Players of the Pine Belt-East Marion senior Raul Soldi

Players of the Pine Belt-East Marion senior Raul Soldi

HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - It took some time for East Marion High School offensive lineman Raul Soldi to grow into his role along the Eagles' front.

Now, entering his senior year, the 5-foot-10, 230-pound Soldi said he's ready to take his game up a level.

"When I first started, I didn't really hit too hard," said Soldi, who was selected as East Marion's "Player of the Pine Belt." "I was soft hitting. Now, I'm getting more aggressive with it, just popping them.

"I like to be rough. I like to hit them."

Soldi will be an anchor on what East Marion coach Kevin Jackson said he believes will be one of the Eagles' strengths this fall.

"I feel like our offensive line is going to be our strong suit this year," Jackson said. "(Soldi) and T.J. Cowart are two seniors coming back that are going to be on our offensive line, and they're going to be solid players down there for us."

A strong front five should be a boon for play-making quarterback Devin Daniels, who will be starting his third season behind center.

"Our quarterback should be good," Jackson said. "(He's) been a two-year starter, so we've got him back this year and we expect big things from his this year."

The Eagles have been through a dry spell of late.

A former Class 2A power that dropped down to Class 1A last season, East Marion won at least 10 games from 2010-14, with Jackson's teams amassing 22 wins during his first two seasons in 2013-14.

But the Eagles managed just three wins combined over the next two year before finishing 5-7 in 2017, including a first-round loss in the Class 1A playoffs to South State champion Nanih Waiya.

Jackson said he and East Marion want to continue the upswing.

"We're going to bring it on Friday nights," Jackson said, "and I would say East Marion will get part of that limelight. Well, a little bit of that limelight this year, hopefully."

Much will depend on the continuing maturation of players like Soldi.

"I remember a kid who didn't have a lot of athletic movement," Jackson said. "He's really worked hard over the last three years to get his feet together, to get his movement and lateral movement together. So, he's really put in the work and the time to make himself a better athlete and a better football player."

And as he's grown and improved on the field, Soldi has earned a leadership role as well.

"He's a vocal guy," Jackson said. "You probably noticed it. He likes to talk, so he's a very vocal guy. The kids are starting to look up to him and starting to listen to him because he's got that senior tone of voice. So, hopefully, that's going to pay off this year."

So does Soldi.

"Just grind and be as mean as I can on the field and be as mean as I can on the books," Soldi said of what he wants from his senior season. "We're looking good. Some of the younger kids are looking great. Even though they're small, they're coming with that pop, that thump."