Football Preview-NP Davis

Published 12:00 am Saturday, August 30, 2008

Cougars cautiously optimistic about upcoming season

By Myra Bean

From the beginning of the season, it is hard to predict whom a team will face in the playoffs. The one constant is that it will be someone good.

Teams do not get to the playoffs unless they have an acceptable regular season.

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North Panola entered the playoffs 5-5 last year, but fell to Charleston in the first round – a far cry from the 1-8 season the year before.

In route to a 2007 playoff season, the Cougars knocked off Coahoma County, Holly Springs, Byhalia, Lewisburg and Rosa Fort.

This year head coach Clifton Davis Sr. expects the team to defeat those teams again in addition to powerhouse 4A teams, Oxford and Lafayette County, 3A powerhouse Ripley and tough district foes Independence and Senatobia.

“We have a large part of our nucleus back and we are expected to improve upon last year,” Davis said. “Even though we are playing a tough schedule, namely Ripley, Lafayette County, Oxford, Independence and the rest, we are expected to improve.”

Discipline and hard work are the two phrases floating around the Cougar fieldhouse.

“They know what I expect,” Davis said. “They know we have to be disciplined. They have to work hard in the classroom and on the football field. If we want to achieve anything, it has to be achieved through discipline and hard work.”

Davis has been finding players to take on the roles Bruce Wilbourn, Templeton Hardy, Trey Burdette-Tucker and other graduating seniors played.

Wilbourn, Hardy and Tucker played offense and defense for the Cougars.

“We lost two great players in Bruce Wilbourn and Templeton Hardy. Hardy was just a bull on defense and a mainstay on the offensive line. We also lost Trey Burdette who was our best cornerback,” Davis said. “We have people we have to teach and get ready for this season. We have to build on top of what we did. So we are cautiously optimistic about the season.”

Though the season looks tough on paper, the Cougars have a bright spot as they do not have a long distance to travel. They play Oxford and Lafayette County in Oxford. Lewisburg and Independence are both less than an hour away. Holly Springs is the furthest with less than an hour travel time.

“We are happy with where we are now,” Davis said. “If everybody stays healthy, we should improve over what we did last year.”


Leading the Cougars this year is sophomore quarterback Quin Ellis. Davis said that Ellis’ improvement has been a welcomed surprise. Ellis equated his performance as quarterback last year as a five on 10-point scale.

“I just want to improve over last year,” Ellis said.

Davis has noticed that improvement with Ellis’ work ethic in the weight room following last year and in the spring.

“He has worked very hard this summer,” Davis said. “He stayed in the weight room. He is the fastest player we have. I was surprised he was faster than T-Mack (Tyrus Mack), Vernon (Lewis) and the other players. He might be one of the strongest players we have.

“He has been very dedicated to learning the offense and being a team leader,” Davis continued. “That’s a big step when you accept the challenge and Quin has accepted the challenge to be the leader on this football team.”

Though Ellis wants to play other positions on defense and special teams, Davis said he is “too valuable” for them to risk putting Ellis in other positions.

“We have a backup but he is not ready to throw the ball and run the whole offense,” Davis said. “Quin will pretty much just be on the offensive side. He is too valuable for us to put out there and be doing a whole lot of things unless it is a dire emergency that we put him out there.”

Tyrus Mack isthe coach’s choice as the ideal player on the team. He runs from his house to McDonald’s every day. Before school, he is lifting weights, according to Davis.

“He has a lot of energy, a lot of charisma and he is inspiring to the other players, just a team leader,” Davis said. “He does everything and we use him as an example for everybody.”

Unlike Ellis, Mack will play offense, defense and special teams. He will get a break every now and then, according to Davis.

Other offensive players carrying the load include Vernon Lewis, Rodregus Salter and running back Brandon Cauthen.

“We expect them to share the load that Bruce had,” Davis said.

Davis was candid in that he did not have one person on the team that can do everything that Wilbourn did as a player.

“So we have to divide them up in three or four people and hopefully, they can provide 80 percent of the offense that Bruce provided,” Davis said.

The offensive and defensive line are in the same boat with Templeton Hardy gone and on the Mississippi State University team.

“It will again have to be a group effort on the offensive line,” Davis said.

North Panola returned three of five offensive linemen. Aside from Hardy, Trey Madkins moved to M.S. Palmer in Marks. Returning are Cortez Hibbler, Marico Toliver and David Hill. Showing some promise on the line, according to Davis are Ronald Keys and 300-pound junior Travon Friend.

“We are expecting Travon to step up on the offensive line,” Davis said.

Returning as a wide receiver is Ricky Hunt. The Cougars are looking for a split end but Kiwanis Bobo is working the position and Ira Phillips is handling tight end duties. But the job is also up for a starter, according to Davis.

Defensively, Davis expects Hibbler and Mack to be the anchors around whom everybody else will rally.

“We are looking to be competitive,” he said.

With his son, Clifton Davis III, still the offensive coordinator, Davis is not expecting any major changes on the offense. Last year the team was 75 percent run-oriented, but Davis likes the teams of the past which were more pass-oriented. He hopes if not this year but next to have a 60/40 pass-oriented team.

“In college you can pick what you want to do, but in high school you have to use what you have,” Davis said.

Joining the Davises on the coaching staff are defensive coordinator Houston Ealy; secondary and special teams, Ray Jackson; offensive line, Shawn Norwood; defensive line, Ricky Hunt, linebackers, Troski Pettis, wide receivers, Joaquin Taylor; special teams Adam Wilson; and player personnel Rennaldo Taylor.

North Panola opens the season Friday night hosting Coahoma County. They will also host Ripley in the second game of the season, before hitting the road to take on Lafayette County.

District season starts with Holly Springs on September 19 on the road. The Cougars will host Byhalia on September 26 in its annual homecoming game.