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MRA linebacker Stone Blanton. Photo by Chris Brooks.

Different year, same expectations for MRA.

After going 12-0 and losing several key playmakers due to graduation, the Patriots once again bring back some key pieces to become the favorites to hoist the MAIS Class 6A state championship trophy in November.

“We’re trying to get better and this year we’re playing the toughest schedule we’ve ever played,” said MRA coach Herbert Davis. “Our league is going to be stronger than people think, so we have to be ready.”

The schedule for MRA is nothing short of brutal. The Patriots open the season against Greenville Christian, the defending MAIS Class 3A state champion. After a road trip to Natchez to face Cathedral the Patriots host Oakland High School out of Murfreesboro, Tennessee, the defending Class 6A state champions in Tennessee. The next week the Patriots head up to Little Rock to face Pulaski Academy, the defending Class 5A state champions in Arkansas.

Offensively is where the Patriots return the most production with eight starters back.

The receiver position will be the strength as top target Davis Dalton (742 yards, 14 touchdowns in 2020) returns along with Street Toler, Pax Hughes, and Ty Brooks.

Tylor Latham returns at running back after rushing for 839 yards with seven touchdowns last season.

Winona Christian transfer John White will be the quarterback.

“Offensively we really like our receivers. They’re really good,” Davis said. “We got a good core back on the offensive line but we won’t be near as big and need some young guys to step up.”

Defensively the Patriots have just five starters back but will be led by big-time four-star linebacker Stone Blanton. Blanton will be coming off offseason shoulder surgery.

Braeden Watters and Jeffrey Polk will also be back at linebacker, along with nose guard Will Hornback to lead the front seven.

Rivers Godwin, J.J. Latham and Noah Short will be the defensive backs, while Tylor Latham will move to safety to lead the secondary.

“The key for Stone is he just has to stay healthy. He’s our leader of the defense,” Davis said. “We need some youngsters to grow up quickly, especially in the secondary.”

 

NEXT IN LINE

Jackson Academy: After going 10-4 and reaching the MAIS Class 6A state championship game, second-year coach Lance Pogue has high hopes of making another run at the state title in 2021. JA has 12 total starters returning but none is more important than the return of running back Marcus Harris (1,542 yards rushing, 24 touchdowns) to lead the offense. Clayton White will be the new starting quarterback for the Raiders. Porter Harrell, Merritt Nations and Canton Academy transfer Dakota Jordan will be the key wide outs for JA. Jordan is a huge newcomer. Defensively the Raiders must replace linebacker Donovan Veasley and Lardarius Webb at defensive back but do return J.T Thigpen at linebacker along with Harrell at defensive back and Ethan Archie at nose guar. Max Walenta and Adams Kennedy are back on the defensive line.

Jackson Prep: The Tyler Turner era begins as Turner takes over for Ricky Black who resigned in February after spending 24 seasons as the Patriots head coach. Prep will become more of an up-temp offense than the previous run-heavy offense. The Patriots must replace a lot of production on offense. While there is a quarterback battle going on the Patriots will have three different running backs to hand the ball off too in William Deas, Sam McMullan, and Lake Womack. At wide receiver, Luke Williams, Garner Watkins, and Will Upton will be the top targets. Defense is where Prep will be leaning on early with more experience back on that side of the ball. Ford Smith, Chase Galloway and Luke Harrigill return to lead the defensive line while Deas, Mason Kimball and Sam Watts return at linebacker to help lead the front seven. Sam Graves at safety and Williams at defensive back will lead the secondary.

Other teams to watch for are Parklane Academy and Hartfield Academy.

 

TOP 5

  1. MRA
  2. Jackson Academy
  3. Jackson Prep
  4. Parklane Academy
  5. Hartfield Academy

 

GAMES TO WATCH

Sept. 17: Jackson Academy at MRA

Sept. 17: Jackson Prep at Parklane Academy

Oct. 1: MRA at Jackson Prep

Oct. 15: Jackson Prep at Jackson Academy

Oct. 29: Hartfield Academy at MRA