Teal era begins for Hornets

Published 11:34 pm Saturday, August 30, 2008

The last time a new head football coach came aboard at Poplarville High, the Hornets proceeded to make the Class 4A state playoffs two straight seasons.

New Poplarville mentor Chris Teal hopes to recreate that scenario.

Teal, in his first head coaching job, replaces Lance Mancuso, who guided the Hornets to the postseason in his first two seasons at the helm before the injury plagued squad barely missed the playoffs last year.

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“It’s been everything I expected and more here. I love being at Poplarville,” Teal, who was most recently an assistant at Pearl River Central, said. Teal has brought four other new coaches with him to help form most of the Hornets’ coaching staff.

“We have meshed pretty well together so far, and it’s been a learning experience,” he added. “But we are ready to go.”

One of the first things on Teal’s agenda upon taking over at Poplarville was to replace versatile quarterback Matt Williams, who started for five seasons and nearly out-lasted two head coaches in that process.

Dakota Sheppard, who saw some brief playing time behind center last year, takes over the signal-calling duties.

“He has a little experience, and that’s a plus for us because we weren’t starting out from the bottom with him,” Teal said. “He has just needed an opportunity to get some game experience, and now he has it.”

Sheppard will have some talented runners to turn to, as Stanley Hart and Eli Frierson are back and completely healthy after missing last season with injuries. They will be joined by Tyler Holston and fullback Adam Thomas to form the corps of the Hornets backfield. Adam Naquin will back up Sheppard.

“I feel like our running game will be really improved,” Teal said. “That could be one of strong points, especially with our offensive line.”

That line that Teal referred to will be a very experienced one, with five of the six top players being seniors with several years of starting experience.

“We are expecting a lot of good things out of that bunch,” Teal said.

The line is paced by center Garrett Robert, guards Akeem Henry and Hunter Breland along with tackles Colby Roberts, Garrett Deschamps and Michael Cooper.

Cody Owens and Gatlin Herring man the tight end spots.

At receiver, Ben Fayard, Ira White and Dexter Childs will see most of the playing time.

Shelby Purvis returns to handle all of the kicking duties, both from the tee and punting as well.

Defensively, Teal is hoping the Hornets rectify a rumor he had to deal with upon taking over the program.

“The word out there was that Poplarville didn’t tackle very well,” Teal explained. “That hasn’t been the case so far with this group. “I am very pleased with how physical we have been. We are definitely headed in the right direction.”

One of the strengths for the Hornets should be their guys up front. Tackles Leterrio Henry and Desmond Hart return with plenty of experience, as does end Irvin Brown. Gage Whitten, Kenny Lewis and Blake Northrup will also see plenty of time at the ends, while Lewis and Colt Peterson will rotate in at the tackle spots also.

A pair of Hornet baseball standouts, Seth Sones and Frierson, will man two of the linebacking spots while Gabriel Rhodes, Jonathan McNair and Russell Ladner will also see plenty of time in the mix.

In the secondary, Fayard, Childs, Naquin and Nick Peters will handle the cornerback responsibilities, while Hart will roam deep as the free safety.

“As a whole, we just need to get some experience playing together under our belts, Teal said. “We have the ability and potential to have a good season.”

Most pundits, just like last season, have Picayune and D’Iberville fighting it our for the Region 8-4A title again this year. But Teal feels like his team will be in the mix for one of the four playoff spots.

“On paper, those two would certainly seem to be the favorites,” Teal added. “But I feel really good about our playoff chances. That is one of our goals.”