Over the past three seasons, both Poplarville coach Jay Beech and St. Stanislaus quarterback Myles Brennan have achieved quite a bit.
Both have helped elevate their programs to new heights.
This year, Beach led Poplarville to its first Class 4A South State title and while Brennan’s Rockachaws came up short of achieving another state title, his numbers are undeniable.
As a result, Beech is Sun Herald’s 2016 Coach of the Year and Brennan is the Player of the Year.
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Entering the season, Poplarville expected to make a run at the Class 4A state championship. The Hornets had the Coast’s top backfield combinations in Jesse Pernell and Austin Bolton, two 1,300 yard rushers from last year.
Poplarville (12-2) lived up to the hype, reaching its first-ever 4A state title game and losing to Lafayette. Pernell and Bolton each rushed for over 1,700 yards in the Hornets’ Wing-T offense. Pernell finished with 1,830 yards and 27 touchdowns. Bolton added 1,746 yards and 21 scores. St. Martin and Lafayette were the only teams to beat the Hornets.
“It’s an honor to be named coach of the year,” Beech said. “Our great players and the assistant coaches led to our success.”
For the last two seasons, St. Stanislaus was the team to beat in 4A South. Once Mendenhall upset St. Stanislaus in the second round, Poplarville had a clear path to the state finals.
“We expected to see St. Stanislaus in the third round, but they lost,’’ Beech said. “We weren’t disappointed St. Stanislaus lost. With them out, we were able to make it through South state. You need those things to happen.”
The Hornets have made steady progress in Beech’s three seasons as head coach, going 29-10 during that stretch. He credits the teams’ off-season conditioning program as one of the reasons for building a winning program.
“Most of our success has come from the weight room,” Beech said. “We start every year in the weight room. We’ve also gotten better running the Wing-T. We’ve gotten better coaching the Wing-T and players have gotten better executing it. We’ve also got some hard-nosed kids who want to play defense.”
Beech, who was the Hornets’ offensive coordinator before being promoted to head coach, aims for another state championship run next season. Bolton returns for his senior season. Tyson Holston is expected to replace Pernell. Quarterback Antonio Barnes, who threw 12 TD passes, will be a junior.
“Getting to the state championship game was a dream for us, “ Beech said. “It was a great experience for us. We’re going to try harder to get back there and win it.”
Brennan continued to put up video game numbers as a senior despite plenty of outside distractions stemming from his high profile recruitment.
As a senior, Brennan’s counting numbers were actually down a touch from his gaudy sophomore and junior campaigns, yet he was more efficient.
Brennan completed 68.9 percent of his passes for 3,982 yards and 48 touchdowns. Despite throwing 324 passes during the regular season, Brennan wasn’t intercepted until the postseason. He also led SSC with 455 yards rushing and nine touchdowns, and finished with a career-best 137.6 quarterback rating.
Brennan set several new Mississippi career records this season, passing former Rockachaw Dylan Favre in touchdown passes (166) and passing yards (15,138).
“It’s definitely been an unforgettable high school career, one that will stick with me for a lifetime,” Brennan said. “I’m grateful and fortunate that I’ve been given these opportunities because many high school athletes aren’t afforded the same opportunities.”
Former SSC coach Bill Conides said Brennan grew a lot over the summer as a player, paving the way for his senior season.
“He understands football better. Mainly, he understands defenses better,” Conides said previously. “He understands blitzes, he understands protections, he understands coverages and he understands ultimately what concepts we need to run in order to beat specific coverages.
“He told me when he came back from the Elite 11, he said, ‘Coach, this is like slow motion.’ I think that’s a huge advantage and is a testament to the amount of time he has spent studying the game.”
Although his SSC career didn’t end hoisting the golden ball in Starkville after the Rockachaws were upset in the second round of the Class 4A playoffs at Mendenhall, Brennan has no regrets.
“I wouldn’t go back and change anything,” said Brennan, who led SSC to consecutive Class 4A South State titles in 2014 and ’15. “It has been a heckuva career and I’m looking forward to what’s ahead.”
Once the final horn sounds to conclude the Under Armour All-American Game on New Years Day in Orlando, Brennan’s storied high school career will come to a close and he’ll turn his attention to the next level. After briefly re-opening his recruitment in late November, Brennan reaffirmed his commitment to LSU on Dec. 15 and is once again all-in on the Tigers.
With his latest Sun Herald honor, Brennan can add another distinction to his resume as he’s the first three-time player of the year for football. Brennan joins basketball standouts Devin Booker (Moss Point) and Christa Reed (Bay) as the publication’s only other three-time honorees.