There’s heat and then there’s D’Iberville heat.
Eric Collins learned first hand last season what it feels like if the Warrior faithful begin to have doubts, however minuscule they might be. In his debut at DHS, the Warriors lost by 28 to Picayune and Collins already felt the pressure.
An experienced coach, Collins quickly corrected course and led the Warriors to an 8-4 finish that included a Region 4-6A title and a playoff berth.
“It’s kind of funny because when you go into your first year at most schools, the expectations aren’t real high. But when you walk into D’Iberville, it doesn’t matter if it’s your first year or 98th; the expectations are always high,” Collins said. “We graduated some pretty good guys in the secondary, but other than that we pretty much return the core nucleus of our team. We’re trying to pick up where we left off.
“Expectations are still high, but I think we’re a lot further along.”
Now entering his second season at D’Iberville, Collins knows exactly what to expect from both his players and a fanbase that’s hungry for its first state championship since 2002.
The early turning point a year ago for D’Iberville was the emergence of quarterback Michael Kozlowski, Collins said. Only a sophomore, and in a new Wing-T offense, Kozlowski was a calming presence, which helped the Warriors get on track.
“We had some quarterback issues we had to get fixed. Koz did a great job stepping in and giving us some stability at that spot. That was what we really needed,” Collins said of Kozlowski, who threw for 779 yards and five touchdowns. “I think the other pieces were really kind of in place, so once we got that settled, and the kids gelled in the new offense, we got better and better.”
Kozlowski is back as a junior, but Collins will likely have a decision to make under center as Jayden Walley, along with his brother, Justin, transferred in from Greene County.
Walley’s athleticism was on display last year as the freshman passed for 1,291 yards, rushed for 1,060 and accounted for 31 scores.
With both players on the roster, Collins said he likes the conundrum he faces.
“What we’ve decided to do is, obviously you cannot deny the talent of either one of those guys,” he said. “Koz brings his skillsets to the table, but Jayden brings a whole different level of speed and athleticism. We’re really happy with both of them. Both guys are running with the No. 1s and we’re just going to play it out.
“If both guys do a great job, we’ll play both guys. If one guy emerges, we’ll play one guy. We’ll just have to wait and see.”
Collins said he expects a lot from his running back group, and, honestly, how could he not when his Wing-T offense is built off of the success of consistently running the football.
The Warriors lost 1,785 yards and 26 touchdowns with graduations of Micah Booker and Kahlil McCray, but Collins remains confident returning wingback Jaquavis Foster can shoulder the load, while fullback Jordan Hartley and fellow wingback Devon Dixson get acclimated to starting roles.
“You know what you get with Jaquavis. He really is special,” Collins said of Foster, who rushed for 1,043 yards and 10 touchdowns. “What makes him special is, he’s not a real big guy so when you look at him you just say, he’s just a little guy, but he really brings a punch and is willing to block. In our offense, if you’re not willing to block in the backfield you’re not going to play.
“He brings the whole package to the table.”
Up front, center Louis Paul Smith will lead the offensive linemen. He’ll likely be joined by Colton Clark, Ridge Murphy, Quincy Brown, Brandon Knue and Trenton Loper. Only Loper is a sophomore.
“Our guys are seasoned,” Collins said. “Even our juniors are pretty seasoned so I’m pretty excited about them.”
Although he only caught three passes for 98 yards and a touchdown last season, expect Layton Businelle to step up and be a leader in the passing game.
D’Iberville native and 2002 DHS graduate Jason Hockaday is back to lead the defense. After assuming the role of position coach last year, Hockaday will call the defensive plays for the sixth time in in his 10 years as coach.
Hockaday said the defense will revert back to what he used to do with a multiple look.
“We’ll run a 3-4, a three stack, a four-front,” he said. “Whatever the offense presents to us, we’ll be able to adjust to it.”
Like the offense, the defense graduated some difference makers like Tyler Barnes, who’s now at Southern Miss, but Hockaday is optimistic his group can make a difference in 2017.
“We have a good group of kids. We haven’t found that team chemistry just yet, but our coaching staff is really meshing well and I think that will filter down to the kids,” he said. “I think it’s really important everybody is on the same page. I think team chemistry is going to win us some ball games. I really do. There’s something special with this group.”
Expect defensive end Jacob Quave, linebacker Chad Searight and safety Fred Green to be the defensive leaders.
Outside of Barnes, Searight was the only Warrior defender last year with triple-digit tackles, finishing with 104. The senior also registered six tackles for loss, two forced fumbles and one interception.
“He definitely has the size. He’s football savvy. He knows where the ball is going to be when it’s snapped,” Hockaday said. “He gets to the football. He has a nose to the football.”
Green has big shoes to fill, replacing Barnes in a heavily renovated secondary. As a junior in 2016, Green recorded 64 tackles with five passes defended, three fumble recoveries and an interception.
“Fred is just a dynamic player,” Hockaday said. “He can come down and make a tackle, he uses his eyes real well, he reads his keys and is in a good position to make plays, and he can really go up and get a football. He plays center field really well at free safety.”
Quave will provide heart and a touch of snarl to the defensive line.
“Jacob Quave is your typical blue collar D’Iberville football player,” he said. “He’s a kid who is not very big, but hard nosed and gets after it. He plays technique football with an attitude and plays bigger than he is.”
Senior kicker/punter Brady Groce is somewhat of an X-factor for D’Iberville. Last season, Groce averaged 32.5 yards per punt, but where he really excelled was the kicking game. He recorded 17 touchbacks, converted 50 of 51 PATs and made all five field goals with a long of 43 yards. He finished the year with 65 points.
He’ll team up with long snapper Richard Landy, who Collins praised for his consistency.
Aug. 18: At Tylertown
Aug. 25: At Picayune
Sept. 1: At Madison Central
Sept. 8: West Florida
Sept. 22: At Biloxi
Sept. 29: Ocean Springs
Oct. 6: Pascagoula
Oct. 13: At Hancock
Oct. 20: Gulfport
Oct. 27: Harrison Central
Nov. 3: At St. Martin
1 Marquis Whitley
2 Jordan Hartley
3 Jaquavis Foster
4 Fred Green
5 Ezekial Wright
6 Shemand Hoye
7 Jayden Walley
8 Cameron Fairley
9 Thomas King
10 Brady Groce
11 Justin Walley
12 Zhakary Andrews
14 Deanthony Goff
15 Michael Kozlowski
16 Dakota Litsey
17 Corblin McGinn
18 Layton Businelle
19 Erick Thacker
20 Richard Landry
21 Chad Searight
22 Thomas Vo
23 Chris Clayton
24 Dylan Forge
25 Devon Dixson
27 Willie Reed
28 Tyler Krivanec
30 Josh Simpkins
32 Dayton Reed
33 Jacob Quave
34 Mason Furney
35 Gabe Bosarge
36 Seth Williams
38 Dalton Moore
42 Josh Quinn
44 Noah Seymour
46 Alex Nobles
51 Bryce Hall
52 Cameron Turman
53 Khris Barnett
54 Demitrius Perkins
55 Sebastian Machin
57 Justin Gonzalez
59 Nolan Black
60 Tommy Loper
61 Julian Patterson
65 William Duncan
66 Louis Paul Smith
68 Brandon Knue
69 Trenton Loper
70 Ridge Murphy
71 Quincy Brown
74 Will Stanton
75 Colton Clark
81 Trevor Curry
82 Anthony Husley
84 Cameron Waltman
90 Jay Stone
98 Delancio Parnell