Tide looks to three-peat

Published 11:40 pm Saturday, August 30, 2008

Picayune enters the 2008 prep football season looking to duplicate the success it enjoyed from the last two regular seasons but improve upon its postseason performance.

The Maroon Tide, under the direction of veteran head coach Dodd Lee, has won 16-2 in the regular season over the past two seasons and 21–3 overall in that time frame. Picayune has also captured back to back Region 8-4A championships, and reached the Class 4A South state semifinals each year as well.

“It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish,” Lee, who has won over 100 games at the helm of the Tide, said. “Our goal is always to win a state championship. I think we have a chance to be as good as good as we were last year by the end of the season if we work hard.”

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The Tide lost 15 starters, including six that signed to play college football. Perhaps no one will be missed more than running back Albert Richard, who ran for more than 5,000 yards and scored more than 50 touchdowns over the past two seasons.

“He will be tough to replace, he was a great one,” Lee said, of the diminutive dynamo that signed with Pearl River Community College. “But we’ve had some great ones here before that moved on and we were able to find others. That’s all we can do now, is move on.”

Lee said that the Tide would use a committee of runners to replace Richard and Drew Cole, who signed with Auburn after contributing heavily both running the ball and from his cornerback spot for the Tide.

In fact, speedy senior T’Daryl Grays will be counted upon in the same type of role as Cole was featured. Grays will be one of the trio of running backs expected to tote the load for the Tide, and will man one of the corner spots on defense as well.

Jerrod Jones and Jamal Hall will also see plenty of time running the ball.

“All three of them have their own style, that’s what makes them such a good combination,” Lee said. “I think all three are capable of getting the job done, and all three will get the chance until someone really steps forward.”

At fullback, bullish Gabe Hinojosa returns to provide power and Joel Davis will see some time as well.

For the fourth straight season, Picayune will have a new quarterback as junior Jacob Kennedy steps up behind center. He has little experience, but Lee likes his new signal caller.

“I like the courage he shows and the way he handles himself,”” Lee added. “And I like his competitiveness.”

In addition to his backs, Kennedy will have some potentially explosive weapons on the outside to utilize as well.

Reggie Bailey, another two way standout for the Tide, will line up at tight end, wingback and receiver at some point throughout the year. “ He’s also an outstanding blocker,” Lee added.

Bailey, who will split time at tight end with Kell Goff, who moved there from fullback, will combine on the outside with a pair of speedsters in Chris “Willie” Nixon and track standout Jonathan Moore.

“We have some guys that have the potential to be game-breakers,” Lee said. “

Matt Dragon, who is vying for the placekicking duties with Nick Riso, will also see some time at flanker.

Up front, the path is paved by monstrous tackle Jonathan Billups on both sides of the ball. The 6-foot-1, 33-pound senior has dropped 40 pounds from last season but gotten even stronger in the process.

“He’s one of the best I have ever been around, and by far the most powerful. He can dominate a game if he stays healthy,” Lee, who indicated that Billups would be on the field about 70 percent of the time, said.

Billups, a three year starter, will be joined at tackle on the offensive side of the ball by DeAmbry Jackson. Jacob Hickman is the center, while Bobby Baldwin and Robert Bender are expected to be the guards but Baldwin will miss the early part of the season with an injury and Justin Byrd and Brandon Lee will fill that role. Arthur Bienvenu will also see some time up front.

Defensively, Billups will be big up front from one tackle spot as well, while D.J. Batiste will hold down the other spot with Kody Leonard and Jackson also starting at times. On the ends, Jacob Hickman, Maurice Jones, Goff and Nixon will all rotate and see plenty of action, while Joey Breland and Joel Davis will provide support.

At linebacker, Bailey and Chris Burton will start, while Hinojosa and Chad Aures will see plenty of time also.

In the secondary, Cedric Brown will man the corner opposite Grays and Brett Milner, Jarrod Jones and Wayne McMooain will handle the trio of safety spots in the Tide defensive scheme.

Jonathan Smith, Tyrone Davis, Eric Smith and Tyler Kelly will also see plenty of time in the defensive backfield.

“I think our team speed will be our strong point,” Lee added. “We’ve got some size in some spots and not in others, but I feel like we are pretty quick overall. We’ve got some talent in a lot of places.”

Bailey and Robert Jeansonne will handle the punting duties.

Lee feels like the early part of the season will be a learning process; partly because of losing 15 starters and partly because of the toughest pre-region schedule in 8-4A by far.

“The first four games should help us,” Lee said, referring to the opening stretch of Moss Point, Madison Central, Oak Grove and Pascagoula. “It’s going to be a feeling out process for us as coaches and for the players. We have to see who will get it done when the lights come on, and then adjust from there.”

Lee said, without ranking the Tide, he expected D’Iberville, St. Stanislaus and Poplarville to be the top three in the region.

The Tide and D’Ibervillle were each unbeaten in the league entering last year’s regular season finale, and homestanding Picayune stooped the Warriors. Many expect that scenario to play out again this season, when Picayune will head to Harrison County on Halloween Night.