ELLISVILLE – No one knows what to expect when No. 9 Jones College entertains Coahoma in the season opener here at 7 p.m.Thursday at Bobcat Stadium/Sim Cooley Field.
“I feel like we are well prepared, but there are so many uncertainties in the ballgame,” said third-year Jones head coach Steve Buckley Tuesday in his office. “Starting with us, we’ve got 41 guys out of the 55 on our roster who have never played in a college football game. So, as a coach you don’t know how they are going to react on game day. You can put them in any situation you want to in practice, but until the lights are on and the leather moves, you really don’t know how they are going to react.
“From a Coahoma standpoint, there also a lot of unknowns. It’s their first game, it’s our first game. We don’t know their roster, they don’t know our roster. All you can do is look at Hudl and look at highlight tapes of their personnel. From a scheme standpoint, we may have changed a lot and they may have changed a lot. There is no game to look at and there a lot of unknowns going into this thing.”
The Bobcats will have an entirely new starting 11 on offense.
University of Georgia transfer Stetson Bennett (Blackshear, Georgia) is expected to get the nod at quarterback. Kalyn Grandberry (Memphis, Tennessee) is expected to start at running back and Jones will have eight true freshmen playing the four wideout slots.
In the offensive line, Jones will have Kordel Watts (Vicksburg) at center, along with Malcolm Miller (Warren Central) and Christian Barnes (Ocean Springs) at the guards and Cru Birdyshaw (Jasper, Alabama) and Bryce Wade (Albuquerque, New Mexico) at the tackles. Birdyshaw is a 6-foot-7, 326-pound Southern Miss transfer and Wade is a 6-foot-7, 252-pound West Texas State transfer.
“The keys to our offense are very simple: take care of the football and stay in front of the chains,” Buckley said. “Don’t be afraid to punt.
Jones will have three starters returning on defense, including safeties Jonathan Haynes (Ray Brooks) and Fred Peters (Columbia) and cornerback Jamar Richardson (Aliceville, Alabama). Haynes and Richardson have committed to Ole Miss.
A few others to look for on defense, include spur linebacker Davis Harrison (Lamar School of Meridian), ends Marquez Bembry (Atlanta, Georgia) and Wardalis Ducksworth (Mize), tackle DaShawn Crawford (Bay Springs) and nose guards Edward Haralson (Yazoo County) and Lamarcus Keyes (West Jones). Bembry has committed to Kentucky.
“Defensively, we can’t have any dumb penalties,” Buckley said. “We need to create turnovers and we must give great effort.”
The Bobcats will have a new punter, placekicker and deep snapper.
Greg Hayden (Vicksburg) is the punter, Cristofer Thompson (Adams County Christian School) is the placekicker and Dakota Masters (Seminary) is the deep snapper.
“My special teams’ philosophy is very simple – don’t mess it up,” Buckley said. “Don’t turn it over and don’t have penalties. Big plays will come if you execute what you are supposed to do. I think we have some really good players back there with our return guys.”
Buckley is optimistic heading into Thursday’s game.
“It’s a big deal,” he said. “Everybody wants to get off to a good start. Half of the teams in America will feel good after Thursday, Fridayand Saturday night and half will feel bad. But it’s what we do. To me, as a coach, you have to be prepared for both sides of the coin. Everybody is not going to win.”
Jones has been in fall camp since Aug. 10 and Buckley said his team is as prepared as it can be.
“I think we are ready to play and I think it’s time to play,” he said. “Enough is enough of going against each other. You want to come out of camp and preseason healthy. I think we are somewhat healthy, not totally, but somewhat healthy.
“You want the kids to have their legs on Thursday night and we are going to cut back today and make sure they do have their legs. But I feel good about where we are.”
The Bobcats return home next week to face Holmes at 7 p.m. on Sept. 6.
Coahoma will host Mississippi Gulf Coast on Sept. 6.
All of JCJC’s games this fall will air on www.jcjc.tvand WLAU-FM, 99.3, with Mark Easley and Luke Johnson on the call.