HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - Wayne County is just three years removed from a state championship.
Even so, there seems to be a new type of excitement around Waynesboro with Shelton Gandy heading the program. The former Waynesboro Central High and Southern Miss standout has the War Eagles at 5-2 in his first season.
“I think he's resurrected that program within a short period of time,” said Hattiesburg head coach Tony Vance. “I think he's got some guys out that really want to play. I think they believe in that War Eagle pride and when they put that uniform on, they know what it stands for."
"We've been getting better every week,” said Gandy, who rushed for more than 6,000 yards in three years at Waynesboro Central. “That's one of our goals. The ultimate goal is to win the next game. We want improvement and our kids have done a great job and they've improved every week."
Friday marks Wayne County’s toughest test of the year, without question.
The War Eagles visit unbeaten Hattiesburg (7-0), who was a win away from a state title last season.
Getting back to the championship game is a recurring thought among the Tigers. Learning how to handle success has also been a challenge for Hattiesburg.
"Last year we kinda got complacent,” said Hattiesburg senior Darius Ruffin. “Kind of beating everybody in our division, I guess. We kinda got complacent and not really focusing on being 1-0 every week. Really big thing coach Vance has stressed this year is just taking it one week at a time. Being 1-0 after every week and not necessarily worry about the end goal but have the end goal in mind."
The Tigers hope to be 8-0 after facing Wayne County in an important region 4-5A contest. Coach Gandy’s latest task is planning for a Hattiesburg offense that averages 47 points per game.
“You know, that’s a very difficult question,” said Gandy, when asked how to stop the Tigers’ offense. “That’s a good question and I’m sure everybody’s wondering. No, we just got to play our game and be ourselves. We’ve got to work on what we do, control what we can control and focus on our play. Hopefully, [we] look up in the fourth quarter with a chance to win.” “I think you watch the film, first thing you do you watch [Wayne County’s] defensive line,” Vance said. “They jump out at you, how hard they play, the ball get-off. Secondary, they’re going to come up and hit you, linebackers they’re going to hit you. They’re a physical football team, one of the more physical teams we’ve played in a while. They’re going to play extremely hard and we expect them to get after us.”