BASSFIELD, Miss. (WDAM) - Al’jurae Arnold has bided his time, kept his nose to the grindstone and waited for his opportunity.
Arnold’s wait is over, and the Jefferson Davis County High School senior is about to take the offensive controls of what has been one of the best Class 3A football teams in Mississippi.
“I’m ready,” said Arnold, who was selected as the Jaguars’ “Player of the Pine Belt.”
“It’s been a lot of work these four years, three years. I’m ready, but still preparing to take on that challenge.”
Arnold has gotten more than a taste of the football field, and this fall, is expected to double down as the defensive backfield’s quarterback from his position as one of the Jaguars’ safeties.
“Al’jurae is going to step in at quarterback this year full time,” JDC coach Lance Mancuso said. “He’s been in and out all four years in his high school career, and he’s just a young man (who’s) developed and grown throughout his career here
“Not only will he be a leader on the offensive side of the ball, he’ll also be one of our safeties on defense. We expect a lot of good things from him this year. Offensively, we expect him to direct our offense like he’s capable of doing, and defensively we expect him to get us in and out of the right coverages in the secondary. We really have high hopes for him this year.”
The Jaguars are coming off one of the more remarkable runs to a state championship in Mississippi history, starting the season 2-6 before ripping off an eight-game winning streak to wind up celebrating the Jaguars’ second state championship in three years.
Arnold said the players, and especially the seniors know what’s at stake every time they put on the uniform.
“Each year we just go off, like the seniors, that was their state championship,” Arnold said. “We just contributed. So, we want a state championship going out of high school and graduating.
“It put a target on our back, but then it’s makes me feel good seeing the players before me go to college and go to the higher level. It made me want to go and follow their footsteps.”
Like every Pine Belt high school, JDC has dealt with the impact and worked through the requirements made necessary by the coronavirus pandemic.
But Mancuso said having to deal with strange days and different protocols may have come with a silver lining.
“The main thing I like about what I see from this group is I think this whole pandemic thing has brought these young men together,” Mancuso said. “They stayed away from each other for so long, starting in March. They were really excited just to be able to come out and be together and see one another.
“The biggest thing I take from it is they’re not taking anything for granted. In years past, it was more or less, ‘Okay, here we go again, long season.’ Now, every day is important to them. They’re giving that kind of effort every day and it’s really exciting knowing that you got a group of young men that really want to be here and are really doing what it takes to get ready to play.”
Part of that is just a way of life in Bassfield, where generations are bound by football and Friday nights in the fall are community events.
“Football is important in our city,” Arnold said. “Everybody, basically, plays football. We play football when football season ain’t even going on.
“It’s just a big thing in Bassfield and Jeff Davis County.”
And so are championships, with Mancuso guiding old Bassfield High School and then JDC to seven crowns since 2008.
Region 8-3A is a slog, loaded with traditionally quality programs.
But that beast-of-a-region can also prepare a team for just about anything it might see in the playoffs.
“It’s going to be even more difficult with the quality of football teams we have in our region from Magee, Columbia, Seminary, Tylertown, West Marion, all the way through,” Mancuso said. “The toughest part about it is not knowing if you’re going to have those non-(region) games to get you ready once you make region play
“It’s really going to be a tough struggle to make sure you’re playing your best when region time comes because if you’re not ready, you could have a good football team and you’re not going to make the playoffs. It’s going to be a season that nobody’s ever seen before.”