LUCEDALE, Miss. (WLOX) - George County has gotten the hang of overcoming obstacles. From having no spring football, to losing a former teammate and friend in a fatal car accident. With Hurricane Laura moving closer to the coast, the Rebels improvised by holding Tuesday’s practice in a rodeo arena.
“I knew when they got there it would be, what’s going on, kicking the dirt, looking around,” head coach James Ray said. “I figured once they settled down and got the initial shock over with, they would realize we were playing football again. After about ten minutes, I don’t think anyone realized where we were after that.”
A change of scenery, and a change in leadership. The Rebels enter a new era with Ray as head coach, and although he has a decade of experience in the position prior to coming to Lucedale, he has had to knock off the rust a bit.
”The things that I have struggled with this week is making sure the press box is right, the chains crew is ready to go, we have the programs ordered,” Ray said. “Just the things you push behind you after being out of it for a couple years. Just like riding a bike, a lot of it you have to remember.”
A bike that will be easier to ride with a talent like M.J. Daniels at his disposal. The senior quarterback is the second best player in the Magnolia state and is bound to play in the SEC in 2021. Although he won’t play in the pocket at the next level, he has seen growth at the position.
“I got a lot bigger, taller, and faster,” Daniels said. “I’m able to drop back but with the offensive line that we have, I can read the field better, and I can make better throws.”
”He understands defense because he plays back there. He understands the coverages, that’s never been the issue,” Ray said of his quarterback. “But he’s starting to understand pockets, and windows, and where to throw the ball. That’s because the game has slowed down and he sees those things - it’s not a blur.”
The Rebels offense have a myriad of weapons with Trent Howell on ground and Marquez Dortch through the air. The key to this offense, however, starts up front with all five starting lineman returning to dominant in the trenches.
“We’re a unit. We aren’t individual. It’s not one person playing better than the rest, it’s all equal,” senior offensive lineman Derek Howell said. “And when we’re all clicking on all cylinders, it’s going to be hard to stop us. We have a lot of leadership at every position, that’s going to be a major key up front. I’m about 6′3”, and I’d say about 290, or 300. We got some big boys up there.”
It should come as no surprise that this season will be dedicated to former linebacker and 2020 graduate Tajiri Washington, who passed away in a single-vehicle collision in early July.
The Rebels say they will play with the same tenacity and passion Washington displayed on Friday nights. MJ Daniels tells WLOX that anytime he scores a touchdown this season, he’ll be sure to throw up three fingers towards the sky, saying “Long Live Ty Three”.
George County open the 2020 season on the road at Pascagoula September 4 at 7 p.m.