Pearl River football enters 2021 with more experience

Dylan Dunaway-PRCC

POPLARVILLE, Miss. — The 2020 season was challenging for a number of reasons. Not only was it Pearl River head coach Seth Smith’s first season coaching above the high school level, but he also had to play in what has often been deemed the toughest league in America, the MACCC.

Instead of folding under the pressure, the Wildcats were competitive last season and Smith used the experience as a learning opportunity and a way to improve heading into the 2021 football season.

“From a coaching standpoint, we’ve learned a lot,” Smith said. “We were all a bunch of high school coaches before we got here. One major thing is that we now have some experience in the league which lets you know how far that the gap we have to close is. Going into this year, we know the kids. Every young man here is a kid that we kept or brought in.

“We will come into this season knowing our foundations on offense, defense and special teams. There is no more gray area.”

OFFENSE

Despite the unorthodox season, the Wildcats had success in 2020 as they led the league in rushing with 1,233 yards and finishing third in total offensive with 2,283 yards.

Even though the Wildcats return nine starters, fans can expect to see a different look offense throughout the 2021 season.

With the hiring of former Ole Miss quarterback and Coahoma offensive coordinator Bo Wallace, Pearl River’s scheme is evolving to implement more multiple concepts in hopes of taking the offense to the next level.

Fall camp has provided a battle at the quarterback position between Coahoma transfer Bryce Wallace (Pulaski, Tenn.; Giles County) and Dustin Allison (Pass Christian). Allison redshirted in ’20 for PRCC after a prolific prep career, leading the Pirates to an 8-4 record as a senior while passing for 3,123 yards and 35 touchdowns. Wallace, meanwhile, helped lead CCC to a 3-2 record, completing 58 passes for 673 yards and four touchdowns.

“Reps have mostly been split between Dustin and Bryce,” Smith said. “Both are doing very well, so we feel like we can have a lot of success with either one of them.

The wide receiver corp returns several impact players including Latreal Jones (Taylorsville), Tavion Smith (Hattiesburg; Oak Grove), Josh Sanders (Magee) and Javo Thurman (Magee).

Jones, who holds an Auburn offer among others, was one of the top receiving options in the country during the 2020 season. The versatile receiver caught 33 passes for 415 yards and two touchdowns. His 33 receptions and 415 yards were fifth and 17th in the NJCAA, respectively. Jones was recently named Preseason First Team All-America by JCGridiron.com.

Smith’s production was valuable down the stretch, hauling in nine passes for 137 yards and a touchdown.

Sanders’ speed and the 6-foot-4 Thurman’s size will be valuable in the receiving game in ’21.

The ground game will be led by returners Chris Holifield, Jr. (Mobile, Ala.; Leflore) and Will Young (Moss Point; East Central) as well as South Alabama transfer Tony Brown (Hurley; East Central).

Holifield (pictured) was a lethal runner and pass-catcher for the Wildcats, rushing 27 times for 238 yards and a touchdown and catching 14 passes for 126 yards and one touchdown.

“Chris had a really good spring and fall camp,” Smith said. “He’s an explosive running back who I underutilized last year. He will mostly be at running back, but we can put him out wide some too.”

Young was a do-it-all running back for the Wildcats last season who finished with 249 yards and a team-high three rushing touchdowns.

“Will Young just does everything,” Smith said. “I compare him to Taysom Hill. He’s like a Swiss Army Knife.”

Brown will be a valuable member of the offense and comes to Pearl River with Division I experience.

“Anytime that you bring in the Gatorade Player of the Year it’s incredible,” Smith said. “He elevates your program both on and off the field. He’s a high-character kid and always has a great attitude. It was a seamless transition bringing him in.”

While playing for Smith at East Central High School, Brown rushed for an astonishing 6,156 yards and 87 touchdowns.

The group of tight ends will be led by Jytireus Smith (Gulfport) and converted defensive lineman Gage Glover (Brooklyn; Forrest County AHS)

“Jytireus and Gage are natural leaders,” Smith said. “They embody everything you want in a football player”

The offensive line will be led by two returning starters in Donavan Shields (Hurley; East Central) and JuVonta Raymond (Picayune).

DEFENSE

On the opposite side of the ball, Smith feels that his defensive unit will take a step up from last year.

“I think we will be so much better defensively that it won’t even be comparable,” he said. “We’re returning older guys who have been in coach (defensive coordinator Ty) Trahan’s system, so their knowledge is high. Our defensive coaches will have much higher knowledge because they were in the league last season and now know what to expect.”

Returning to the Wildcat defense is one of the top linebackers in the country in Noah Mitchell (Leakesville; Greene County) who finished last season second and third in the nation in tackles-per-game and total tackles with 13.8 and 83, respectively. His season resulted in a First Team All-MACCC South Division selection and a JCGridiron.com First Team All-America selection.

“Noah checks all of the boxes,” Smith said. “He makes your job easier as a coach. He puts in the extra work and the younger guys watch that. With leaders like him, you get to a point in your program where the players are almost running it themselves.”

The linebacker group also includes South Alabama transfer Zach Jones (Moss Point; East Central), converted defensive lineman Elijah Jenkins (Picayune), freshman Justin Jefferson (Memphis, Tenn.; Bartlett) and Chanton McCray (Taylorsville).

Prior to signing with USA, Jones had was a standout for the ECHS Hornets, tallying 184 tackles, five sacks and four interceptions.

Leading the pass rush along the defensive line is sophomore Jaylen Glaude (Ocean Springs). Glaude earned a JCGridiron.com First Team All-America selection and a Second Team All-MACCC South Division selection after finishing the ’20 season with 32 tackles, eight tackles for loss, and two sacks.

“I think Jaylen Glaude is one of the most underrated players not only in the league but in the country,” he said. “I absolutely believe he is an SEC football player.”

Returning to lead the secondary is Luther Woullard II (Petal) and Dajour Brown (Biloxi). Woullard recorded 44 tackles, four pass breakups and one forced fumble which earned him a JCGridiron.com First Team All-America selection. In limited appearances, Brown recorded three tackles.

Newcomers who will help the secondary include Southwest transfer Michael Carraway, Jr. (Bassfield; Jefferson Davis) and Micah Cherry (Petal).

“I’m extremely confident and optimistic with this group,” Smith said. “I am expecting big things.”

SPECIAL TEAMS

Returning to be the long snapper and punter are Kyle Stockstill (Picayune) and Gayden Hence (Hattiesburg). Hence punted 28 times for 1,040 yards, including a long of 62. As a freshman in ’19, Hence was one of the top special teamers in the nation. The All-MACCC selection punted 64 times for 2,503 yards. His 39.1-yard average ranked 13th nationally, while his total yardage was second.

“It helps so much having Kyle and Gayden back on special teams,” Smith said. “There’s a lot of experience between those two guys.”

High school standout Michael Owens (Hattiesburg; Oak Grove) will take over the kicking duties for the Wildcats.

“Michael is not only strong in the weight room, but he has a leg on him,” Smith said. “He can hit them from 50 plus yards. He’s been great so far and he played in a lot of big games for Oak Grove.”

SCHEDULE

The Wildcats open the season at home on Sept. 2 against Mississippi Delta. Following a road game at Coahoma on Sept. 9, Pearl River opens MACCC South Division play at rival Gulf Coast on Sept. 16.

PRCC returns home to face Copiah-Lincoln on Sept. 23. After a road contest at East Central on Sept. 30, the Wildcats have a two-game homestand. PRCC will play Holmes on Oct. 7 for Homecoming and then welcome Jones College to Poplarville on Oct. 14 for the annual "Cat Fight."

PRCC's final road competition is slated for Oct. 21 at Southwest. The Wildcats will conclude the 2021 regular season on Oct. 28 against Hinds.

All home games are set for 7 p.m. kickoffs.

TUNE IN

The Wildcats will once again livestream all games for free at PRCCMedia.com/gold. Fans who have Roku, Amazon Fire or Apple TV devices can also watch the Wildcat broadcasts by downloading the "Pearl River CC" channel from their app. stores.

Games will also be available over the air in Pearl River County by tuning into 1320 AM and 106.9 FM., in Columbia on WCJU 102.7 FM and 1450 AM, and in Hattiesburg on WHSY 105.9 FM and 950 AM. The radio broadcast is also available at WRJWRadio.com and by downloading the WRJW app.

@WRJW