MOUNT IDA — Coach Mike White will enter his 11th season as head coach of the Lions with experience and depth at his disposal as he works to return to War Memorial Stadium and a shot at another state championship.
Experience is the most important factor to any possible success this season in Mount Ida. The Lions return nine starters, with all of the skill positions filled by athletes who have started since 10th grade.
The Lions finished last year with an 8-3 record. They ended the season in second place in the 7-2A Conference behind Gurdon and ended their season with a loss to Brinkley in the opening round of the state playoffs.
If you ask Coach White or any of the seniors the season ending loss last year left a bad taste in their mouths. As 10th graders, the senior class blew past Murfreesboro before losing in a shutout to Bearden.
The senior class, led by quarterback TJ Wilson, is looking forward to a deep run into the playoffs this year, but they also understand that the journey to “The Rock” begins at home against Magazine on Sept. 5.
Offensively, the Lions won’t do anything drastically different. Coach White admitted that they have looked at the shotgun during the offseason and that we might see a little more of a spread, but when the going gets tough he will run the ball and throw from the play action.
Wilson steps under center for his final season as a Mount Ida Lion. His experience with the veer and keen eye for open receivers provides Coach White with a dual threat quarterback.
Wilson threw for 1,164 yards and ran 594 as the play caller last year. His experience and leadership will be key to any success the Lions might find this season.
“TJ has really stepped up as a leader this year. I saw it during the off season and it has carried through into the jamboree.” Coach White stated
Junior Hayden Bishop offers a more traditional look at quarterback as the backup. Bishop also played quarterback in junior high and can step in to take snaps when needed.
If experience is the strength of the Lions then there is no where on the team it is more evident than at the running back position.
Coach White has a wide range of backs at his disposal this year with no less than five running backs with starting experience.
Austin Hickman and Cody Robertson will be among the first to touch the ball on Friday nights. The two combined for 1817 yards and 17 rushing touchdowns last year. Both backs are north-south runners who hit the line hard. Hickman is a smaller back who explodes off the snap and uses his quickness to hit the holes before they close.
Robertson, who measures six feet tall and just over 200 pounds, steps in as the team’s power back. The bruiser hits the hole like a linebacker and has the ability to move a pile when needed.
Senior Caleb Jones, who will start at tight end, will also spend time in the backfield.
“We are going to move Caleb to the backfield some to give him a break from blocking every down at tight end.” Coach White explained.
Trevor Fryar, Bridger Farmer, Dallas Weston, and sophomore Cade Helms offer depth in the backfield.
Jesse Lowry, who is listed as a slot back, will line up behind Wilson from time to time as well. Lowry offers a lot of speed at whatever position he plays.
“He’s a threat to score every time he touches the ball.” Coach White said.
Lowry, who earned All-State Honors last year, will get the brunt of the receptions for the Lions. He was a true dual threat last year, recording 692 yards and 11 TDs on the ground and 659 yards and eight touchdowns in the air.
Austin McAdoo provides a tall target for Wilson thanks to his 6-1 frame. Josh Hendrix and Caleb Emery offer depth at the receiver position.
Michael Kesterson is the anchor of the offensive line at center. The veteran snapper is a natural leader on the field as he makes on the field adjustments before each snap.
Tyler Wingfield and Gunner Gilbert return at the guard positions, with Garrett Beggs offering depth on the inside.
Brody Davis, Logan Abernathy and Caleb Woodfield will rotate as tackles as the interior offensive line may be the deepest Coach White has coached.
Brett Cannon and Brooks Mayberry offer depth on the line.
Anthony Spurling, 6-2 and 185 pounds, stands in as the every down tight end. His size allows him to offer protection on the corners and his experience in the backfield makes him a threat as a ball carrier or receiver.
Senior Caleb Jones will step in when a second tight end is needed. He offers a legitimate threat as a receiver when needed.
Johnny Wheeler and Luke Forga offer depth at the tight end position.
Defensively, the Lions will get a new look thanks to the addition of new defensive coordinator Jackson Guerra. Coach Guerra, a four year starter at Ouachita Baptist University and a member of the 2007 Lion state championship team, brings a versatile scheme that moves the line backers around.
Coach White explained that the Lions will be lining up in a 4-3, but the new system can shift into 4-4, or a 5-2 without confusing anybody.
Caleb Jones steps back in at middle linebacker for a final time. Jones has been among the leading tacklers the past two years, recording 237 tackles in that time.
Cody Robertson and Tyler Wingfield return as starters as linebackers. Coach White stated that sophomore Cade Helms will play a lot at linebacker with Trevor Fryar also seeing time.
The new look at linebacker complements a big front line. Logan Abernathy and Anthony Spurling return as starters at defensive end, while Gunner Gilbert, Caleb Jones and Michael Kesterson rotating on the inside, with Brody Davis and Brooks Mayberry ready to step in at any time.
Jesse Lowery returns as a starting safety who will roll up and help at linebacker, with TJ Wilson filling the other safety role.
Bridger Farmer and Austin Hickman will rotate in at the corner position with Austin McAdoo returning as a starter at cornerback.
The versatile Hayden Bishop offers depth at any of the defensive back positions, as does Josh Hendrix.
Sophomore Tyler Allenbrand, a recent move-in, brings his skills as a soccer player to the special teams. Coach White stated that he has him penciled in as the team’s place kicker, while Cody Robertson’s strong leg has marked him as the kickoff guy and punter.
“Jesse Lowery is the one we hope they kick off to, but we know they won’t.” Coach White joked while discussing the kickoff return game.
Joining Jesse in the backfield will be Austin Hickman, TJ Wilson, Cade Helms and Caleb Jones.
“We can put some points up on special teams too, which would be nice.” Coach White stated.
Guerra is one of three new coaches helping out this year.
Guerra’s championship legacy and college experience is priceless according to Coach White. The hometown product steps in as the new defensive coordinator.
Ethan Crocker, a graduate of Murfreesboro High School, was hired as an assistant baseball coach and football coach. Coach White stated that Crocker is a high character guy who expects a lot out of each and every athlete.
He will coach secondary and wide receivers.
“All of these guys are high character guys and the kind we want around our kids.” Coach White said of the new additions to the coaching staff.
Coach Zack Wuichet will work as a volunteer coach this year. He will use his experience as a defensive backs coach at Warren to help shore up pass protection. Wuchet is also the great nephew of former Lion coach, Preston Stidman.
The Mount Ida Lions open the 2015 season at home Friday, September 4, against Magazine. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. at Preston Stidman Field.