When the Stone High Tomcats jog into Picayune’s Lee-Triplett Stadium on Friday night, a former student will face his mentor for the first time.
Dodd Lee — who recently saw his name added to Picayune’s stadium as one of the state’s most respected coaches — will play host to Stone head coach John Feaster, a former star defensive lineman and assistant coach under Lee for the Maroon Tide.
Lee and Feaster are two pieces of a coaching tree that developed roots in Pearl River County and is gradually branching out across the Coast.
Seth Smith, who played high school football at Pearl River Central and later played defense with Feaster at Pearl River Community College, also worked for Lee at Picayune early in his career. Smith, who is Lee’s son-in-law, is now the head coach at East Central in Jackson County, where he has turned around a program Lee also coached from 1990 to 1995.
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Feaster and Smith point to Lee as having played a huge role in their development as football coaches. And they also owe a great deal to D’Iberville head coach Eric Collins, who hired both as assistants while he was turning around the Pearl River Central program.
Feaster, 35, and Smith, 34, rely on the knowledge they picked up under their mentors as they build winners at their new schools. Feaster has Stone High off to a 5-2 start in his first year on the job, putting the program on track for its first winning season since a 6-5 campaign in 2009. East Central is 5-3 in Smith’s fourth year on the job and features the nation’s leading rusher in junior Tony Brown, who has 2,255 yards rushing and 24 scores.
It’s no surprise to Lee that Feaster and Smith have found success early in their careers as head coaches.
“I expected them to succeed because I know them as people,” he said. “There was no doubt in my mind. They have every intangible it takes to be successful. They take responsibility for their own actions. They’re very motivated and very studious.
“All they’re going to do is get better as coaches. They’re not going to go backward.”
Though Smith and Feaster cut their teeth as young coaches under Lee, it was under Collins they finished their formative years as as assistants.
“It’s tremendously gratifying,” Collins said of seeing them succeed. “It’s nothing I’ve done. Those guys had a drive in them. I knew from the get go that those guys had an opportunity to be successful.”
Collins also points to Poplarville head coach Jay Beech, a former PRC assistant coach having a big year in South Mississippi. The Hornets are 5-1 and ranked No. 3 in this week’s Sun Herald Top 10.
All five coaches employ run-heavy schemes that range from Collins’ Wing-T offense to Smith’s I-formation.
We’re biased, but to us, Coach Lee and Coach Collins are like the Urban Meyer and Nick Saban of high school football.
Seth Smith, East Central coach
Beech had one year on Collins’ staff, and Feaster and Smith worked for several seasons under both Lee and Collins.
“We have both been very blessed to work for them,” Smith said. “We’re biased, but to us, Coach Lee and Coach Collins are like the Urban Meyer and Nick Saban of high school football. Both have been successful and their records speak for themselves. As youngsters, we were fortunate go in there, shut our mouths and sit and learn.”
What’s the biggest difference between Lee and Collins?
“They’re different personalities, but they both have the same competitive spirit, mindset,” Feaster said. “They force their coaches to compete and they hold their coaches accountable. Collins is more talkative than Lee, but at the end of the day, they’re the same. I’ll say Collins focuses on structure a little more. I’m a lot like Lee in the aspect that he focuses on winning. They’re the same at the end of the day.”
Limiting ‘butt chewings’
Lee, 58, has built a reputation as one of the state’s more intense coaches. His method delivered a pair of state titles in 2011 and 2013.
Smith knows Lee as well as anyone, on the field and off.
“He’s an amazing grandfather,” Smith said. “He loves his grandbabies and he’s awesome with them. On Friday night when the ball is kicked off, he is a man on a mission. He’s getting ready to rip into coaches players, referees, whoever. I used to play linebacker and you had to keep your head on a swivel. It’s the same thing coaching with him. You had to make sure you knew where he was at. If we gave up a first down, he was going to come get him a little bite.
“He made you better because you wanted to find ways to limit your butt chewings.”
Lee had kind words for Smith as a coach, but even more so as a son-in-law.
“He’s wonderful,” Lee said. “God sent him to our family.”
If I had an all-time team, he’d be on it.
Dodd Lee on his former student John Feaster
In Feaster, Lee saw the makings of a good football coach at a young age.
“He was outstanding,” Lee said. “He was very emotional, very coachable. He wanted to win. He put winning above everything. In today’s times, you have to get kids to sell out to winning and not necessarily stats. If you can do that over the course of your career, you’re going to have a consistent winner. He was that as a player 100 percent. If I had an all-time team, he’d be on it.”
Collins, a New Orleans native, started his coaching career in his hometown and moved to Mississippi when he landed the Tupelo job in 2004. After things went sour at Tupelo, one of the state’s Class 6A powers, Collins took over a struggling PRC program that had gone 0-11 before he got there.
He took the D’Iberville job this year after going 42-31 in six seasons at PRC, helping the Blue Devils reach the Class 5A South State title games in 2011 and 2012.
Ground and pound
Since taking the PRC job, Collins has employed a Wing-T offense that has proven a headache for opponents. Picayune, Stone High and East Central also have offenses that rank among the state’s best when it comes to the ground game.
The hot trend in high school and college football has been to spread the field and pass the ball, but these coaches have gone the other direction.
“Everybody wants to be pretty and spread it out,” Feaster said. “When you’ve got to get ugly every other week, it makes things tougher for you. (The Wing-T and other ground-based offenses) are making a comeback. When you’re facing Poplarville, D’Iberville or Picayune, you have to be ready in every aspect. When they sell out on the run, all you need is one completion. It’s very tough.”
Feaster has been witness to what happens in those ground and pound games when Collins’ team faced off against Lee’s Maroon Tide.
On Friday night when the ball is kicked off, he is a man on a mission. He’s getting ready to rip into coaches players, referees, whoever.
Seth Smith on his former mentor Dodd Lee
“The training room is going to be full on Monday and it’s going to be a quick game,” Feaster said.
It will be much of the same Friday night in Picayune when the mentor and student face off for the first time.
Smith faced his father-in-law in his first two seasons as head coach at East Central. Lee won the first game, 41-21, at East Central in 2013, but Smith’s Hornets pulled of a massive 31-28 upset the next season in Picayune.
“They were at the beginning of their program and it was great for them,” Lee said. “I was sick we lost, but I also know God lets everything happen for a reason. I was proud of him, proud for my daughter and grandchildren. Everything happens for a reason.”