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Northeast football success hinges on production of skilled newcomers

A bunch of skilled playmakers will get an early shot to prove themselves at one of several open spots on the Northeast Mississippi Community College football team. 

Only seven total starters are back for the Tigers during the fall of 2023. Northeast will rely on a combination of reserves from last season, transfers and true freshmen to fill those slots.  

Three of those returners are wide receivers in Wesley Corbitt, Tyrell Randall and Mitchell Woodard. The others are linebacker CJ Barney, kicker Guy Gillespie, defensive lineman John Jackson and defensive back Dorrian Smith.  

Roster turnover is no foreign concept at the two-year college level so head coach Greg Davis and his staff were aggressive during the recruiting process in order to bring the best possible talent to Northeast.  

“We’re inexperienced, but overall I think that we’re going to be OK,” he said. “We’ve got a pretty good group of guys that have been working hard. We do feel like we’ve definitely gotten better.”  

The Tigers boasted one of the best defenses in the Mississippi Association of Community Colleges Conference (MACCC) last autumn. Northeast allowed the fewest yards per game of any team in the league at 278.1.  

The linebacking corps set the stage for that production and should be a focal point once again if the Tigers are to repeat that performance. Barney (Madison) leads the way as Northeast’s top returning tackler with 68 stops.  

Multiple out-of-state stars will line up beside Barney, including Jacob Foster (Greenville, Ala.), Jordan Jackson (Montrose, Ga.), Matthew James (Lake Park, Fla.) and Keaton Thomas (Jacksonville, Fla.).  

Foster and Thomas come from NCAA Division I institutions Troy (Ala.) University and the University of West Virginia, respectively. James is a three-star prospect that originally committed to Georgia Southern University out of high school.  

Justin Wilson (Tupelo) and Clifton Young (Yazoo City) are expected to see an increased role as sophomores. Young had at least one tackle during each of Northeast’s final six contests one year ago.  

“Linebacker wise we’re as good as we’ve been in a long time,” said Davis. “They’re probably going to be the back bone of the whole defense. We’ve got some guys that can run and hit. It’ll be interesting to see how they progress throughout the season.”  

Smith (Fort Valley, Ga.) tied for the most pass break ups on the team as a freshman with five. Joining him on the opposite side of the field is another native Georgian in Jalik Yancey, who began his collegiate career at Eastern Michigan University.  

Yancey (Marietta, Ga.) successfully defended 14 passes during his senior campaign. DeSoto Countians A.J. Hill (Olive Branch), Jermaine Ray (Olive Branch) and Jerico Smith (Hernando) will rotate at corner as well.  

Carsyn Day (Canton), Jordan Herring (Tupelo) and Cortavious Rogers (Yazoo City) are each competing for a job at safety during their second seasons with the program. So too is Markel Randall (Ocala, Fla.), who is Tyrell’s brother.  

Jackson (Columbus) started in Northeast’s first five games in 2022 before suffering an injury. Another lineman that is once again fully healthy after missing all of last year is Quay Edwards (Tupelo).  

Adding to the experience on the defensive front are fellow sophomores Jenari Bell (Aberdeen) and Zach Crawford (Hamilton). Barney and James could also move up to the line as edge rushers on occasion.  

“Playing good defense is one of our standards,” Davis said. “We want to be physical and lights out. I feel confident about our guys. The main thing is they’ve got to buy in to each other to win.”  

Justin Kowalak (Crystal Lake, Ill.) has emerged as the front runner to guide the Tigers’ offense at quarterback. The Eastern Illinois University bounce back threw for more than 5,000 yards and 30 touchdowns at the prep level.  

Cameron Dill (West Point) is Kowalak’s wingman. The former Midsouth Association of Independent Schools (MAIS) all-star selection appeared in three matchups for Northeast during the previous campaign.  

“Those are two really good guys,” said Davis. “They lead by example and they bust their butt. They don’t make very many mistakes and that’s the one thing I’m very pleased with from what I’ve seen so far.”  

Randall (Ocala, Fla.) compiled a team-best 27 receptions during his freshman year for 275 yards with two touchdowns. Corbitt (Jackson) was third for the Tigers with 21 catches while Woodard (Columbus) was primarily used in short yardage situations.  

Consensus three-star recruit Jeremiah Augustin (Jupiter, Fla.) gives Northeast’s signal callers a big target with a height of 6-5. Davis also mentioned a couple of local products at wideout in Tavarius Brown (Booneville) and Sentavius Hunt (Ripley).  

Running back may be one of Northeast’s deepest positions for the second consecutive campaign. Jayden Robinson (Nashville, Tenn.) headlines that group after touching the ball over 50 times as the lone freshman in the Tigers’ four-man rotation.  

Three-star standout Chris McMillian (Fort Valley, Ga.), Antonio Kennedy (Weir) and Keion Mays (Independence), who was a Mississippi Association of Coaches (MAC) Class 3A All-State recipient, will all factor into the rushing equation as well.  

“We have two guys with McMillian and Jayden that can make some things happen with the ball,” Davis said. “On the other side of it, we have two guys that can pound the ball in Keion and Kennedy. They’re going to be beneficial for us.”  

Three former backup offensive linemen that should get plenty more snaps this season are guard Jalen Lairy (West Point), center Holder Usry (Decatur) and tackle RJ Whitehead (Horn Lake).  

There are also several newcomers in the trenches, including Jacob Hemphill (Starkville), Breylan Sanders (Cleveland), Neil Sledge (McDonough, Ga.), Cameron Stancil (Madison) and Omarius Winfrey (Grenada).   

The tight ends may be a bigger factor in Northeast’s plans than in recent years. The trio battling for playing time there are Jaydon Allred (Amory), Gunter Scott (Carthage) and Kylen Vaughn (Oxford).  

Gillespie (Booneville) will be the punter in addition to his usual place-kicking responsibilities. He earned a spot on the 2022 Fred Mitchell Award Watch List after making 24 of 26 extra points and eight field goals with a long of 43 yards.  

Long snappers for the Tigers are Grant Fleming (Columbus) and Taylor Ford (Kossuth). Randall, the wide receiver, and Smith, the cornerback, will both pull double duty as the kickoff and punt returners.  

Northeast’s staff features defensive coordinator Sean Cannon, offensive coordinator Ryan Trevathan, defensive backs coach Steadman Campbell, linebackers coach Cedric Shell and wide receivers coach Cole Rotenberry.  

Two of the Tigers’ first three games are at home starting with the season opener against Hinds Community College on Thursday, September 7. Rival Itawamba Community College comes to town two weeks later. 

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