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Pearl River football looking to raise the bar in 2023

Dylan Dunaway / PRCC Sports Information Director


POPLARVILLE, Miss. — Week in and week out in 2022, the Pearl River football team was accomplishing something that hadn't been done in a while. Heading into the 2023 season, the Wildcats hope to continue to pile up new achievements in year four of the Seth Smith era.

"Last season was a culmination of two years of hard work by our coaches and players," head coach Seth Smith said. "We finished the season 6-3 and on a three-game winning streak. It was the first time in 12 years to win six games. All of that was a product of the hard work the coaches and players put in."

Smith talked about the expectations going into the season fresh off the success of last year.

"We're just hoping for a carryover. We have a lot of guys coming back who were on the team last year. They understand that we were a game away from potentially winning the whole south, but we didn't finish it," Smith said. "We have to take it one game at a time and do everything we can to make it into the playoffs. If you get into the playoffs, then you get the chance to potentially play for a conference championship and a national championship.

"If we take it one game at a time and focus on each game, we can give ourselves an opportunity to do that." OFFENSE Leading the offense in 2023 will be quarterback Dustin Allison (Pass Christian), who transferred back to Pearl River after spending 2022 with Southern Miss. Allison was a Wildcat in the 2021 season and passed for 269 yards and two touchdowns.

"We just weren't great offensively in 2021," Smith said. "We didn't have a great scheme and things like that. Dustin really endured it and had a great attitude through it all. He was afforded an opportunity to go to Southern Miss for a year and then decided to transfer back to us. It was a no-brainer when he reached out. He's got loads of experience, and we feel like we're in a position now to show what he can really do."

Other members of the Wildcat quarterback room are redshirt freshman Ty Hullette (Senatobia) and true freshman Christian Turner (Orange Grove; Harrison Central).

"Hullette came to us last year and took a redshirt. He's a fantastic athlete and his throwing ability has continued to improve, so he's now a real dual-threat guy. Christian Turner is just a winner. Two of the years he was a starter at Harrison Central, they had some of the best years in school history. We really like where we are at the position. We have confidence in all three guys."

The running back position was a true battle throughout the fall. Due to an injury to the expected starter, numerous guys fought for the job. While Pearl River employed a bell cow last year with Nick Milsap, fans will see a committee in 2023. Players who will feature in the group are redshirt sophomore Kayvon Barnes (Pascagoula), Emmanuel Bentley (Gulfport), Keyshawn Graham (Tuscaloosa, Ala.; American Christian Academy) and Darnell Smith Jr. (Picayune).

The wide receiver group is led by returners Marquis McCoy (Crestview, Fla.) and Jordan Coleman (Hattiesburg; Oak Grove), as well as newcomer Y'Quann Townsend (Marrero, La.; John Ebert). McCoy should slide into the role that Christopher Holifield Jr. had last season as the slot receiver. Last year, McCoy caught 27 passes for 188 yards and two touchdowns. Coleman hauled in three passes for 30 yards and a score. The 6-foot-4 Townsend transferred to PRCC from Southern University and should make an immediate impact.

The Wildcats will have five guys occupying the H-Back position this season, including Jared Huff (Moss Point; East Central), Ryder Island (Kiln; Hancock), Omarion Jackson (Forest; Scott Central), Braxton Miller (Oak Grove) and Tucker Smith (Poplarville).

Changes along the offensive line will be widespread in 2023 after all five starters from last year's squad graduated. Luckily for the Wildcats, all five starters this season have college experience. Taking over along the line are Harding transfer Tyrus Burton Jr. (Pascagoula), Conner Davis (Poplarville), Ladner Davis (Lucedale; George County), Jaylin Jackson (Greenville; Northwest Rankin and Andrew Lee (Picayune; Pearl River Central).

"We had five sophomore starters last season. The good thing for us is that all five guys taking over are sophomores," Smith said. "We're not having to bring in guys who haven't played at the college level. The guys who are going to start this year know who we are and what we do." DEFENSE Filling the void that All-American defensive end Bryan Whitehead II left behind is going to be no easy task for the Wildcats in 2023, but Smith feels that PRCC has more depth along the defensive line than ever before.

"You can't replace a kid like Whitehead with just one player. You need multiple guys to fill that void," Smith said. "We don't have Whitehead, but we do feel like we have a lot more depth on the defensive line this year. They just have to learn to keep putting in that effort all the time."


Players who could see time at the position are Charles Atkins Jr. (Metairie, La.; East Jefferson), Damion Gooden (Friendship; Presbyterian Christian), Olajahwon Harris (Pascagoula), Tyree Jackson (Hattiesburg; Oak Grove), Cedric McGill (Hattiesburg) and Kendrick Simms Jr. (Slidell, La.; St. Thomas Aquinas).

Eli Hackbarth (17) celebrates a play last season.


The linebacker position remains in good hands even with the departure of Alabama signee Justin Jefferson as JCGridiron.com watch list member Eli Hackbarth (Birmingham, Ala.; Oak Mountain) is back to lead the charge. Hackbarth finished the 2022 campaign with 57 tackles, five tackles for loss and one fumble recovery. Ahmad Harmon (Poplarville) and Dalton Lee (Carriere; Pearl River Central) have been battling to play alongside Hackbarth.


"Eli had a wonderful spring and has had a great fall," Smith said. "He will be one of our alphas on defense. I think he's primed to have a spectacular year. I'd put him up against anyone in the state."


The defensive backs group has been special for Pearl River over the last few seasons, and it should be another fantastic year in 2023. Sophomores Kam Norwood (Hattiesburg) and Caleb Williams (Biloxi; D'Iberville) are returning to lead the way in that group. Norwood collected 28 tackles, three interceptions and two pass breakups during his freshman campaign. He was named to JCGridiron.com's watch list. Williams had 31 tackles, two interceptions and two pass breakups. He also returned one interception for a touchdown.


"Coach (Ta'Ron) Sims does a phenomenal job with his group," Smith said. "We have four or five guys in the secondary that will have Division I offers before the season begins. Kam and Caleb are as good as any that we've had here. They're dynamic, physical, fast and are great leaders. Both of those guys will be part of the core of our defense.

Other players who will feature in the position group are Dedrian Alexander (Pass Christian; Jefferson Davis County), Zavier Fairley (Wiggins; Stone), Deandre Shorts (Bassfield; Jefferson Davis County) and Dwight Williams (D'Iberville). SPECIAL TEAMS Pearl River returns one of the best punters in the country in All-MACCC performer Corblin McGinn (D'Iberville). Last season, McGinn punted 39 times for 1,561 yards. Sixteen of his punts were downed inside the 20-yard line. Heading into the 2023 season, McGinn also has a chance to handle kickoff and field goal opportunities.


"We had one of the best defenses in the country last year, and what helps that is field position," Smith said. "When you have a punter like him that can flip the field, it makes it a lot easier for your defense. This year, he will be doing punting and kicking."

Freshman J.P. Parrish (Sumrall) will be another kicking option for the Wildcats. Zachary Harrison (Hattiesburg; Sumrall) will be the long snapper.


GETTING STARTED

The Wildcats will hit the road for their season opener to take on Holmes. Pearl River turned in a dominant performance against the Bulldogs in 2022, winning 49-24.

PRCC leads the all-time series against the Bulldogs 38-13-2. Tickets for the game can be purchased for $10 at the gate. Only cash will be accepted.


TUNE IN

All Pearl River football games are livestreamed 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. The radio broadcast is also available at WRJWRadio.com and by downloading the WRJW app.


CASHLESS BOX OFFICE

To help improve traffic flow and fan experience, PRCC athletics box offices will be cashless in 2022-23. Only credit and debit cards will be accepted at the box office. Fans are encouraged to beat the lines and purchase their tickets in advance at PRCCAthletics.com/Tickets.


For the latest on Pearl River Community College athletics, follow us on Twitter (@PRCCAthletics) and Facebook (PRCCAthletics).

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