ELLISVILLE, Miss. (WDAM) - A day some thought may not arrive in 2020 - junior college football returns to Mississippi on Thursday night.
Jones College opens against East Central Community College at 7 p.m. at Sim Cooley Field while Pearl River Community College hosts the reigning national champions Mississippi Gulf Coast at 7 p.m.
The JUCO season will be a sprint of sorts with just six divisional games scheduled. The Mississippi Association of Community Colleges Conference received a waiver from the National Junior College Athletic Association to play fall football while the rest of the NJCAA opted to play in the spring of 2021.
“It’s been a long time coming,” said Steve Buckley, entering his fifth season as Jones College’s head coach. “We’re excited about playing another opponent, regardless of who it is. East Central’s coming in here, very well-coached team. Coach Ken Karcher and his staff do a great job. I feel very fortunate as a coach to have gone through what we’ve been through the last 52 days playing against ourselves. To play somebody else, it’s going to be fun Thursday night.”
Buckley expects some growing pains with a group that returns just 14 players from 2019′s 7-3 campaign.
Meanwhile, Seth Smith makes his much-anticipated coaching debut at PRCC after being hired in December 2019 and navigating an unorthodox spring and summer.
The Wildcats finished 3-6 a season ago.
“Right now we’re highly optimistic but we haven’t played a game,” Smith said. “About 10:00 on Thursday we’ll know a heck of a lot more about where we are, who are are, where we need to go. The cool thing about playing a team of this caliber - they’re the best team in the country. They are the standard so if you’re trying to get to where they are, after you play them you’ll know how big or how short your measuring stick is to get to that point.”
“It’ll be fun, I’ll be honest with you,” Buckley said. “Are we anxious a little bit? Yes. We have a 55-man roster with 43 guys who have never suited up before. It’ll be a challenge and I’m sure there will be a few mistakes made early on but we gotta make those mistakes going full speed. It’s a great group, a lot of talent on this football team and I’m excited to see how they’re going to react under the lights for the first time.”