Football Preview-SP Pogue

Published 12:00 am Saturday, August 30, 2008

SP is a work in progress right now, says Pogue

By Angie Ledbetter

South Panola High School head football coach Lance Pogue is very excited about the Tiger team this year but had some big holes following last year.

Darius “Tig” Barksdale left one hole, while defensive coordinator Willis Wright left another.

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“You can’t and don’t replace a guy with that talent, “said Pogue. “Tig was a phenomenal football player. You’re talking about a guy who broke the all time Mississippi 5A rushing record. We just have to utilize the guys we have, utilize their strengths, and put them in the best position to be successful.”

You do not replace a coach like Wright, according to Pogue.

“Just like Tig, you don’t replace him,” said Pogue. “He’s a legend within himself.”

Pogue believes Wright would be at the top of the best coach’s poll in the state if there was one.

The kids have a lot of pride and that helps them through the coaching changes, according to Pogue.

“I tell them all the time that whether I’m here or so forth, football goes on,” he said. “Coach Wright wants us to move forward and for our program to continue to be successful. I’ve been pleased from an attitude standpoint of how our kids have accepted that. That’s tough because he’s all that kids like Marvin Burdette and David Conner have known on defense.”

 Pogue took on the defensive coordinator position and does not plan a lot of changes from what Wright did. The team will use the same terminology and scheme but with a new set of players.

“We’ve got to fit what our players can and can’t do,” said Pogue.

The team is in the process of figuring its strengths and weaknesses and utilizing strengths and minimizing weaknesses, Pogue said.

The Record

Keeping a stable coaching staff has been the key to maintaining the 75-game winning streak the Tigers now enjoy, according to Pogue.  

“Anytime you have a coaching transition, you don’t know what to expect. Biggest thing I had was a very stable coaching staff. I had guys that were on the previous staff and was able to hire some and we meshed well as a staff. Our kids did a great job of buying into what we were doing.”

The team went into a totally new direction from the previous staff because of the quarterback situation, Pogue explained.

“Overall, transition wise, I don’t know anything I’d have changed,” he said. “You couldn’t have drawn up a script and it gone better. I’m really proud of that. It was easy for me to bond with the kids and the ones here now are super. I give credit to this community, this town and this school.”

Pogue takes credit for any pressure that he felt his first year at South Panola.

“I look at it like this, you can look at pressure any kind of way,” Pogue said. “I want to win football games as bad as any coach out there and I can’t stand losing. Obviously, the winning streak is talked about around town but we don’t mention it as a football team, coaches or players.

“If you start looking back at that and paying to much attention to it, you sort of drop your guard a little in preparation for the next team,” Pogue continued.

The team will focus on whatever game it is facing that Friday.

“When we came in at first, it was 90 to nothing rolling,” Pogue said. “All of our coaches feel we are familiar a little bit more with our surroundings. Now this is a new season and we can’t live off what we did in 2007. We’ve got to get ready to go!”

To the coaching staff and team, playing in Jackson was just another football game with higher stakes.

“When we did make it to Jackson, nothing changed,” said Pogue. “We were just playing in Jackson but obviously stakes were higher because of the state championship. You can’t put any more on that game than you do the first one of the season. We kept doing what we had been doing.

“I talked to them about some ups and downs we had during the season,” Pogue said. “We came from behind at Columbus and fought through that. We learned we could count on each other because we’d been through some good and bad, overcoming adversity.”

2008 Team

Graduation left a big hole on the offensive line and defensive secondary. Pogue and company had to replace four offensive linemen and all the defensive backs.

“Those guys are young and inexperienced, but I’m excited about them and been really pleased so far,” he said. “I feel they’ll progress each game and get better and gain confidence.”

The thing is that South Panola did not back down and get an easier schedule for 2008. Polls across the nation are skeptical about the relatively young offensive line and the monster schedule South Panola faces.

 “The biggest area we’re having to work on is the offensive line,” said Pogue. “It’s the key to the whole operation of the offense. We have Don Blevins and David Renfro who have been there and been super when it comes to attitude. We have to continue to develop some continuity and work together as a unit.”

It is the same way in the secondary on defense.

“Everybody has a place to be and it’s a teamwork situation,” he said.

 Pogue bragged on the seniors.

 “We have a great group of seniors,” he said. “Starting with our quarterback, David Renfroe, who was 15-0 as a junior and brings a lot of experience to what we’re trying to do offensively. Anybody would like to have the starting quarterback return. He’s a great baseball player and has a great future in it. I think he’s kind of playing football for the fun of it obviously, but I think deep down he really wanted to play because he likes it and it’s fun to him. He just got to thinking it was his senior year and he didn’t want to miss out on it. When he finally decided that he was coming back, we were all excited. He makes us a better football team no doubt.”

Another key player on the offense is Nicholas “Big” Parker.

“Nick played a lot last year and had about 800 yards rushing,” Pogue said. “When Tig was out in mid season, Parker started the game.  He had a really good game so we’re counting on him a lot.”

Pogue is also counting on Domonique Carothers, a junior running back.

“We think he has a chance at being really good,” Pogue said.  

Also on offense is Qyendairs Griffin at running back and he will also play some linebacker. At times, Pogue will use Dandy Dozen linebacker David Conner on the offense at running back.

“We have four guys who all have their unique style and we’re going to try and use them and utilize their ability,” Pogue said. “If we can play all four running backs, then we should be fresh the second half.  There are some young offensive linemen who will be going out for the first time and I feel like they’re going to do well.”

Seniors leading the defense who have been on the gridiron battlefield, include Marvin Burdette, Conner, Kendrick Strong and LaReco Lee.

“I’m not singling those guys out but they’ve played a lot,” Pogue said. “We also have some young guys in the defensive back field that will see their first time out.

“We have some good football players who have played a lot and won a lot of championships,” Pogue continued. “We’re counting on those guys to help us bring those young guys that I mentioned up to playing speed. When we can tie all that in together – we’re a work in progress right now.”

Pogue is ready for the team to play a game and get the players a field on which to relieve some pressure, especially from the inexperienced players.

 Coaching Staff

Not only will the fans see some new players on the field, they’ll see three new coaches: Jamie Easley, Eric Rice and Eddie Maxon. 

Easley replaces Ben Ashley.

“He’s coaching the defensive backs and I’ve known him for a long time,” said Pogue. “He’s been at Calhoun City and he’s a great coach, a good school man and great with the kids. I’m excited about him.”

Rice, nephew of Jerry Rice who played in the NFL for 20 years mostly with the San Francisco 49ers, is from Starkville and played tight end for the Ole Miss Rebels from 2000 – 2004. He also coached at North Panola the last two years.

“He’s a young guy with great character and a great role model,” said Pogue. “He’s doing a great job of coaching our tight ends right now and that’s what he played in college. Rice has been a big influence on some of our tight ends.”

Maxon was an assistant at North Panola but had been head coach at Coahoma County. He played for Mississippi State University.

“We got him late because we had a coach to leave and we have been very pleased with how he has come in a tough situation not knowing anybody the week before practice. He’s done an outstanding job of bonding with the kids.”

Some of the familiar faces on the coaching staff include Trey Dickerson, William Stewart, Mark Weaver and Arnie Oakes. They are joined by the junior high coaching staff Artee Smith, Trey Higdon and Gary Sims. Volunteers are Heath Harper, Amir Hunt and Jonathan Ware.

“Right now our staff couldn’t not be in better shape,” said Pogue. “I wouldn’t trade them for anybody.”


As mentioned earlier, pollsters have rated the 2008 schedule as difficult for the Tigers.

“I’m concerned about Vicksburg,” Pogue said. “I had a pass with them when I was at Madison Central as an assistant coach and I always thought they were very talented. When you have guys that have talent, which means they’re big and they can run, then that’s a concern. Anytime you play a first, there are so many questions.

“Then we have Clarksdale the next week and they always play us hard and we have to go over there,” Pogue continued. “Following that is Grenada. Then comes the game that everybody is talking about, Florida. I understand they’re a great football team.”

Getting into the division opponents, the Tigers have Olive Branch and Tupelo. Both are ranked in the Clarion-Ledger preseason poll second and fifth, respectively.

“They’re really good teams,” said Pogue. “I know they’re talking this year that they think this is going to be both of those guys’ year. You can’t count out Starkville and the Desoto teams are getting so much better because of the population up there.”

Pogue stressed this year South Panola is not in a position to look past any team because of past performance.

“We can’t do that because everybody has put a star on our name on his schedule,” he said. ” It’s so important to keep that focus on the next week’s opponent.”

South Panola will be in the spotlight on September 19 when they host the Apopka Blue Darters of Apopka, Fla. That game will be televised live on ESPNU. The game will be viewed in 22 million homes.

“It’s going to be unique for the players and me because we’ve been on TV here in the state championship locally but ESPN is national,” Pogue said. “We’ve got to understand that’s going to be fun but you’ve got to play the game. If you don’t do that then it’ll not be fun and the outcome could be bad. When that time comes, we’re going to have to be well prepared. We’re not going to roll over and give it to them because they’re from Florida or somewhere else. They’re coming to Batesville, and we’re going to play it just like anybody else.”

Pogue continued to praise the Tiger fans.

“It’s phenomenal,” he said. “People love the South Panola Tigers. It’s big on Friday nights, and it’s the main thing. People come out early in the afternoon and tailgate.

The players get so excited to see the support that they have at the games and they feed off of that excitement, according to Pogue.

“It starts with the cheerleaders, the band, the game atmosphere and the way people get into it,” he said. “No question it has helped us a lot of times when we had to overcome some rough times in the games.”

Pogue was also full of praise for the new turf. Before it was laid, Pogue said he did not know how valuable a commodity it would really be, especially when it rains.

He said in the past when it rained they would have to be off the field a couple of days and practice in the gym.

“We let the storm clear and we got out there and went on with our business as usual – with no mud,” he said. “From that standpoint, it’s been unbelievable. The players have gotten really use to it and they love it. It’s a fast track surface and it’s ideal for speed and developed for speed. We kind of pride ourselves in the run.”

The team will still practice on the other field when they play someone on grass.

“I can’t thank the people enough that help put it together.”

The Streak

The subject most on people’s tongue when they talk about South Panola football is, “Is this the year when the streak ends?” Next question is, “Will South Panola play for sixth straight championship?”

At a 75-game win streak, South Panola holds the nation’s longest active win streak and has thrust itself on the world stage.

Pogue hopes the streak will continue for a long time and they keep winning state championships, but if he had a choice, he would take the state championship over the win streak.

“My ultimate goal is to play for a state championship,” he said. “You never want to lose but reality is reality. This can’t last forever. It’s unbelievable and it’s never been done before and probably never will be done again.

“At some point in time, life is life and there is going to be a day that we get beat but we hope it doesn’t come soon,” he continued. “If and when it happens, it’s going to be tough but a learning experience for coaches, players and the community. Things don’t just continue every day to go the way you want them. These kids have never experienced a loss but it’ll not be the end of the world. The sun will come up the next morning and if it doesn’t, then we aren’t too much going to be worried about a football game.”