POPLARVILLE, Miss. — A lot of 2020 has been unprecedented.
But ask new Pearl River football coach Seth Smith about what preseason has been like, and outside of masks, social distancing and additional sterilizing and cleaning around Dobie Holden Stadium, "it has been similar to any fall camp I have been a part of."
With less than a week before the new-look Wildcats open the abbreviated 2020 football season against rival Mississippi Gulf Coast, Smith said he likes how his squad is taking shape.
"Our kids have really adapted to what we are asking from them," he said. "Every program has a different culture and obviously there is more than one way to do it. We are going to attack it every day with a great attitude and great effort and I feel like our kids have bought into that.
"We'll know what we have for sure in a week when we play the best team in the country."
Smith's mantra of "RARE — Relentless Attitude, Relentless Effort" is a perfect encapsulation of what it will take to be successful in a year that has been unlike any other in recent memory.
"We talk about that a lot," he said. "That just means in your pursuit of football and pursuit of life, do not let an object get in your way. Our goal is to be successful and win the game so we are going to fight and do whatever we have to do to achieve that goal."
Both sides of the ball will look different under Smith in 2020. The new coach declined to tip his hand too much when asked about the new offensive philosophy, simply stating, "I hope we play fast and physical. That's the goal. If we can't do that when 'Goliath' rolls in here, we're going to be in a bind."
Greer played a reserve role in 2019, while Davidson transferred in from Arkansas-Monticello.
"I feel extremely confident that we can win with either guy," Smith said. "Both guys will be given ample opportunities to prove that."
Smith said the two are similar in a lot of ways.
"They are both competitors and are winners," he said. "We feel privileged to have them on our team."
The Wildcats feel fortunate to have depth at the running back position. Returning to lead the group will be Dymarcus Griffin (Richton), who rushed for 303 yards and four touchdowns a year ago.
Leading a quartet of newcomers is Chris Holifield Jr. (Mobile, Ala.; Leflore).
"He has had a tremendous camp," Smith said. "He's probably one of the fastest kids on the team and he also does a good job of catching the ball out of the backfield."
"We probably have more depth there than anywhere else on the field," Smith said.
The Wildcats also have favorable numbers at receiver and H-back, with four returners and a converted athlete from the '19 roster.
"Man, they are big. We have some big bodies there," Smith said. "We have enough skill at receiver to compete. I really like our size and depth there, which is good because that's a position we will rely on heavily throughout the year."
Sophomore receiver Latreal Jones (Taylorsville) leads the group after catching 14 passes for 245 yards and a touchdown as a freshman. Liberty commit Stetson Moore (Philadelphia) caught nine passes for 130 yards after transferring into the program from Mississippi Valley. Trent Williams (Petal) caught seven passes for 89 yards. Tight end Mario Barnes (Poplarville) caught two passes.
Joining the group in '20 will be converted quarterback Javo Thurman (Magee). A dynamic playmaker, Smith said the position change was a no-brainer when he saw Thurman on the field.
"When you look at him, he's 6-4, 205 and runs a 4.5 (second 40-yard dash). We didn't feel like quarterback was the best use of his ability," Smith said. "He has too much ability not to be on the field and with his basketball background he can really high-point the ball. He has done a great job of adapting."
Joining the aforementioned receivers this year will be a group led by Tavion Smith (Hattiesburg; Oak Grove), Liam Breithaupt (Hattiesburg; Oak Grove), Josh Sanders (Magee), Eric Robinson (Hattiesburg; Oak Grove), Rhyen Brisco (Hattiesburg) and West Alabama transfer Max Harmon (Oxford; Jackson Academy). Jordan Foushee (Kiln; Hancock) and Jytireus Smith (Gulfport) will also receive ample looks at H-back.
The offensive line will be PRCC's most inexperienced group in 2020 as only Hayden West (Leakesville; Greene County) returns from a year ago.
"We have a lot of youth there but I'm confident in the guys we have," Smith said. "Hayden has had a tremendous camp and we look for him to be a leader for us."
Joining West along the offensive front will be Desmond Harris (Moss Point), Dakota Graham (Hurley; East Central), JuVonta Raymond (Picayune), Austin Swartz (Purvis), Eli Erkhart (McLain; Greene County), Caleb Fortenberry (Hattiesburg; Oak Grove), Donavan Shields (Hurley; East Central), Jaylin Williams (Hattiesburg) and Lucas Hall (Mobile, Ala.; Faith Academy).
On the other side of the ball the Wildcats return four of PRCC's top 10 tacklers from a year ago. The unquestioned leader of the group is Noah Mitchell (Leakesville; Greene County), who racked up 91 total tackles a year ago to finish among the nation's best.
"He has had a great camp," Smith said. "He slimmed down to 215 and is moving great. Obviously, we're going to look to him to lead us and I expect another great year."
The rest of the linebacking group features some more familiar names to Wildcat fans with the likes of returners Branson Davis (Hurley; East Central) and Ra'Sheim Jordan (Hattiesburg); the duo combined for 47 total tackles as freshmen.
Smith said returners Ricco Moore (Moss Point; St. Martin) and Damien Lynch (Pearl) will be featured in a hybrid position. As freshmen, Moore finished fourth on the team with 46 tackles; Lynch racked up 16.
The most experienced group of Wildcats is likely the secondary with five sophomores — excluding Moore and Lynch.
"There is no position on our team that works harder than those guys," Smith said. "We like the experience and leadership that is returning back there.
"They're very instinctive, read routes well and put themselves in position to make plays."
Nijewel Coleman (Sumrall) led the group a year ago with two interceptions and 22 tackles. Antonio Barnes (Poplarville) registered 16. Luther Woullard II (Petal) recorded 11, while Jairus McFarland (Hattiesburg) made four before suffering a season-ending injury. The fifth sophomore is a newcomer to the Wildcats in Northwest transfer Ben Johnson (Hattiesburg; Oak Grove). As a Ranger, Johnson recorded four tackles.
Smith pointed to the defensive front as a group that has a lot of potential in '20. Jaylen Glaude (Ocean Springs), Jarid Johnson (Pascagoula) and Javion Evans (Ludlow; Brandon) are the lone returners from a year ago. Johnson led the trio with 20 tackles.
Heading into game week, Glaude has been one of the more impressive Wildcats.
"He has been tremendous. If he has a good year, he'll play Division I football," Smith said. "He realizes how much ability he has. When he started he did not have a great motor but he has really turned it on and been a different player."
Joining the sophomores will be Jamarius Lewis (Atmore, Ala.; Escambia County), Joshua Bolton (Leakesville; Greene County), Elijah Jenkins (Picayune), Gage Glover (Brooklyn; Forrest County AHS), Tank Robinson (Biloxi), Coldan Carter (Petal) and Sean Herbert (New Orleans; Chalmette).
"We have a lot of tough guys with great motors up front," Smith said. "That group has to be tough. If you're not, you're not going to be very good on defense.
"They have to set the tone."
Special teams will once again feature several household names for the Wildcats. Davis is back to handle kickoff duties and Kyle Stockstill (Picayune) is once again the long snapper.
Handling kicking and punting duties for PRCC will be Gayden Hence (Hattiesburg). The sophomore was among the best in Mississippi a year ago. He converted 5 of 8 field goals and 10 of 13 extra points while also averaging 39.1 yards per punt.
Returners will rotate, Smith said.
The Wildcats will play six Mississippi Association of Community Colleges Conference South Division games, opening at home Oct. 1 against rival Mississippi Gulf Coast. PRCC's other two home games are Oct. 15 against East Central and Nov. 5 against Southwest.
All home games will kickoff at 7 p.m.
Road contests include trips to Copiah-Lincoln (Oct. 8), Jones College (Oct. 29) and Hinds (Nov. 12).
In addition to the abbreviated schedule, the 2020 season will be unique in other ways. The NJCAA ultimately chose to postpone the '20 season until the spring but the MACCC schools received a waiver to continue on this fall. As a result, the MACCC champion will be ineligible for the national championship.
Due to the ongoing pandemic along with state and local guidelines, capacity at Dobie Holden Stadium will be extremely limited.
Although general admission tickets for Thursday's opener have already sold out, fans can purchase individual tickets for PRCC's two remaining home games by the business office in the Ted J. Alexander Administration Building on Mondays of game week (Oct. 12 and Nov. 2). General admission tickets are $10. Faculty, staff and students can pickup their free tickets on Tuesdays (Sept. 29, Oct. 13, Nov. 3) by stopping by the athletics table in the Great Hall, located in Crosby Hall between 8 a.m. and noon.
Tickets will not be available for purchase online or over the phone.
Fans are encouraged to check PRCCAthletics.com for more policy changes.
STREAMING + RADIO
PRCCMedia.com will once again be the digital home for Pearl River Wildcat Athletics in 2020-21. All football games will be livestreamed in addition to being carried on WRJW 1320 AM and WRJWRadio.com.
Carey Meitzler will return as the play-by-play voice of the Wildcats for both the stream and radio. He'll be joined once again by Barry Harper as the color analyst. Jacob Hickman will provide insight from the sidelines.