The Christian Collegiate football team reached the MAIS 8-Man state title game for the first time a year ago, but it's the way the season ended that still sticks with the Bulldogs.
CCA stumbled out of the gate and fell 34-25 to Tallulah (La.) Academy in the championship contest at Millsaps College in Jackson. The Coast's only 8-man squad finished with a 12-1 record.
How often do the CCA players talk about getting back to the title game and finishing the season with a win?
“More than we should,” senior quarterback/linebacker T.J. Clolinger said with a smile. “I think we'll be back there, no doubt.”
CCA is on a roll of late, winning the last three district championships under head coach Joe Roberts.
“We're looking for a different result this year,” he said. “We've got a great group coming back and we'll try to get back there.”
Clolinger is the man replacing Devan Roberts, the head coach's son, at quarterback this season.
Joe Roberts expects a smooth transition with Clolinger behind center.
“T.J. has plenty of experience the last two or three years playing quarterback,” Joe Roberts said. “He fits right in. We'll also take him and plug him in at running back the same way we did with Devan.”
Clolinger will bring athleticism to the quarterback position.
“I think I can run the ball really well,” he said. “I can make plays out of nothing, break a few tackles and get receivers open by extending plays.”
CCA is a team that has to replace plenty of key players from last year's squad, but a handful of experienced seniors will be put in leadership roles.
One that literally stands above them all is 6-foot-10 tight end/defensive end Sam Jackson. He will provide an extremely tall target for Clolinger and will be a handful off the edge at defensive end.
“Sam scored the touchdown that put us in the state championship game last year,” Joe Roberts said. “He caught a great pass at the end of the game, had a guy on his back and dragged him into the end zone.
“Sam played football for the first time last year and learned a lot. He's a hard working kid and he should fit right into the system. He's a great target for T.J.”
Jackson, whose mom stands 6-foot-8 and dad is 6-4, is confident CCA has a good shot at pushing its run of district championships to four in 2016.
“We've got a lot of new weapons on offense and defense. We have a good shot,” he said. “We talk a lot about (getting back to the title game). Not just getting to it, the goal is to win it.”
Clolinger will be joined in the backfield by fullback Japheth Hodges and tailback Jay Brisco. Jackson should get the start at tight end and Codie Coffman-Hayes will be at the receiver spot.
Parker Hewes is slotted in at left guard, Kyle Gartman is at right guard and sophomore Mica Spinks will be at center.
Senior Devin Lewis, Clolinger and Spinks are slated to be CCA's linebackers. Hewes and Jackson are the defensive ends and De'Gerius Kelly should be at nose tackle.
Coffman-Hayes and Brisco, both seniors, will face the tough task of playing cornerback on an eight-man defense.
At a glance
2016 record: 12-1
Region: District 3
Head coach: Joe Roberts
Assistant coaches: Verlon Carrell, Tyler Smith, Bill Farwell.
Offense: Ball control, some zone read
1 Jay Brisco
2 Devin Lewis
3 Aden Beaugez
4 Braden Martinelli
5 Cody Hilton
7 Parker Hewes
8 Micah Spinks
9 William Stewart
10 Cody Bozant
11 Wesley Machatto
13 Codie Coffman-Hayes
14 Japeth Hodges
15 Elijah Deese
17 Matthew Brown
19 Jailon Phillips
21 Alex Conley
22 T.J. Clolinger
24 Sam Jackson
32 River Johnson
48 Bryant Carrell
50 Kyle Gartman
52 Jaden Ashe
65 De’Gerius Kelly
70 Brady Carrell
75 William Martin