Iron sharpens iron. To be the best you have to beat the best. Yadda yadda ... There are plenty of cliches, but they do hold some truth.
The following five South Mississippi football teams took some of the sayings to heart and loaded up on their non-region schedule. Who has the toughest slate out of the gate? With the start to the 2016 season just over two weeks out, here’s the five toughest non-region schedules on the Coast, plus a few honorable mentions:
5. D’Iberville (2015 record: 6-7): A new era may be upon the D’Iberville football program, but that doesn’t mean the Warriors are easing up on their scheduling.
The new-look, Wing-T runnin’ Warriors will be tested out of the gate. Eric Collins’ bunch isn’t playing a classic game Aug. 19, but D’Iberville will host Picayune and Pascagoula before traveling to Oak Grove. D’Iberville closes its non-region schedule at home against St. Stanislaus.
4. Gulfport (9-3): Will Gulfport repeat as Region 4-6A champs in 2016? The Admirals certainly have the non-region schedule to prepare for such a run.
Gulfport started 2-2 last year with narrow losses at 6A South State champion Petal and Alabama powerhouse Prattville, and wins over Class 4A St. Stanislaus and Class 5A Picayune.
This season, the Admirals have essentially swapped Prattville for a strong Louisiana Class 3A program in De La Salle, and rotated SSC for Long Beach in the annual Shrimp Bowl.
“We always want to play good competition to get us ready for the season,” GHS coach Eddie Pierce said.
3. St. Stanislaus (11-4): Folks say a lot of things about the Rockachaws, but they certainly can’t say they take the easy way to the top. SSC once again must go through one of the toughest non-region schedules in the state. Before entering their Region 8-4A schedule, the Rockachaws will visit 6A schools Biloxi and D’Iberville, host Class 5A Long Beach. SSC also hosts Alabama’s Class 5A champion in St. Paul’s Episcopal and travels to New Orleans to play a dangerous Class 5A Brother Martin team.
“We want to play the best competition possible. No. 1 — we have to,” SSC coach Bill Conides said. “There aren’t a whole lot of people nowadays who want to play us. I think more importantly it’s really good for our guys to play against the highest level of competition. I think there are a lot of life lessons that can be learned from playing teams like that: What it means to work hard and reap the the benefits of it, what it means to look adversity dead in the eyes and say ‘we overcame,’ and just playing football.
2. Pascagoula (9-4): Coach Lewis Sims liked to say “the ball ain’t heavy” when asked about star running back Reginald Hunter last season. It’s a good thing because the prolific Panther and his Pascagoula teammates will likely have their work cut out for themselves again in 2016. The Class 5A contender won’t have an easy start to the season as they open against a talented Moss Point squad before playing Region 4-6A foes Ocean Springs, D’Iberville and George County.
1. Picayune (5-7): Dodd Lee doesn’t shy away from competition. In a way, it's a Lee trademark. Like several teams on the Coast, Picayune has an “anyone, anywhere” mentality and it shows with this year’s schedule. Before opening Region 4-5A, the Maroon Tide essentially play a 4-6A schedule, hosting D’Iberville and Harrison Central, and visiting St. Martin and Gulfport.
Picayune went 1-3 last season against the same opponents but was hit hard by injuries. With underclassmen gaining valuable experience against tough competition a year ago, might the Mighty Maroon flip last year’s record in 2016? We’ll find out soon enough.
Honorable mentions: Ocean Springs, Harrison Central, Long Beach, Moss Point, Biloxi and St. Martin.