COLUMBIA, Miss. (WDAM) - During the 2018 football season, Columbia High School rang up seven more wins than the year before, posting double-digit victories for the first time since 2008.
But after tasting a, heaping helping of success at 10-3, the Wildcats want more.
“It gave us a lot of confidence, and we have a lot of people coming back, so I’m excited about it,” said senior left tackle Jordan Aaron, one of the road graders on the offensive line who helped the Wildcats run for more than 3,500 yards last season.
“Now, just out there with my team, working hard, trying to do everything we can to pull out a state championship.”
The notion is not far-fetched. Columbia returns 22 seniors, a pair of running backs _ senior Kentrel Bullock (1,265 yards, 19 touchdowns in 2018) and sophomore Omar Johnson (1,466 yards, 14 touchdowns) _ who each eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark rushing and size and speed on both sides of the football.
The biggest potential obstacle: Columbia plays in Region 8-3A, which some have dubbed the “SEC West.”
The Wildcats will see Jefferson Davis County High School, which won the Class 3A title as recently as 2017, and Seminary High School, which beat Columbia for the region title last year and won South State in 2018 before falling in the state championship.
The region also sports Columbia’s cross-Marion County rival, West Marion High School, and Tylertown High School. Both schools are traditional strongmen in football, athletic and dangerous, year in, year out.
This fall, thanks to realignment, Wesson High School was shipped out, replaced by another traditional football power, Magee High School.
“I think we made some people mad somewhere in the state of Mississippi, our whole 8-3A, because the gift we got was Magee,” said second-year Columbia coach Chip Bilderback, who led the turnaround a year ago after moving over from an ultra-successful run at Class 2A Perry Central High School.
“There’re just no nights off, and what we really stress with our group is that we want to have no days off in our working. If you practice hard every day, then you’ve trained yourself to play hard every Friday night.”
Aaron has been the epitome of that philosophy.
The 6-foot-2, 285-pound Aaron, who was selected Columbia’s “Player of the Pine Belt,” will enter his second season as a two-way starter, doubling down on defense at tackle.
“Jordan’s kind of that whole senior group,” Bilderback said. “We’ve got 22 seniors and Jordan’s one of the leaders of that group. The good thing is that we have a lot of guys leading, and that’s what you hope for, not just one single person.
“Jordan, he starts on defensive line, too, so he runs out there and gets out there, and mixes it up. He’s just a great kid to have in the program, a great reflection on Columbia High.”
Aaron said the summer will be critical for the kind of work the Wildcats want to get done this fall.
“The summer period is the most important part of the year for the conditioning so when that first game comes, we’re not the ones on our knees and stuff,” Aaron said. “We’re the ones standing tall and ready whatever comes.
“Play hard, be aggressive, just whoop whoever’s in front of you. We’re a running team, so we have to be aggressive.”
Columbia opens the 2019 season at 7 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 23 when the Wildcats host Mendenhall High School.