WAYNESBORO, MS (WDAM) - It'll be a brave, new world for Wayne County High School football, and senior defensive tackle Jeremy Sibley is hoping to make his final year as a War Eagle his best.
"I'm going to miss it a lot," Sibley said. "But you only get to play high school football once, so I'm going to enjoy this while it lasts."
Sibley's final season will mark the first for the program under Coach Shelton Gandy, who was hired as a head coach for the first time in the city where he once ruled the football field as a high school All-America running back at Waynesboro Central High School.
Gandy, who went on to star at the University of Southern Mississippi before embarking on a coaching career that has spanned the high school, junior college and collegiate levels, said he is ready for the War Eagles' season to take flight.
"We've got a great group of seniors, and it's been very promising, coming out of a great spring and now the summer," Gandy said. "Coming into the fall, I'm very excited about it."
And one of the top seniors has been the 5-foot-9, 235-pound Sibley, who was selected Wayne County's "Player of the Pine Belt.
Sibley has been a member of the defensive line rotation since he was a sophomore, and Gandy said the gap-plugger has been a boon by being able to set an example for his younger teammates to follow.
"It's a talented group of defensive linemen, and to have him get in there and be able to lead some of those guys, young guys who are talented but don't necessarily know the way, Jeremy's been great with that," Gandy said. "He's been a leader, showing them how to practice. He gets those guys to play at his level instead of him going to their level."
Sibley said he has welcomed the opportunity.
"It feels great to help lead a team, be a leader on defense," Sibley said. "It's changed my mindset. Being a senior, knowing I've got to be a leader, that's changed things a lot."
Sibley has led in many ways on the field over the past few seasons. In 2016, Sibley collected 50 tackles, including four sacks, and forced a fumble. Last season, he finished with 42 tackles, including two sacks, and forced a fumble.
"He's hard to block," Gandy said. "He's a great leader, a hard-working guy who always has a smile on his face. He's just a great example, on and off the football field, a model citizen.
"I always talk about the schizophrenic nature of football, and he's got that. When he's off the field, he's a gentleman, and when he's on the field, he's going to run to the ball and get after you. He's there, every day at practice, doing things the War Eagle way."
After a run of double-digit wins from 2012-15, Wayne County has had to rally down the stretch of each of the past seasons to reach the playoffs.
Gandy said the War Eagles' goal for this fall is a simple one.
"Our goal will always be to win the next game," Gandy said. "If you win the next game, you have a chance to win the last game. So, that's always going to be our goal, to win that next game."
Sibley echoed those sentiments.
"Our number one goal is to win each game, but our main goal is to make it to the playoffs and make it to state this year."