LAUREL, MS (WDAM) - Last season, the Laurel High football squad took a 7-5 record to the 4A state playoffs. Fate turned its back on the Tornadoes, and they fell in heart-breaking fashion to North Pike High School, losing in double-overtime.
But heading into the 2011 campaign, the Tornadoes have many reasons to be confident. They have 23 seniors returning, and many of those seniors will most-likely consist of their play-makers. Returning at quarterback will be all-state selection Dontrell Pruit, and he'll have plenty of weapons around him.
All three of his primary receivers are also seniors, including Justin Mack, Tevin McInnis and Dequan Heidelberg. Lining up in the backfield behind Pruit will be yet another senior in running back Virzil Tillman.
"This bunch has been together for three years, so they've been through the fire," said head coach Milton Smith, "They've proven that they can get it done." In two wins last season, this offense twice eclipsed 40 points, and in four other wins, nearly reached thirty points.
One of those occasions was their season-opening win over Oak Grove.
"If we can stay healthy, limit turnovers on offense and play solid defense, we should have a pretty good season."
On defense, it's the same story. Laurel returns a host of seniors, including their top linebacker Defond Bester, as well as seniors Chris Apperwhite, Anthony Horne and Finest Armstrong, who all play defensive back.
In order to improve team speed, Milton and his defensive staff "simplified things" for his team, and he's liked the results he's seen in the off-season. "We're pretty fast on defense," said Smith.
Laurel opens its season on August 19 on the road against South Jones, who have beaten the Tornadoes the last three years straight. But motivation hasn't been hard to come by for the Laurel football team.
The Tornadoes haven't forgotten their double-overtime defeat in last year's playoffs, and they're not only hoping to return to that game; they're hoping to go past it.
"I think it's been a big motivating factor because they know they can do it," said Smith, "They know that if we can go out early, take care of business early, stay healthy, and not fight the battle from being behind all the time, we can do fine."