Players of the Pine Belt: Middleton to act again as JDC’s man in the middle

Players of the Pine Belt: Middleton to act again as JDC’s man in the middle

BASSFIELD, Miss. (WDAM) - Year in, year out, Markis Middleton and his fellow Jaguars at Jefferson Davis County High School expect to be playing for a Class 3A state football championship.

This year is no different.

“Everybody expects us to win state,” Middleton said during a break from a recent summer workout at the Howard Willoughby Field. “We’ve been doing it all the other years, so it’s always been there.

“We always expect to be up there at state, so we work for it.”

Indeed.

In Coach Lance Mancuso’s first 10 years in Jefferson Davis County, his program has won six state crowns, including five at Bassfield (2009, 2012-15) and one in JDC’s initial season of existence (2017).

And with its entire fleet of offensive skill players returning as well as the back seven on defense from a 10-5 team last season, Jefferson Davis County could very well figure in the Class 3A mix again come November.

“That’s certainly our goal,” Mancuso said.

The performance of Middleton and his fellow seniors will be critical for the Jaguars, Mancuso said.

“We’re really excited about his leadership, and hopefully, his production out on the football field this season,” Mancuso said.

Middleton, Jefferson Davis County’s “Player of the Pine Belt,” began his career as an undersized overachiever.

Now, after dedicating himself in the weight room over the years, the senior currently carries about 170 pounds on a 5-foot-11 frame.

“He’s had a great off-season, Mancuso said. “He’s one of our guys who didn’t miss a workout the entire summer, and it really shows. We’re hoping that’s he’s able to stay healthy through the year because he’s so important for us defensively, as far as getting us lined up and making the calls and things like that.”

Middleton also served as a catalyst in JDC’s rushing attack in the latter stages of 2018, helping the Jaguars pick up steam heading into the postseason last season.

“He played a lot of fullback toward the end of the year for us, when we made that run in the playoffs,” Mancuso said. “He was really the key guy that we moved to fullback, and it kind of sparked us going into the playoffs. Now, we’ve moved him back to halfback to shore up some depth, and he hasn’t missed stride.

“His importance on the defensive side of the ball does not outweigh his importance on the offensive side of the ball. He’s definitely a guy at crunch time who we look to.”

Not only do JDC’s coaches recognize what Middleton brings to the field, but so do his teammates.

“We voted on captains out of camp for the first time, and he was an unanimous choice out of the captains who were chosen,” Mancuso said. “He’s really well thought of by his teammates, and he’s really embraced his role as a captain.”

Middleton said he’s ready to make his final year the best.

“I didn’t have as much (responsibility) as a freshman as I do now as a senior,” Middleton said of the changes through his career. “A lot more people are depending on me.

“Every week, we just come to practice, work hard, then wait ‘til Friday to put down on the field what we’ve been coached on.”

Jefferson Davis County will open the 2019 season at 7 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 23, when the Jaguars travel to D’Iberville High School.

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