HATTIESBURG, Miss. (WDAM) _ On a recent drear, misty afternoon, a cadre of coaches put more than three dozen of Mississippi’s best high school football players through their paces during a two-hour practice at D.I. Patrick Stadium.
It’s all part and parcel of the process, as players little-known to one another _ or worse, better-known to one another as rivals _ have less than a week to become teammates, a band of brothers formed to square off in an all-star football game against the best Alabama can offer.
And the coaches who are called upon to extend their seasons and create a camaraderie where none had existed consider their task an honor and a privilege.
“To coach and be around some of the best players in the state of Mississippi, it’s an honor, man,” said North Forrest High School coach Anthony Dillon, who is coaching linebackers for the Mississippi all-star squad.
“Just bringing them all together and seeing them be competitive.”
Mississippi will take on Alabama Saturday in the 33rd annual edition of the Mississippi-Alabama Football Classic.
The game will be played for the just the third time on Mississippi turf, set for noon at M.M. Roberts Stadium.
Mississippi has won both games at home, and has won three of the last four meetings, though Alabama leads the series 22-10.
“We’ve never lost on Mississippi turf, and of course, we want to keep on winning,” Dillon said. “That’s what we’ve been telling the guys, let’s keep it going.”
Union High School coach Brad Breland heads a coaching staff that not only includes Dillon but Wayne Academy coach Todd Mangum as an administrative coach.
A quartet will represent the Pine Belt on the field Saturday, including defensive linemen Armondous Cooley (Wayne County High School) and McKinnley Jackson (George County High School), offensive lineman Trey Tuggle (Mize High School) and defensive back Jamison Kelly (Columbia High School).
Also playing for Mississippi: Madison Central High School offensive lineman Dylan Spencer, a USM commitment.
“Obviously, they are all great athletes, individually,” Breland said of his 42-man roster. “Our job is to kind of bring them all together, and unite them as a team, and unite them as brothers for one week.
“To me, personally, it’s a huge honor to be out here and be associated with this great group of coaches that we’ve got and the best players in the state of Mississippi.”
Breland said he wants the team peaking at the right time.
“We got a little sloppy (Wednesday), but we really got a lot better (Thursday),” Breland said. “I was really pleased with our effort. We kind of zoned in and everybody’s getting where they’re supposed to be fitting and everything looked a lot better.”