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Wildcats set for practice

The defending MACJC football champion Pearl River Wildcats will officially begin their quest for a fourth straight state title here Tuesday when some 80 players report for preseason drills.

Fifth-year head coach Tim Hatten has high hopes for his 2006 squad, which enters this fall’s campaign ranked No. 1 in the NJCAA’s preseason poll for the second consecutive year. Last year’s third straight state title brought PRCC’s total to an unprecedented 18 within the MACJC.

Pearl River won its second-ever NJCAA national title in 2004, but was third in last year’s final poll behind champ Glendale (Ariz.) CC and Georgia Military College after being snubbed by the post-season bowl games. The Wildcats finished their Hurricane Katrina-shortened 2005 season with an 8-1 record.

Hatten will be hard pressed to replace quarterback Jimmy Oliver, a two-year starter who earned NJCAA All-American and “Offensive Player of the Year” honors in both seasons he suited up for the Wildcats. But redshirt freshman Mike Greco, a North Carolina State transfer, is up for the task.

“Mike’s our starter, but he’s a different kind of player compared to Jimmy,” Hatten said. “He has great speed and has better vision, but there’s nobody as elusive as Jimmy Oliver. But I feel great about Mike going in.”

Greco, who stands 6-foot-3 compared to Oliver’s 6-foot frame, was clocked at a sub-4.3-second 40-yard dash in July.

“Mike’s as fast as anybody on our team. But he’s going to have to learn to make quick decisions and we’ll be throwing in some running plays for him,” Hatten said.

Greco will have a talented receiving corps, as Demetrius Byrd, a preseason All-American; Larry Freeman, and J.J. Smith return; while redshirt freshman Ricky Smith will also figure prominently in the mix along with South Florida transfer Carlton Hill.

“This could possibly be the best offensive team we’ve ever had,” Hatten said.

All told, 13 starters from last year.

Hatten says the Wildcats will have a walk through Tuesday night in Dobie Holden Stadium before starting two-a-days Wednesday morning. An under-the-lights scrimmage is tentatively set for “Meet the Wildcats” night Thursday, Aug. 24.

Pearl River kicks off its 2006 season Thursday, Aug. 31, on the road in Moorhead againstMississippi Delta.