Maroon Tide could be better than ever in 2017

Published 7:00 am Thursday, August 17, 2017

Picayune’s two-time state champion head coach Dodd Lee produced a 234-90 overall record and nine district championships with some of the best teams in 5A history. In 2017, Lee could be leading the most elite team he’s ever coached.

Filled with some of the best talent in Mississippi prep football, Picayune is poised to place another 5A state championship trophy next to the 1986, 2011 and 2013 titles in the trophy case this year. Lee was head coach for two of those seasons.

Lee said expectations for the Maroon Tide are always high, but because of his seasoned coaching career, his expectations are more calculated.

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“Of course every time we step on the field, we’re trying to win, but you don’t have to become the division champ to win the state title,” Lee said, who led the Maroon Tide to a 2013 state championship without becoming the division champions.

In Lee’s experience, it all comes down to how healthy the team is, how they play in November, how well the team is clicking, how much leadership the team has and lastly, how tough the team is.

There’s no question that the 2017 Maroon Tide squad is physically tough, but the only item left for Lee to check off his list is the team’s mentality.

“We got the talent, we just need to get more mentally tough. I’m not sure what happened last year. We did a great job, but couldn’t make the plays we usually do,” Lee said, referencing the South State Championship game against Laurel last year. “But we have guys that have played in big games and have made big plays in those games too.”

Picayune has 10 returning starters on defense, but what is most exciting for the Maroon Tide fan base is the return of running back Shaun Anderson.

In 2016, Picayune was a powerhouse with Josh Littles, who rushed for nearly 2,400 yards and 25 touchdowns through 289 carries. However, the stage is set for Anderson to take the reigns in the backfield after displaying his talent during his 1,100-yard and eight-touchdown campaign last year.

In fact, in one of the only games Littles sat out in 2016 due to injury, Anderson rushed for four touchdowns and nearly eclipsed 300 yards in Picayune’s 62-21 victory over the Long Beach Bearcats.

Also joining him in the backfield is a banged up power back David Baker, who made big play after big play in the playoffs. Baker heads into the 2017 season recovering from an ACL injury. The good news is that he is recovering quickly, and should be ready to take the field come division play, Lee said.

In addition to another stout running game, Lee said he could have something special in his quarterback, Tyler Penton.

“This is a special kid, who could become a great leader for us,” Lee said about the 6’3’’ 205-pound quarterback. “He started against Hattiesburg and we scored on just about every opportunity we had.”

Penton is an athletic quarterback who can distribute the ball effectively in the pocket and, with a 4.8-second 40-yard dash, has the ability to breakout in the open field.

Even with all this talent, Picayune is going to have its challenges ahead with a hardy schedule this season.

To open the season on Aug. 18, the Maroon Tide travels to Poplarville to battle the Hornets for the first time since the early 2000s.

“They’ve got a good football team and I’m sure that whole town is excited, as they should be with the talent they have,” Lee said.

Picayune will also resume its rivalry against Wayne County this season, who was reclassified into the Maroon Tide’s division in exchange for Pascagoula. But instead of meeting in the playoffs to battle for a spot in the state finals like they often do, these teams will face off in week six as Picayune travels to Waynesboro, where Lee said the Maroon Tide has only beaten the War Eagles once.