. “They listen, and they’re very respectful and hard workers. They try to get better every day and have a lot of pride in their program. I think that carries over onto the field and with their work ethic in practice.”
Both the boys’ and girls’ success goes back to the players putting in the work during summer ball, Long said, and carrying it over into the fall with conditioning. After the season, Long said his team will get a two-week break before turning around and preparing for next year.
“It’s not year-round (working) with the ball, but it’s year-round trying to get better,” Long said.
Prior to Monday, the boys had only yielded eight goals all season, and the girls had only given up five goals.
“Our defense is good,” Middleton said. “(Long has) taught the defense to work as a whole, not just as individuals.”
Mullins said keeper Nathanial “Snoop” Verdin has been critical in keeping shots from hitting the net.
“Against teams in our division, I don’t think we’ll give up many goals, even through the playoffs,” Mullins said.
Though coaching both the boys and girls can be tiresome at times, Long said, the reward of seeing his teams succeed more than makes up for it.
“I enjoy coaching both,” Long said. “You do what you can to prepare them, then it’s exciting to see them get on the field and make things happen.”