As the last seconds ticked off the clock at M.M. Roberts Stadium on Saturday night, December 1, West Jones Head Coach Scott Pierson knew that he would not be able to deliver to Mustangs’ fans one final victory for the 2018 football season.
Pierson is very appreciative of the enormous support West Jones fans gave him and the team all season and especially on that last night of the 2018 Mississippi high school football campaign – that appreciation for the fans is why he wanted to give them one more gift, a state title. He came up a couple of scores short, but Pierson, his staff, and the players can close the books on the 2018 season knowing this: the fans appreciate them too for wonderful memories that will live on in minds, inside scrap books, and through suppertime conversations across Jones County for decades to come.
Pierson came to West Jones 17 years ago, taking over a program that had won only 20 games in the previous five seasons prior to his arrival. He had been hired to the staff of Ricky Owens at Bay Springs in 1994, soon becoming the offensive coordinator. When Owens moved on to Seminary, Pierson was put in charge of the Bay Springs’ program. He chalked up 48 wins in five seasons there, including a memorable 1998 South State finals win over Taylorsville, which that year was led by future NFL quarterback Jason Campbell.
After arriving in west Jones County, Pierson immediately proved he could coach on a bigger stage, as his Mustangs would win 53 games during his first five seasons at the helm, including three appearances at South State. Pierson has now logged 152 wins at West Jones, with eight of his 17 seasons ending with 10 or more wins. His coaching career almost didn’t happen, as he initially pursued a management career once out of college.
Eventually he decided to abandon the more lucrative hotels management position so that he could pursue his passion to coach.
“The biggest challenge in coaching is to realize that there will be hurdles every day. Most of us raise two or three kids at home, but we are raising 80 kids a day (on the team),” Pierson explained. “When you have that many kids, there will be some bad decisions made. When they make those bad decisions, we must help them overcome those and become productive citizens. We have to make sure we do what’s best for the kids, and that means you come in each day and approach them from a place of love.”
“The reward of coaching is connected to the challenge,” continued Pierson. “When a young man makes a mistake, say in the ninth grade, and you don’t give up on him – but you help him work through the mistake, graduate and then became a good citizen in life. Years later you see him, he’s got a wife and kids, he hugs you and tells you, ‘Coach, those life lessons you taught me in high school helped me get to where I’m at today.’ That’s the reward.”
The 2018 Season
Pierson knew that the seniors that anchored the 2018 team were fighters, a group of guys that had battled through some adversity and never quit working. When the seniors on this year’s team were in the eighth grade, they did not win a single game. As freshmen they went 4-7, and as sophomores they were part of a 5-6 campaign, the two worst years of Pierson’s 17 years at the school.
“I remember them (seniors) not as the greatest athletes, but as a group that stayed the course and reaped the benefits of not quitting,” Pierson recollected. “They saw the worst of times and the best of times. They continued to work hard and hold each other accountable. That’s a testimony to them.”
“What we (coaches) loved about this team was that they were self-motivated. The effort was there, the internal discipline where the kids held each other accountable was there,” continued the coach. “If a player was late for practice, the team leadership took care of that.”
As the season reached its mid-point, the head coach and his staff began to see potential for a special year.
“Defensively we were good early, but there was some self-doubt about how good we were offensively. Coach Blackledge did a good job of diversifying our offense. About halfway through the season is when we began to jell on both sides of the ball.”
The Coaching Staff
“You are only as good as your staff,” stated the Mustangs head coach. “There’s no one better on the offensive side than Coach Blackledge, and Jeremiah Keyes and Cecil Hicks did a good job on the defensive side. Hiring Coach Hicks was a big deal for us this year, as he brought some different insight and helped us tweak things a little. The rest of the staff plugged in and did a good job coaching the individual stuff we do.”