SOSO, Miss. (WDAM) - After reaching the Class 5A state championship football game for the first time in school history, what does West Jones High School have in mind for an encore?
“All we can do is work as hard as we can and try to do better than last year,” said junior quarterback Alan Follis, who came off the bench to lead West Jones to a 12-2 mark before falling in the state final to defending Class 5A state champion West Point High School.
“Our ultimate goal is to win a state championship, so we’re going to try everything we can to do that. People are saying that we won’t be good because we lost this and we lost that, but I think we’ve got a lot of good young guys and we can build from last year.”
So does West Jones coach Scott Pierson.
“Our expectations here are always high,” said Pierson, who has led the Mustangs to six, double-digit-win seasons since 2004.
“There was a slump there for about two or three years, but other than that, we’ve always gone deep (in the playoffs), I think the talent’s here, the community support is here, so really, it’s just about having the opportunity to perform on a big stage.”
The 6-foot-1, 170-pound Follis, who was tabbed West Jones’ “Player of the Pine Belt,” was thrust onto the stage in the 2018 season’s first game when then senior starting quarterback Dusty Cook was injured,
The then-sophomore wound up throwing for 1,864 yards and 15 touchdowns with five interceptions and rushing 376 yards and six touchdowns.
While Pierson was impressed, he said he only expects his young charge to get better and has seen Follis make strides this offseason.
“He was getting on the field (last year) and his whole concern was about taking care of himself, making sure that he did his job,” Pierson said. “Now, he’s taken on a leadership role, and it’s about telling everybody else what to do. Now, it’s more of a ‘I understand the position, and I understand that I have to be in control.’ That’s the biggest difference as opposed to last year, where it was just worry about myself and do my job. Now, he realizes he can only be successful if all of them are doing their jobs.
“As he evolves, our offense will evolve. Last year, we gave him a piece of it. This year, we feel like we can really expand the playbook.”
Follis said that would be fine.
“I’m not really scared,” Follis said. “I can get out of the pocket and do whatever coach asks me to do.”
A more potent offense could be exactly what the doctor ordered for the Mustangs, who lost 25 seniors from last season, including such defensive stalwarts as Byron Young and Jon Micah Coleman.
“Offensively, I think we are ahead of schedule simply because we have our quarterback back and some skill guys,” Pierson said. “Defensively, we lost a lot of really good players. Do I think that we’ve got guys coming down the pipeline who can play? Sure, I do. But when you’re losing guys who have been starting since their sophomore years, there’s a void. A void in leadership, a void in productivity. So, we’re trying to feel our way through that.
“Honestly, since the defense is probably going to take a little step back, offensively, the productivity has got to be better, and that’s on him. We’ve had that discussion, and he understands his role. You know, 21 (points) might not be enough anymore, whereas last year, three touchdowns, we’re OK.
“Now, you’re thinking, high 20s, low 30s. So, that’s the expectation on him, and his ability to spread the ball around, get the ball to our playmakers in space.”
The Mustangs will open the 2019 season at 7 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 23, when they welcome George County.