Players of the Pine Belt: Title shot remains tops on McCray’s, Taylorsville’s football agenda

Players of the Pine Belt: Title shot remains tops on McCray’s, Taylorsville’s football agenda

TAYLORSVILLE, Miss. (WDAM) _ Taylorsville High School linebacker Chanton McCray is one of about two dozen Tartars who have known the delight of winning a state football championship the disappointment of having a second title run come up just short.

Taylorsville won the Class 2A football crown in 2018 only to fall in the championship game a year later.

“It hurt a lot, so it means a lot to me to go back and win it,” said McCray, a three-year starter who was named Taylorsville’s “Player of the Pine Belt.”

“Making it so far, only to come up so short, that hurts. So, we’ve been very dedicated (during the offseason).”

Taylorsville coach Mitch Evans, who led the Tartars to s 15-1 record in his first season as head coach, said he has seen that dedication first hand.

“I think it left a sour taste in their mouth, so they came back this summer, willing to get better, willing to work hard, and down the road, you may see the (payoff) of all that hard work,” Evans said.

McCray is one of 10 seniors returning, including eight with starting experience.

Arguably the most critical of the returnees, junior quarterback Ty Keyes, has been full go since April after recovering from an ankle injury that sidelined him for the championship last season.

Keyes, who was the triggerman for the Tartars’ title run in 2017, will be behind center for a third consecutive season.

“He’s 100 percent,” Evans said. “He’s a little more vocal than he was last year, getting guys in the right spots, being a more vocal leader than just an on-field leader. I think his experience has helped him feel more comfortable to do that."

The 6-foot-2, 180-pound McCray has become the defense’s quarterback.

“With us losing four or five starters on defense, him coming back as a three-year starter is very important for us, as far as getting us where we need to be," Evans said. “We’ve got young guys filling in the spots we lost, so he’s helping us getting them lined up, making the calls, just being a leader.”

The defense also will be helped by a veteran group of senior linemen, including Ty Boland, Jadarious Booth, Hunter Lee, Zadarian McGill and Kason James.

“Offensively, we have a chance to be really good, and defensively, we’re going to be really solid," Evans said. “Our front four is really tough. Three, and maybe four, of those guys will play college football.”

McCray, who also holds s handful of offers to play at the next level, said he wants only the best for the Tartars in 2019.

“It’s kind of sad, because it’ll be the last time playing for my high school, but I’m kind of happy about it, hoping to bring back a championship back in my final year," McCray said.

The Tartars will open the 2019 season at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 22, when they travel to Forest to take on defending Class 2A state champion, Scott Central High School. The teams met in the 2018 Class 2A title game on Dec. 1, with the Rebels winning 21-7.

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