Stringer, MS - For the past two years, Stringer High School has been eliminated from the postseason in the second round.
With their core group returning in 2017, the Red Devils look to use those early playoff exits as motivation this season.
"Just a bitter taste in our mouth," said Stringer head coach John Brown. "I think that could be motivation in itself. The experience we've gained the past couple of years, we're experienced. Still young but we're very experienced. I look for them guys to be leaders now."
One of those guys Brown looks to is junior Anthony Thomas.
The Red Devil running back rushed for 1,728 yards and 21 touchdowns last season, while also recording 69 tackles at linebacker.
"A lot of the kids look up to him," Brown said. "But not only here, he's a great kid in the classroom. What he really does for us on the football team? Tailback, he can take snaps at quarterback, he can play slot, he catches the ball exceptionally well out of the backfield. Speed shiftiness, quickness, he plays defense. He's pretty aggressive on defense as well."
Brown's descriptions meet the make-up of a player with Division I potential. Though he attends a small high school, Thomas knows with hard work, he can eventually play for a major university.
"I think I'm going to have to work harder than I'm working now," Thomas said. "Focus on my grades in school and stay humble."
"Nowadays with social media, if you can play they're going to find you," Brown said. "[USM assistant coach] Lytrel Pollard came from this very school. So, you can be found."
Southern Miss running backs coach Pollard led Stringer to three state championships - 1990, 1991 and 1992 - before playing linebacker for the Golden Eagles. Pollard led USM with 114 tackles in 1997.
Thomas hopes to follow a similar path, starting with bringing a state title back to Stringer.
"I'm looking to go to state with my team," Thomas said. "We're looking forward to beat everybody, to be honest. And we're not backing down from nobody."