PICAYUNE, Miss. (WLOX) - Practicing under the blistering sun and drinking water out of a cooler. High school football’s natural habitat.
“This is what we do, this is what we’re used to,” new Picayune head coach Cody Stogner said during the Maroon Tide’s practice on Monday. “The guys are just as excited to be back just as we are. Just seeing their excitement makes us even more excited.”
Like every team, Picayune is preparing for the upcoming season, but are having to make adjustments because COVID-19.
“It causes a lot of stress, so you have to be mentally tough to deal with it,” left guard and defensive end Garrett Hunter said. “Coming up here every day with our changed schedule, and our news always changing, you have to give the effort to be here every day and get better. Even if we don’t get to play this year.”
The Maroon Tide hope there is one with the stench of their loss in the 5A championship game last season still looming and the retirement of legendary coach Dodd Lee after 24 years.
“It does hurt a lot, since he’s done so much for me personally,” Hunter said. “He was such an inspiration for me, so it sucks we couldn’t give him that last win. I use that as motivation almost every day.”
“We definitely want to get back to the state championship, and win it this time,” senior right guard and defensive tackle Kaylup Jones said.
Thankfully, one of Lee’s disciples has taken the reigns as head coach. Stogner has been with the team the last 13 years and although he’ll add some new wrinkles, the Tide’s style of play won’t change.
“It’s a new era, but we have the same attitude. Nothing is broken, we’re not trying to fix anything,” Stogner said. “We’re going to add a few things that are my style, but I come from Coach Lee’s coaching tree. He coached me, he’s my mentor. If everybody were smart, they would go off of what he’s done over the years because it worked. We’re trying to put these kids in a best position to win.”
If anything remains the same it will be Picayune’s potent rushing attack, averaging over 400 yards on the ground in 2019. The last four feature backs all ran for over 2,300 yards, including Cam Thomas, who tied the national lead with 3,517 last season. Despite the loss in production, the team has a number of weapons who can fill the void.
“Definitely Dante Dowdell, Austin Samples, those two running backs could definitely have a big year,” Jones said.
While the tailbacks get all the shine, it’s really the boys up front that have made Picayune such a formidable force in 5A.
“It all comes down to the offensive line,” Stogner said. “They‘re not always the biggest, they’re not always the strongest, but they’re the toughest. We’ve got a bunch of good leaders this year, so we’re going to continue to keep doing what we’re doing and see how far we can make it.”
The Tide’s mantra on their shirts (M.T.X.E.) stands for mental toughness and extra effort and they will no doubt need every bit of that as they prepare for the arguably the toughest season ever.
Picayune is set to open the season at home against Meridian September 4th at 7 p.m.