Mean Green: Cathedral duo highlight list of first-teamers
Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 31, 2003
Like anything else that’s totally new, the start was very simple.
Bert Smith, a former assistant at Natchez High and Adams Christian in his first year at Cathedral, glanced over the group of Green Wave football players one muggy June afternoon and started the whole process with a simple question.
How many of you have caught a football?
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Of course, the reception Smith got from the players was one as if he had antlers growing out of his head. Of course, we’ve caught a football. Are you nuts or something old man?
If only they had known.
It was that day when Smith started teaching a new system and changed the way the Green Wave looked at offense with an attack that included plenty of opportunities to catch a football.
The 2003 Green Wave switched gears from its years of a run-oriented offense to a passing attack that was largely responsible for the team’s first playoff appearance since 1998. Smith, in his first year with the CHS program, provided a spark that helped opposing teams shuffle their defensive schemes to try and stop the Green Wave.
Quarterback Turner Smith ended the season with 2,379 yards passing and 22 touchdowns, while receiver Garrett Jones logged 1,015 yards receiving and 13 touchdowns on 61 catches. The two were named Class 1A first-team all-state and highlight the The Natchez Democrat’s first-team All-Metro squad.
&uot;If you see somebody that’s got a good thing going, you’ve got to talk to those guys and find out what they’re doing to maybe help you down the road,&uot; Bert Smith said. &uot;I just sat down with (head coach Ken Beesley Sr.) and got some coaching tips from him. I just dropped the hint (of coming) last year. That’s the kind of people I’d have to be involved with &045; not as in have control of everything but keep going what they’ve already got going.
&uot;But the minute I got over here, if I saw something that might work, we’d try it. The kids, coaching staff and community support was what made all this work this year.&uot;
The season was one of pleasant memories for Smith and everyone involved in the program after the Green Wave finished the regular season 7-3 before losing to eventual Class 1A runner-up Scott Central in the first round of the playoffs.
The system seemed to fit the personnel &045; the Green Wave had no bullish running back to carry it 30 times a game, the team didn’t have much size across the front line but there were guys like Jones, Andrew Ellard, Michael Blain, Jonathan Jackson and John Paul Kenda who could get open, catch a pass and make something happen.
&uot;I guess it was our ninth- or 10th-grade year in JV we did a lot of shotgun,&uot; Turner Smith said. &uot;This system, with all the no-huddle we run &045; we worked on it all summer long. Run a play, look over and always keep going with it. It was a much easier and faster way to get the ball down the field. I really enjoyed it. It was a good way to have a senior year, and it was a good way to go out.&uot;
The whole process had a convincing start in the season-opener &045; a 7-yard pass in the flat from Smith to Jackson before five plays later Smith hit Jones on a little screen pass that Jones turned into a 62-yard touchdown reception against Madison St. Joseph in a 35-7 win.
Those short screen passes were a big key to the offense &045; often referred to by Beesley as merely long hand-offs &045; leaving receivers with the potential of breaking a big one. Throw in the occasional real handoff to either Jackson or Kenda out of the backfield, and the offense kept the opposition on its toes.
The offense had to play a stretch without the services of Blain, who broke a bone in his ankle in a 28-14 loss to Mize in Week 4.
Other high scoring affairs followed &045; a wild 56-34 win over West Lincoln and that bizarre 73-60 win at Stringer. In a 31-15 win over Salem, Smith completed 29 of 33 passes for 330 yards and four touchdowns.
&uot;That really built our confidence,&uot; Jones said of the Week 1 win. &uot;We saw the offense was really working and scored 35 points. That West Lincoln game really built our confidence. A lot of offense (at Stringer) &045; mostly offense. Things were just clicking for us. Everybody knew we were going to throw, but we started running the ball. Jonathan did a good job, especially in the playoff game against Scott Central.&uot;
The offense continued its momentum into the playoffs despite a disappointing home loss to St. Aloysius, and the Wave made its first appearance in the postseason since 1998 when current Ole Miss defensive back Von Hutchins was the team’s quarterback as a senior.
Scott Central, who lost to Weir in the state championship, was much bigger than Cathedral in size and took a 56-24 win over the Green Wave on Nov. 14. Smith ended that game with 268 yards passing by completing 26 of 40 attempts.
&uot;I think the one (game) that sticks out is the playoff game,&uot; Turner Smith said. &uot;We had never been in the playoffs since we’d been in high school. We were hanging with them the first quarter. Once they got the lead, their big running backs took over. But it was nice to see them go all the way to state and almost win it. To get Cathedral back on the right track, it means a lot.&uot;
The passing attack worked, Smith said, because of the players and coaches involved and their willingness to stick with it. It was mostly based on a number of hand signals from Bert Smith to quarterback Smith when the no-huddle, mostly pass offense was rolling.
Jackson finished the year with 939 yards rushing and 46 catches for 467 yards, while Ellard notched 52 catches for 483 yards.
&uot;It took time to get everything in and get good at it, but the kids seemed to want to do it,&uot; Bert Smith said. &uot;If I was five minutes late coming to practice, they booed me getting out of my truck. We had seven seniors on the team this year, and the coaching staff is going to miss them. When Michael went down the first of the year, that kind of picked the rest of them up. They wanted to keep a good thing going.
&uot;I’ve worked with a lot of good receivers who have gone on to play college football, and I’d put Garrett right there at the top. He’s got the speed and probably the best hands I’ve had the privilege to coach. Turner and Garrett &045; those two would make great coaches. I’m going to miss them.&uot;
Other talent, meanwhile, was well-deserving of spots on the All-Metro’s first team. The exorbitant amount of top-notch running backs in the area forced some talented guys off the first team, but Demetrius Duncan of Block, Gregory Ketchings of Trinity Episcopal and Michael Randall of Vidalia earned spots on the first team.
All three have similar styles with good quickness at hitting the holes and breaking upfield. Ketchings rose into the spotlight in the playoffs after fellow Trinity running back Chase Brown was lost to a knee injury, and Ketchings finished the season with 1,206 yards and 16 touchdowns on 143 carries.
Ketchings had his biggest games when they mattered the most &045; 199 yards and two touchdowns in the South State championship win over Tallulah and 242 yards and two touchdowns in a playoff win over Deer Creek.
Randall did significant damage in the playoffs in leading the Vikings to the Class 2A semifinals for the first time in more than 30 years. He also had the distinction of being the Miss-Lou’s top rusher with 1,802 yards and 27 touchdowns on 190 carries.
Randall, too, did plenty of damage in the playoffs as he scorched Mamou for 228 yards and three touchdowns in a 46-12 quarterfinal victory.
Duncan helped lead a Block rushing attack that steamrolled its opponents en route to an appearance in the Class 1A quarterfinals. Duncan, who earned a first-team all-state honors, finished the season with 1,667 yards and 26 touchdowns on 126 carries.
Jefferson County’s Joshfer Nichols was the other first-team receiver. One of the fastest prep athletes in the Miss-Lou, Nichols used his speed to finish the season with 750 yards on 34 catches to help lead the Tigers to a playoff spot for the first time in 20 years.
Nichols also doubled as a defensive back, where he had four interceptions on the season.
Lineman who earned first-team honors were part of offenses that ran the ball with success consistently in 2003. They don’t come much bigger Block’s Brantley Taylor (6-0, 290) or Jefferson County’s Terrance Lee (6-4, 297), who were the biggest linemen in the area this season.
Vidalia center Jordy Temple (5-9, 195) earned a spot on the first team as did WCCA’s Clay Bryant (6-2, 232) and Trinity Episcopal’s Tres Atkins (6-0, 275).
Centreville’s Blake Devall made the first team as an athlete as he starred at running back, linebacker, kick returner and punt returner for the Tigers. He had 1,209 yards rushing, 376 yards receiving, 222 yards on kickoff returns, 159 yards on punt returns, scored 104 points, threw one one touchdown as a tailback and had 64 tackles &045; despite missing some time due to an injured arm.
Chris Blackwell of Franklin County was first-team kicker after he connected on field goals of 47, 45, 39 and 42 while hitting 21 of 23 extra points.
On defense, the line is plenty solid with Matt Hinson of Vidalia, Jeremy Washington of Block, Steven Cooper of Vidalia and Anthony Strauder of Natchez. The 6-4, 205-pound Hinson earned first-team All-State honors and was named District 4-2A Co-MVP after logging 53 solos tackles, 58 assists, seven sacks and four fumble recoveries.
The 6-5, 215-pound Washington starred at both defensive end and tight end for the Bears and was named honorable mention All-State. He finished with 83 tackles, 11 sacks and 16 tackles for loss. Cooper was a menace at defensive end for the Vikings by posting 61 tackles, 48 assists, nine sacks and one interception.
Strauder was the biggest bright spot for the 1-10 Natchez Bulldogs at defensive tackle and is regarded as one of the best linemen in the state. The 6-4, 280-pound Strauder had his season cut short due to injury but is still being recruited by several Division I programs.
linebackers include Vidalia’s Hannibal Yearby and Brett Hinson and Trinity Episcopal’s Ivan Nastally. Despite his 5-6 frame, Yearby was a tenacious tackler and one of the leaders of the Vidalia defensive unit as he finished with 101 solo tackles, 56 assists, four sacks and two interceptions. He shared the 4-2A Defensive MVP with Matt Hinson along with earning a spot on the All-State team with him.
Brett Hinson finished the season with 110 solo tackles, 61 assists and two interceptions. He also earned a spot on the All-District team. The 6-2, 225-pound Nastally was solid at linebacker for the Saints as he finished the season with 84 tackles.
Speedy Randy Harris of WCCA heads up the list of defensive backs after he finished the season with 11 interceptions. Other DBs to make it are Natchez High’s Michael Williams and Vidalia’s C.J. Williams.
C.J. Williams finished with 40 solos, 43 assists, two fumble recoveries and four interceptions.
Adams Christian’s Dustin Case is the first-team punter. He had six punts with an average of 40.5 yards a punt.