Trinity’s tough test

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 9, 2003

NATCHEZ &045; Much of Trinity Episcopal’s attention during Tuesday’s preparation for Claiborne Academy Friday was spent eyeing its defense.

In the past, teams could count on Claiborne running traps, old school I-formations and passing being at minimum.

But all was a mystery on the outfield of the Saints baseball diamond &045; the home of every Saint practice except for Thursday walk-through &045; since Rebels head coach Ronnie Powell has policy of not exchanging tapes.

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Why would he with the Mississippi Private School Association’s best-kept secret?

&uot;I look for (Claiborne) to throw 40 times during the game, as opposed to their usual 10,&uot; Trinity head coach David King said. &uot;With that quarterback they’ve got now, I expect them to open it up and use his ability to try to throw the football.&uot;

&uot;That quarterback&uot; is one Geoff Nixon, who transferred from Evangel Christian Academy after the Louisiana High School Athletic Association ruled him ineligible for violating rule, which prohibits moves made &uot;for the purpose of creating interscholastic athletic eligibility.&uot;

The Rebels 3-yards’ theory has gone up in a cloud of dust due to Nixon, who Powell confirmed is with the team.

&uot;I’ve been coaching 34 years and he’s one of the best I’ve ever seen,&uot; Powell said of Nixon, who is at his fourth school in four years. &uot;You realize real quickly you’ve got a real leader at the quarterback position.&uot;

That’s what prep football power Evangel saw in Nixon for the few weeks he was with the team in the spring, just days after incumbent John David Booty had enough high school credits to announce he would forgo his senior year and enroll at Southern California.

Since, the Eagles instituted a football team in 1989, they have won eight state titles &045; two in Class A, three in Class 3A and three in Class 5A. Its first Class 5A champion, in 1999, was named the national champion by USA Today.

Evangel’s budget is like no other for a high school team. Its five nondistrict games this season are all against schools from other states: Miami Norland; Longview, Texas; Kansas City Rockhurst; Hoover (Ala.) and perennial national No. 1 Concord (Calif.) De La Salle.

&uot;The difference between Evangel and all those great public schools and the private is the numbers game,&uot; King said. &uot;I’ve got four athletes out there that are as good as anyone on Evangel, but we don’t have the numbers. Where they’ve got an offensive lineman 6-5, 275, we’ve got one 5-11, 225.&uot;

The 6-1, 185-pound Nixon came to Evangel on April 28, a week to the day after dropping out of McKinney North High School in McKinney, Texas, where he passed for 1,857 yards on his way to earning all-district honors for Texas’ 11-4A.

He participated in spring scrimmages before Evangel requested a self-evaluation on Nixon, a practice common for all transfers to the Shreveport school.

However on Aug. 7, LHSAA commissioner Tommy Henry ruled Nixon ineligible citing the bylaw, which determined the quarterback’s move was not bona fide, despite Nixon’s father Glenn telling the Dallas Morning-News that he had a business in Shreveport and his wife planned to attend LSU-Shreveport.

An appeal filed by Evangel on behalf of Nixon was upheld late last week.

&uot;When I heard he got denied I called (head coach) Dennis (Dunn) and (assistant coach0 Ronnie (Alexander) and told them to tell him (Nixon) he had a place to play if he wanted it,&uot; said Powell, a former Evangel assistant. &uot;He’d be there (Evangel) if it were his choice. Probably in the history of the LHSAA, he is the only boys to move four hours to Louisiana and be denied eligibility.&uot;

As it stands, Claiborne becomes the fourth high school, including the short stint at Evangel, for Nixon to attend from his freshman to senior year.

Nixon spent his freshman season at Celina, Texas.

MPSA director of activities Les Triplett told Claiborne as long as Nixon met the eligibility characteristics he was OK to play for the Rebels.

&uot;I don’t know enough about why the LHSAA turned him down,&uot; Triplett said. &uot;All I know is that if he meets the grade requirements and age requirements, we’ve never got into the intent of a transfer before.&uot;

Josh Stanley got the starting nod for the Rebels jamboree and their opener, a 51-0 victory over Grawood Christian School. However, Nixon was under center for the last three quarters of a win over Riverfield last Friday.

Trailing 15-7 at halftime, Nixon sparked a second half comeback in which Claiborne score 12 third quarter points for the 19-15 victory to move to 2-0.

&uot;He brings a lot of energy to the game. With him back there, we believe we can move the ball,&uot; Powell said. &uot;I’ve got to give a lot of credit to the defense and offensive line because we rush for 300 yards in the game.&uot;

It be a lot for Trinity to blindly study for after the Saints opened with a pair of 57-0 shutouts of Chamberlain-Hunt and Plain Dealing.

King said things we’ll definitely be different in large part due to Nixon’s abilities, with a Saints offense that will attempt to play ball control instead of cramming six-after-six-after-six down the Rebels’ throats.

&uot;Our kids are excited about it. They’re competitive enough to want to play the best,&uot; the sixth-year head coach said. &uot;We certainly want to coach against him (Nixon), and we look forward to stopping him.

&uot;We feel good about our pass rush. I don’t care how good of a quarterback you are, if you’re on your back enough that can change the whole outlook of the game.&uot;