POPLARVILLE, Miss.— When the Pearl River Wildcats hit the gridiron for the first time in 2019 on Thursday, they'll be looking to build on late season momentum from a year ago.
Head coach Ted Egger is back for his third season at the helm of the program. By his side will be recently elevated coordinators J.J. Johnson on defense and co-play callers Terrence Metcalf and Matt Monacelli on offense. With the new leadership on both sides of the ball comes a renewed energy, optimism and leadership.
"They're really getting the most out of our players," Egger said of his coordinators.
Throughout the combination of spring and summer workouts, plus preseason camp, Egger has already seen the changes paying off.
"I'm very excited about this team as a whole," he said. "We have a really good football team. The kids are playing together, practicing hard, doing everything we ask them to do and taking care of the little things."
It's the little things, Egger said, that will matter most in 2019. In some ways, it's a back-to-basics approach where if the team stays healthy, wins the line of scrimmage, avoids critical penalties and takes care of the football they should have a bounce back campaign.
"Those are basic things," Egger said, "but things we really harp on our kids about."
Offensively, PRCC will look to replace North Alabama signee Ron Thompson (Bassfield), whose 1,396 career rushing yards rank sixth all-time in program history.
Filling that type of void would normally be an issue, but Egger is excited about his stable of backs, which includes returner T.J. Wash (Forest; Scott Central) and freshmen Lance Stewart (Lafayette; Oxford), Dymarcus "D.D." Griffin (Richton) and Tionne Frost (Gulfport).
"I love our running backs," Egger said, "but I think we have four really good backs who all bring something different to the table."
Additionally, the Wildcats should have a number of playmakers at receiver and tight end. Idaho transfer Harrison Ashby (Boise, Id.; Capital) headlines the group. The newcomer has been a standout throughout workouts and has been one of the more heavily recruited Wildcats.
"Harrison really brings a nice blend of size and physicality," Egger said of the 6-foot-5, 255-pound tight end. "He's also versatile enough where he can spread out. He can do a bunch of things."
Egger also praised what he has seen from Keeilan Thomas (Gulfport) and hometown product Mario Barnes (Poplarville) at tight end.
Returner Jaylan Wilson (Bay St. Louis; Bay) will lead the receivers. In high school, Wilson played a little of everything. He brought that versatility to The River but seems to have found a home as a go-to receiver.
Other notable receivers include returner Juan Nelson (Laurel) and freshmen Latreal Jones (Taylorsville), Khalil Levy (Ocean Springs), Dayln Anderson (Gulfport; Harrison Central) and Trent Williams (Petal).
"I'm excited about that group," Egger said. "I think we have five or six guys who can really go catch the football and do some things."
The Wildcats are currently conducting as four-way battle at quarterback with returners Jakob Greer (Bay St. Louis; St. Stanislaus) and Terrence Humphrey (Clarksdale) duking it out with Cincinnati transfer Jonathan Keller (Canton, Ohio; North Canton Hoover) and signee Javo Thurman (Magee).
"I think they're all capable of doing what we need them to do to be successful," Egger said of the QBs. "They just need to manage the football and not turn the ball over. We have plenty of talent around them so they shouldn't have to be 'The Guy' and force things. We need them to take what the defense gives us."
The Wildcats will have a new blend of linemen up front, but Egger is encouraged by what he has seen during camp.
"The line is doing a good job. They're playing together and playing physical," he said. "It's a good group.
"They'll be able to do everything we need them to do."
While there are a number of new Wildcats in key spots on offense, the defensive unit should look largely similar to fans. Former Southeastern Louisiana signee Jaeden Ridgeway (Pascagoula) returns to lead an experienced group of linemen that also includes Zeke Chapman (Lake), Terrence Monroe (Petal) and Radonte Womack (Prentiss; Jefferson Davis).
"We're very mature with a lot of game experience with that group," Egger said.
Equally experienced is the secondary, led by Ron Baker (Prentiss; Jefferson Davis), Sirvares Snow (Newton), Darrell Luter (Hattiesburg; Oak Grove) and North Carolina transfer Caleb Rozar (Clarksville, Tenn.; Dickson County).
Led by veteran Darrell Sims (Bassfield; Jefferson Davis), Egger describes PRCC's linebacker group as "young but extremely athletic". Egger also highlighted Ross Barnett (Poplarville), Ra'Sheim Jordan (Hattiesburg), Noah Mitchell (Leakesville; Greene County) and Branson Davis (Hurley; East Central) among the potential contributors at linebacker.
The Wildcats' special teams unit will have a new look in '19, with signees Gayden Hence (Hattiesburg) and Davis battling for kicking and punting responsibility while a number of players are in the mix for returning spots.
In addition to Ashby currently holding a number of Division-I offers, Baker, Chapman and Luter are all South Alabama commits.
LOOKING AT ICC
PRCC once again opens its season against Itawamba, this time traveling across the state to Fulton.
According to PRCC records, the Wildcats hold a 25-16-1 all-time series lead over ICC.
REST OF THE SCHEDULE
The Wildcats then visit East Mississippi on Sept. 5 before hosting Copiah-Lincoln on Sept. 12 in the 2019 home opener. PRCC will alternate home and away dates from there on out, playing at East Central on Sept. 19, hosting Hinds on Sept. 26, traveling to Jones College on Oct. 5, hosting Southwest on Oct. 12 for Homecoming, visiting Gulf Coast on Oct. 17 and then welcoming Delta to Poplarville on Oct. 24 for Sophomore Night.
PRCC FOOTBALL BROADCASTS
All Pearl River football games will once again be livestreamed at PRCCAthletics.com and PRCCMedia.com. Games will also be broadcast on WRJW 1320 AM, WCJU 1450 AM in Columbia, WCJU 104.9 FM in Prentiss, and both WHSY 950 AM and WHSY 105.9 FM in Hattiesburg.
Individuals who have an Amazon Fire Stick or Roku device can also stream PRCC broadcast by downloading the "Pearl River CC" channel from the app store.