HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - While most of the city of Laurel was probably still deep in sleep Thursday morning, the sound of sneakers squeaking filled the Laurel High gym.
It was still very much dark outside when the Tornadoess started warming up. Their session started at 4:30 am..
Since he took over as head coach Marcus Price has held these early grind sessions during school breaks.
"As a college athlete I experienced many of these," Price said following the five hour session. "The first time that I had a 4:30 workout kind of blew my mind. So I wanted to make sure that we do everything we can to prepare our young men to go to college and be successful."
For just about five hours, the Tornadoes went through grueling team and individual skill work. For Price and his players, there is no room for getting comfortable atop the Class 5A throne.
"You gotta have the mindset to want to get better," senior guard Andre George said. "You gotta come prepared. You know you got to get that work in to go back to state."
There were moments during the practice that showed how early it was, especially during the Christmas break. Any sluggishness gave way to push ups for a quick refocus.
"It's tiring but you know you gotta get up, work hard," senior post Damichael Brown said. "Try to get us back to state. Get us another gold ball. All the hard work and dedication, gotta have it."
The Tornadoes won the program's first ever state title last season, defeating Wayne County. With a strong returning core that includes the likes of Troymain Crosby, Charles Winston and Dontario Drummond, they aren't sneaking up on anyone this time around.
"Well obviously when you're the defending state champ you're going to get everybody's best shot," Price said. "But for us, we don't even think about it like that. Most of the time I try to make sure that I get my guys to be prepared to play to the Tornadoe standard."
One common thread this Laurel squad hopes to share with last year's unit is a singular focus in turning doubters into believers.
"The motivation is we the underdogs," senior post Danthony Page said. :People doubt us so when we won the first time that was just motivation for us. We gotta go again."
As the dark sky gave way to a little light, the Tornadoes completed the next step in what they hope is another journey to Jackson.
"I know everybody is asleep," Price said. "I got up at 3:45 to be here. I told them I could still be sleep right now. But the thing is, if you want to do something great you've got to be willing to make sacrifice. So right now, I'm asking the team to sacrifice their time (and) sacrifice their body so that we can put ourselves in a position to hopefully go back to Jackson and repeat the things that we did last year."