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Loaded East Central has shot to be class of 4A

The East Central High School football team has a chance to be one of the better teams on the Coast this season.
The East Central High School football team has a chance to be one of the better teams on the Coast this season. Special to the Sun Herald

The East Central football program has shown significant progress in each of Seth Smith's four seasons as head coach, but has yet to break through with a lengthy postseason run.

In 2017, the Hornets have a legitimate shot to be the class of 4A in the southern half of the state. That's major progress for a program that spent much of the last two decades as an also-ran in South Mississippi.

“We're going to stay humble and keep working hard,” Smith said. We've got nine starters back on offense and eight starters back on defense. These kids have been in the program four years. If they stay hungry and keep working hard, hopefully we can attain or goals.”

East Central loses its top offensive lineman from a year ago in Conner Estes, who is now a freshman at Louisiana Tech, but returns the vast majority of its key players. None more important than senior running back Tony Brown, who rushed for the second-most yardage in the nation among underclassmen last season.

Brown, who is a threat to take it the distance on each snap, ran 364 times for 3,317 yards and 41 touchdowns last year.

All eyes will be on Brown to see if he can top that performance. He spent a fair amount of time in the weight room in the offseason and has gained 15 pounds to check in at 5-foot-8, 180 pounds.

“I expect him to come back hungry,” Smith said. “He's worked hard to have a better senior season than his junior year.”

Brown, who has yet to garner a Division I scholarship offer, is far from the only reason for optimism for East Central.

Six-foot-six, 243-pound senior tight end Brad Cumbest verbally committed to Mississippi State over the summer after catching 30 passes for 575 yards and six touchdowns last season.

“His feet are quicker and his ball skills are better,” Smith said. “Anytime you get an offer from a school like Mississippi State you're going to gain a little confidence as well.”

Senior Rylee Brown is back as the team's starting quarterback and he'll work behind an experienced offensive line led by two tough senior tackles – Alberto Autrey (6-2, 272) and Wyatt Green. Both linemen have interest from several junior colleges and the 6-foot-3, 295-pound Green holds an offer from Div. II Arkansas-Monticello.

The other three offensive linemen are senior center Austin Kitchens (6-2, 255), junior guard Will Boone and senior guard Garrett Dobson.

“This line should be as good as any we've had,” Smith said.

Junior Ryan Evans (5-7, 205) will be the backup for Brown and he'll likely get his fair share of opportunities. Last year's No. 2 running back, Jesse Bradley, ran 142 times for 1,118 yards and 14 touchdowns.

Senior Louis Morgan, junior Caden Redman and fullback Dillon Greinstreiner will see time at fullback for the Hornets.

Cumbest, who will typically line up at split end, will join junior wingback Cameron Gray and junior tight end Camren Rouse as the targets in the passing game for Brown.

East Central returns eight starters on defense, including senior safety Andrew Seward, who led the Coast with 172 tackles last season.

“We list him as a free safety, but he plays in the box as an extension of our linebackers,” Smith said. “This will be his third year to start. Andrew Seward is as good as any defensive player I've coached.”

The linebacking corps should be a strength for the defense with senior Cade Miles, who had 98 tackles last season, leading the way. Joining Miles at inside backer will be junior Avery White, who stands 6-foot-4, 190 pounds and runs well.

Junior Coby Burroughs and senior Kody Humphrey will be the outside linebacker.

Junior Joel Reiser, senior Noah Parker, junior Bryce Eubanks and senior Kase Kelley are expected to be the top group along the defensive line.

The top two corners will be senior Chandler Scott and junior Trenton Baldock.

East Central schedule

Aug. 25: Biloxi

Sept. 1: at George County

Sept. 8: Jefferson Davis County

Sept. 15: Hazlehurst

Sept. 29: Moss Point

Oct. 6: at Pass Christian

Oct. 13: St. Stanislaus

Oct. 20: at Bay High

Oct. 27: at Vancleave

East Central roster

2 Dylan Johnson

3 Cameron Gray

4 Tony Brown

5 Will Young

6 Vallon Buckley

7 Kody Humphrey

8 Chandler Scott

9 Dillon Greinsteiner

10 Trenton Baldock

11 Koda Kelley

12 Jarett Goff

13 Ethan Wade

14 Rylee Brown

15 Hunter Zwick

16 Peyton Lundy

17 Kendall Grant

18 Fisher Davis

19 Zach Jones

20 Branson Davis

21 Joel Reiser

22 Matt Stringfellow

23 Camren Rouse

24 Avery White

25 Brad Cumbest

26 Andrew Seward

27 Kase Kelley

29 Cade Miles

31 Trace Higginbotham

32 Tyler Thornton

33 Pierce Tullos

34 Ryan Evans

35 Avery Scott

36 Jacob Gibbs

37 Hunter Pettigrew

40 Coby Burroughs

41 Gage Tuffnell

42 Cade Redmond

43 Ethan Davidson

44 Louis Morgan

45 Noah Parker

48 Dalton White

49 Austin Clouse

50 Will Boone

53 Alex Anderson

54 Dakota Graham

56 Collin Yates

62 Maxwell Greenough

63 Seth Dickerson

64 Garrett Dobson

65 Andrew Bates

67 Lance Sheffield

70 Chase Isaacson

71 Hunter Western

72 Gavin Hawes

73 Austin Kitchens

75 Wyatt Green

77 Alberto Autrey

79 Carlyle Rodgers

82 Michael Brooks

83 Caleb Bowen

95 Donavan Shields

99 Bryce Eubanks

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