New-look Wildcats expect to be much improved

Published 9:55 am Thursday, August 18, 2016

PRCC Sports Information Sophomore cornerback Tyler Jack returns to lead the Wildcats on defense in 2016.

PRCC Sports Information
Sophomore cornerback Tyler Jack returns to lead the Wildcats on defense in 2016.

By Stan Caldwell

PRCC Sports Information

POPLARVILLE – After the 2-7 debacle in the 2015 football season, Pearl River Community College cleaned house, dismissing head coach William Jones and promoting secondary and special teams coach, David Saunders to the head position.

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Saunders, 57, brings a long resume to the PRCC position that includes a two-year stint as head coach at Millsaps in the 1990s.

He and his staff, which includes six newcomers, have reshaped the Wildcats’ roster, bringing in several former Division I players, notably quarterback D.J. Gillins from Wisconsin and wide receiver Matthew Eaton from Temple.

PRCC also recruited a very well-regarded class of high school seniors, along with a number of other walk-ons and transfers, and many of them are already being penciled into spots on the two-deep roster.

Offensively, Pearl River had – by far – the worst offense in the MACJC last season, averaging just 209 yards a game. Fixing that is the top priority for the Wildcats, and they at least appear settled on their quarterback for this season.

Gillins (6-3, 200) is big and athletic, with a strong arm, long, powerful legs, and he showed a good grasp of the offense, along with good leadership skills, in the spring. He was highly-regarded as a dual-threat quarterback coming out of Jacksonville, Fla., in 2014.

“D.J. has done everything we’ve asked of him, on and off the field,” Saunders said. “He’s been a leader on the field and he’s become a leader on campus. We’re excited about what he brings us.”

Darious Leggett (6-1, 200) was PRCC’s leading rusher last season, and he is back to carry the bulk of the running game. 

The former Forrest County AHS standout will look to significantly improve his 2015 output of 423 yards and two touchdowns.

PRCC also returns its top two receivers from last year, former Hattiesburg High standout Joronnie Hinton (5-11, 175) and Cameron Bolton (6-0, 175), from Jackson Provine, and they will both be counted on heavily after combining for 56 catches, 799 yards and four TDs last fall.

But the Wildcats are looking for a big contribution from Eaton (6-4, 205), out of Pascagoula High, as a top deep threat, and they are also counting on a host of newcomers.

Another Pascagoula High product, sophomore Will Inlow (6-2, 225) is the only returnee at tight end, and he had a good spring, especially his blocking, which was noticeably improved.

Up front, the top priority in the spring was to find a center to replace two-year starter Ryan Rainey, who signed with Murray State. Saunders believes he’s done that with redshirt freshman Tremaine Chatman (6-1, 290), out of Covington, La.

Elsewhere on the offensive line, the Wildcats look pretty settled, with Willie Terrell (6-6, 300), from Terry, and Kelton Brown (6-4, 325), a Tylertown product, returning as the tackles. Brown was an All-MACJC second-team selection last fall.

Returning sophomore Tazedrick Meeks (6-5, 300), from Jackson Callaway, is among a number of players, mostly newcomers, who are battling for one of the two starting guard positions.

The Wildcats don’t have a returning kicker, following the departure of second-team All-MACJC punter Cody Mikell to Henderson (Ark.) State.

However, freshman soccer standout Mark Johnson (5-11, 165) of Bay High has impressed Wildcat coaches with his leg strength during summer workouts, and he is expected to win the job as both punter and placekicker.

The Wildcats were decent on defense last season, giving up an average of 26 points and 358 yards a game, both middling figures in the state, and that unit will lead the way for PRCC this year.

“We hope to be aggressive on defense and create turnovers,” Saunders said. “I thought we made big strides on that side of the ball in the spring.”

Keyshaun Simmons (6-3, 265) from Ridgeland, a second-team All-MACJC pick last fall, is back at a defensive end position, and he is going to be asked to lead an improved Wildcat pass rush that totaled 27 sacks last fall. Wildcat coaches also like redshirt freshman Shelton Fortenberry (6-2, 215), out of West Jones, as another defensive end.

At linebacker, the Wildcats lose first-team All-MACJC pick Jarkeith Ruffin, but they have sophomore Randy Hogan (6-1, 220) ready to step in as a middle linebacker. The former Pascagoula High standout played at an outside spot last year, where he had 59 tackles.

PRCC will need him to be a leader, because there are no other linebackers returning from last year’s squad. However, keep an eye on redshirt freshman Quinton Hogan (6-2, 210), out of Wayne County, who had a solid spring at an outside spot.

In the secondary, Pearl River loses first-team All-MACJC selection Tavarius Moore, who signed with Southern Miss as a cornerback and kick returner.

However, there is still good talent returning in the defensive backfield, led by Tyler Jack, the returning starter at one cornerback position. A standout at George County, Jack isn’t big at 5-9, 170, but he’s quick, fast and has excellent hands. Last year, he had 48 tackles – 40 solos – three interceptions, including one for a touchdown, and a team-high five tackles for loss.

The Wildcats also have redshirt freshmen Jeremiah Gamblin (6-0, 170) from Petal and Gerrell Keaton (5-8, 185) of Picayune battling for starting spots in the secondary, along with sophomore Cornelius Dortch (6-0, 180) from Perry Central.

With so much in flux, and with so many newcomers, there is no way to predict what kind of season Pearl River will have once the Wildcats kick it off Sept. 1 at Northeast. But Saunders has been pleased with what he’s seen so far.

“The excitement level has just been off the charts,” Saunders said. “These kids have worked awfully hard to get ready for this season. We feel like we have a chance to be a competitive unit; now it’s just a matter of putting the pieces together and getting it done on the field.”