High School Sports

Hancock coach has a not-so-secret power that’s paying off for Hawks football

Hancock High wide receivers Chase McDonald and Brooks Rayburn will compliment the ground game set buy running back Marquis Cherry. Hancock plays host to Gautier on Friday.
Hancock High wide receivers Chase McDonald and Brooks Rayburn will compliment the ground game set buy running back Marquis Cherry. Hancock plays host to Gautier on Friday. jcfitzhugh@sunherald.com File

Neil Lollar has a saying he likes to use quite a bit. In many ways, it embodies the new Hancock High coach’s philosophy.

“I’m always a glass half full kind of person. I tell the kids all the time if the glass isn’t half full there’s a water fountain around the corner so go fill it up.”

When Lollar was elevated to head coach seven months ago, replacing longtime coach Rocky Gaudin, he said he didn’t set out to “change things up.”

Having already been on the HHS staff for several years, the Hawks were already familiar with Lollar, but he said he wanted to stamp his personality on the program.

So far, it appears the Hawks have picked up what he was putting down.

Hancock has opened the year with wins over Pearl River Central and South Jones. Another one Friday against Gautier, and the Hawks will have a 3-0 record for the third consecutive season. Execution, proper schemes and playing ability is mostly at the root of Hancock’s 2-0 start, but perhaps his upbeat personality can take at least a little credit, too.

“The kids are very responsive to positivity,” he said. “When something good is happening, they’ll feed off of it; like most kids, but ours take it to another level.

“They won’t just make a snowman, they’ll make a gigantic one.”

Positive start

The Hawks sure got off to a positive start two weeks ago when they bulldozed a typically sound PRC squad to the tune of a 35-0 victory.

Lollar was confident in his Hawks, but he admitted being a little surprised by the final outcome.

“I knew our kids were ready, I just didn’t know what we were going to do against somebody else even though we had played a jamboree,” Lollar said. “You never know how things will play out for four quarters. Fortunately for us we got a couple breaks early and things started rolling after that.”

Last Friday was a bit more challenging as HHS fell behind South Jones 14-0 before scoring 27 unanswered points.

HHS never panicked. The Hawks stuck with the original game plan, and it ended up working out.

“That wasn’t an eye opener, but we knew we needed to regroup,” Lollar said. “Once we had it tied up, I knew it was in our court as long as we could steady the ship.”

About the Hawks

Quarterback Caleb Garcia, receiver Brooks Rayburn and Mr. Do-It-All Marquis Cherry have set the tone for the Hawks on offense.

Garcia is one of the Coast’s passing leaders with 403 yards and three touchdowns. Rayburn has been his go-to target, with four receptions for 149 yards and two scores. Cherry has rushed for 65 yards and caught four passes for 106 and a score. The offense goes deeper than just those three, however.

“One of the good things about our offense is we’re able to put the ball in about 12 different peoples’ hands,” Lollar said. “The first week we had nine (carry the ball) and 10 caught passes.

“That’s a luxury that won’t happen every week, but that’s the possibilities.”

Heading into the season, Trenton Ladner was a name that popped up on a lot of preseason ballots as a Hawk to watch and possible Region 4-6A Defensive MVP. The junior linebacker has been as good as advertised with 25 tackles, but converted defensive end Chase McDonald has really stepped up and been another defensive difference maker.

“Everything in the preseason hype was Chase McDonald on offense. He got moved over out of necessity,” Lollar said. “We had one get sick and another get injured. We moved him over to fill a role and he’s taken it and run with it.

“He has found a home and now we’re to the point we can’t take him off it.”

Next up

The Hawks will face a strong Gautier (1-1) team that picked up a big rivalry win over Ocean Springs in the opener but fell to Moss Point last week.

“They’ll be very physical up front with a lot of speed and athleticism,” Lollar said. “I know there’s three or four players where if they get outside of us we’re not going to catch them.”

HHS is off next week before traveling to Lakeshore (Mandeville, Louisiana) on Sept. 15. The Hawks then open 4-6A with a road game at Ocean Springs.

The power of positivity can only go so far sometimes if the results don’t reflect the message. The Hawks are headed in the right direction so far, but they’ve also been in this spot before only to stumble in the region schedule. So what will make this year different?

“I think the biggest thing is, I think we have to get some good, positive things going early in district play against Ocean Springs and St. Martin,” Lollar said. “We don’t need to just be there, because we have the last couple of years. We have to finish games out. I know our kids have always had the mindset we can be with them or beat them, but this is a different group.

“They have a different mindset going into each week. We can see that as a coaching staff. I think that’s going to play out in the long run.”

Patrick Ochs: 228-896-2321, @PatrickOchs

Game Plan

What: Gautier at Hancock

When: 7 p.m. Friday

Online: Check out LIVE updates of all the Coast’s football games at SunHerald.com.