COLUMBIA, Miss. (WDAM) _ Columbia Academy football coach Randy Butler will tell you that of all the physical assets that senior quarterback Ras Pace brings to the table, among the most valuable are his two ears.
“He’s into every word that you,” Butler said. “When you’re coaching him, he’s listening. He doesn’t just hear you, he listens, and he tries to do it just how you’ve shown him.”
The 6-foot, 190-pound Pace has played four seasons for the Cougars, stepping in for an injured Wiley Cleland in 2016 and helping the Cougars reach the state semifinals.
The Cougars finished 7-6 in 2017 before slipping to 3-8 last year as they adjusted to a new offensive coordinator.
“Our players, we have a year under our belt, where we know each other better and can play off each other better,” said Pace, who was tapped Columbia Academy’s “Player of the Pine Belt” for a second, consecutive season.
“Senior year, just going to try to put up a lot of points, try to win a lot of games and go deep in the playoffs. I think we’ve got the squad to do it. We want to try and win a state championship.”
Butler said the Cougars return 11 seniors, including 10 starters.
Pace said the experience level will be a huge asset for Columbia Academy.
“We’ve got a lot of seniors this year (who) have had a lot of experience the last couple of years, a lot of playing time, so just building off that,” Pace said. “That’s going to be a big key for us, having that senior experience and leadership.”
But Columbia Academy also will be fielding its share of youngsters.
“We’ve a small junior class, a small sophomore class, so we’re going to actually dress eighth- and ninth-graders for varsity games,” Butler said. “You’ll see a bunch of ninth-graders, mainly on special teams.
“But we’ll also have a couple of ninth-graders starting, and we’ve done that that last two or three years.”
Riles Stuart started as a freshman in 2017, followed last year by Kris Ginn. Butler said Eli Beard, a transfer from Puckett, will start at safety this fall for the Cougars.
Pace, who is about 100 yards shy of throwing for 4,000 career yards, said he thinks the Cougars can claw their way back.
“There’s always going to be some uncertainty on what the team is going to be, but I’m real confident in the guys,” Pace said. “They’ve been working hard all summer and I think we’ve got some guys who can make some plays.
“It’s up to me to make the right reads and things and get (the football) in their hands for us to win.”
Columbia Academy will open the 2019 football season at 7 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 23, when the Cougars travel to Mendenhall to take on Simpson Academy.