25 Teams in 25 Days

Picayune football gearing up for bounce-back 2016 season

2016 Picayune High School football team.
2016 Picayune High School football team. PHS

The 2015 season was more of an oddity or outlier than anything else.

Picayune earned state championships in 2011 and ’13, and won double-digit games from 2011-2014. But last year, the prideful Maroon Tide stumbled for a number of reasons and finished with a 5-7 mark, Picayune’s first sub-.500 finish since 1994.

With 15 returning starters back from a year ago, the Tide are hoping the lumps they took will pay dividends in 2016.

“I think everything up until this point from last year has helped us to get where we’re at right now,” Picayune head coach Dodd Lee said.

With an extra week to prepare for their opener at D’Iberville on Friday, Lee has been pleased with his team’s fall camp to date.

“We’re just getting our systems in, establishing as much depth as we can and conditioning. We want to set the tone for the whole season,” he said. “I think most high school games are won with effort more than talent. We’re really pushing that and trying to get perfection in what they’re doing.

“I really can’t ask any more from the kids than what they’ve given us.”

Getting offensive

Picayune’s offense returns eight starters, including three offensive linemen (tackle Benny Holifield and guards Jacob Brumley and Dylan Ramsey), quarterback Skylar Bowman, receivers Ronald Polk and V.J. Holt, and running backs Blake Merrifield and Josh Littles.

The 5-foot-6, 168-pound Littles isn’t the biggest back on the Coast, but he certainly was one of the most productive a year ago, eclipsing 1,800 yards despite battling through injury for much of the campaign.

“He has excellent speed and strength,” Lee said. “He’s short, so he kind of gets back in behind blockers sometimes and is hard to find at 5-6, 168 pounds, but he’s pound for the strongest kid on our team without a doubt.”

Merrifield bulked up to 215 pounds during the offseason and could be a versatile contributor once again at fullback and defensive end.

“If anything, he’s a little quicker than he was last year so hopefully he’ll have a great year,” Lee said. “We’re depending on it.”

Back for another season under center, senior Bowman has Lee’s support to lead the offense.

“He’s not a vocal leader at all, but he’s a man for the moment,” Lee said. “I think he likes it when he has to make a play. I saw that out of him last year a couple of times. Against Hattiesburg, he went 3-for-3 on a drive and we overcame a first-and-40 to get a first down and go on down and score.

“It’s in him. We just have to make sure we keep him focused and keep him going.”

Hard-hitting Tide

Picayune returns seven starters on defense and should be led by talented junior linebackers Brian Taylor and David Baker.

Taylor was among Picayune’s leading tacklers as a sophomore with 114 tackles.

“(Taylor) likes to play football. There’s people who think they do and then there are people who really do,” Lee said. “He’s one who does.”

Lee expects Baker to take more of a leadership role in ’16.

“He’s 5-11, 205 pounds and runs a 4.6 40,” Lee said. “I think his extended role and effort and desire will play a big role in how we shape up defensively. He has potential to be a very good one.”

Up front, the biggest projected starter on either side of the ball is tackle Louis Graham, who’s listed at 6-foot-2, 273 pounds.

“Really, last year Graham had a good year but he was coming off of an injury and really didn’t get in condition until the seventh or eighth game to play,” Lee said. “He has had a great offseason and we’re looking for big things from him.”

Picayune doesn’t have another projected starter larger than 220 pounds. They may be undersized compared to other teams, but Lee isn’t concerned.

“We’ve always picked speed over size defensively here,” Lee said. “That’s just our philosophy.”

Tough road

Picayune will have to maneuver through one of the more difficult schedules on the Coast. The 5A program essentially plays Region 4-6A before it opens 4-5A play. After opening with a bye Aug. 19, Picayune travels to D’Iberville on Saturday and will host St. Martin (Sept. 2) and Gulfport (Sept. 9) before wrapping up non-region play at Harrison Central on Sept. 16.

“I think the four games we’ll play in a row will be very similar to the similar we’d play in the playoffs in 5A,” Lee said. “If we can come out of it alive and competitive, we’ll feel like we’ll be able to play with anybody.”

Asked if it was a goal to schedule up before opening region play, Lee joked that they’re just playing the teams that will play them.

“But, in the past we won a state championship in 2011, we beat Gulfport (17-14) and Petal (20-17) on the last play of the game the first two games,” he said. “We were young. We didn’t know how we were going to be, and it just spring boarded us into a great season.”

Will Picayune have a similar start to 2016? The Maroon Tide find out Saturday.

Patrick Ochs: 228-896-2321, @PatrickOchs

At a glance

2015 record: 5-7

Region: 4-5A

Head coach: Dodd Lee

Assistant coach: Brian Edwards, Walt Esslinger, Cody Stogner, Adam Feeley, Jayme Hodge, C.J. Wilson

Offense: Multiple

Defense: 40

2016 schedule

Aug. 19 Bye

Aug. 26 At D’Iberville

Sept. 2 ST. MARTIN

Sept. 9 GULFPORT

Sept. 16 At Harrison Central

Sept. 23 GAUTIER

Sept. 30 At West Harrison

Oct. 7 HATTIESBURG

Oct. 14 STONE

Oct. 21 At Long Beach

Oct. 28 PASCAGOULA

Nov. 4 At Pearl River Central

Picayune roster

2 Jortin Raine

3 Bryce Smith

5 Devonte Smith

6 Ronald Polk

7 Freddy Gray

8 Josh Littles

9 Tyler Penton

11 David Baker

12 Peyton Esslinger

13 Skylar Bowman

14 Leotis Smith

15 Micah Bounds

16 Isidro Loya

17 V.J. Holt

18 Anicet Vicknair

19 Chris Magee

20 Shaun Anderson

21 Curdeveon Jackson

22 Dylan Schubault

23 Dominique Mackel

24 Desmond Thompson

25 Kyler Lauga

26 Jeremiah Stallings

27 Carson Craft

28 Kaleb Hart

29 J.C. May

32 Juvonta Raymond

33 Brian Taylor

35 Michael Ferrier

38 Jairice Travis

43 Jaiden Hall

45 Blake Merrifield

50 Mark Kendrick

51 Darius Magee

52 Dylan Ramsay

53 Benny Holifield

55 Jerimiah Borley

56 Jacob Brumley

57 Chase Frierson

59 Connor Ruffin

61 Dylan Mitchell

62 Kyle Stockstill

64 Tanner Gregory

65 Cole Bean

67 Will Smith

68 Kendrick Allen

70 Caleb Boston

72 Louis Graham

73 Emmett Goss

74 Sheldon Duckett

75 Brodie Dedman

76 Damariea Thompson

79 Denzel Whitney

81 Rashard Johnson

84 Michael Hunter

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