Sunday, August 19, 2018

Tough Schedule Faces Talented, Young 2018 ECCC Football Warriors

If the East Central Community College Warriors are to improve on last season’s record, they will have to do so against the toughest football schedule in the Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges.The good news is that there is a lot of talent on the 2018 edition of the ECCC football Warriors, particularly at the skill positions.

East Central’s 2018 schedule is brutal. In addition to the traditional six MACJC South Division opponents, the Warriors will have to face three teams ranked in last season’s final National Junior College Athletic Association Top 20 Poll. East Central opens the season on Thursday, Aug. 30, in Senatobia against Northwest Mississippi Community College. The Rangers won the national championship in 2015 and finished last season at No. 7 in the final rankings.

The second week of the season finds East Central in Fulton to face Itawamba, a team that was ranked No. 10 at the end of 2017. Defending national champion East Mississippi Community College will visit Decatur for a matchup on Thursday, Sept. 27, at 6:30 p.m.The Warriors will also face South Division foes Copiah-Lincoln, Gulf Coast, Hinds, Jones County, Pearl River, and Southwest.Both Northwest and East Mississippi are highly ranked in several 2018 preseason publications, while Gulf Coast, Hinds, and Jones County have also been ranked.

All nine East Central games will be played on Thursday evening for the second straight season.“There’s no doubt it’s the toughest schedule in the league,” said ECCC Head Coach Ken Karcher, who is in his sixth season leading the Warriors. “How we come out those first two games mentally and on the scoreboard will set the tone for our season.”

East Central will be looking to bounce back from a disappointing 1-8 campaign in 2017, just one year removed from an MACJC South Division Title and two years after a C.H.A.M.P.S. Heart of Texas Bowl appearance.“We played a lot of freshmen last year,” continued Karcher. “We also beat ourselves a lot last season.”
East Central led or was tied in five of the eight losses in 2017.The Warriors will have several starters back from last year’s squad, and will fill the holes with talented freshmen and transfers.

On offense, East Central will have to replace wide receiver Antonio Gibson (University of Memphis), tight ends Chris Deloach (University of Central Florida) and Nigel Wood (Alcorn State University), running backs Mikell Daniels and Dwayne Barnett, tackle Josh McMullen (University of Central Florida), and guard Brandon Harrison (Tusculum College).

Returning is 6-6 quarterback Mario Asagunla, who was forced into action in the season opener when starter Quentin Gibson went down with a leg injury. Asagunla, who prepped at Hillcrest Christian in Jackson, passed for 1,120 yards and 11 touchdowns in seven starts as a freshman. Battling for the QB spot is 6-0, 185-pound sophomore Brady Anderson, who played at Southwest Mississippi Community College last season after prepping at Brandon High School.

Also back is running back James Smith III out of Velma Jackson in Camden who rushed for over 500 yards last season. Receivers Octavious Olowo-ake of Jackson Murrah and Kevontaye Caston of Trinity Episcopal in Natchez are also back. They combined for 42 catches for 545 yards and four scores as freshmen.

“The development of Mario at quarterback could well be the key to our team,” noted Karcher. “He was just learning the quarterback position when he came to East Central, and we had to throw him into action last season before he was ready. He still has a lot to learn.”

Karcher has his eyes on several newcomers to step in and contribute on offense. Among them are a trio of running backs in Marcus Hooks from Northside Christian School in St. Petersburg, Fla., JohnTavis McClelland of Lamar School in Meridian, and Marquavious Qualls from Lake.“We have four quality backs who can all play,” noted Karcher.

Karcher also feels good about the tight end situation after losing Deloach and Wood, and with sophomore Ethan McMullan (6-3, 280) out of Newton County moving over from tight end to tackle. Freshmen Alvontray Foster of St. Francis Academy in Baltimore, Md., and four other newcomers are expected to fill the vacancy at tight end. Connor Breland (6-5, 300) out of Union High School also returns to the offensive line after starting all nine games at center last season.

Karcher also singled out wide receiver Jaylen Zachery of Thurgood Marshall High School in Dayton, Ohio, as having performed well in summer workouts.“We will have a lot of good, young skill players on offense,” said Karcher. “How quickly and well they develop to this level of play will be key.”

On defense, the Warriors will have a new look as veteran coach Mickey Mays moves over from defensive line coach and run game/special teams coordinator to defensive coordinator this season. He will also coach linebackers.

Mays will look to All NJCAA Region 23 safety Keonte’ Daniels out of Noxapater and safety Tre’ Young from McGill-Toolen in Mobile, Ala., to anchor the secondary and a young Warrior defense. Young led the Warriors with 63 tackles, while Daniels was second with 61. Volme Swanier from Pass Christian returns at linebacker where he totaled 23 stops and one sack last fall. He was named the team’s Most Improved Defensive Player following the 2017 season.

Karcher said several new players caught his attention during July workouts and he expects them to contribute on the defensive side of the ball in 2018. Defensive linemen Alvin Dempsey III (6-1, 285) from Port St. Joe (Fla.) High School, Martavous McCray (6-2, 307) from Thomas County Central High School in Thomasville, Ga., and Bo Reeves (6-3, 288) from Greene County High School in Eutaw, Ala., have impressed, along with linebacker Elijah Keyes from Mize High School and defensive end Ronnie Thomas (5-11, 260) from Clinton High School.

The Warriors will have to replace both kickers from a season ago. Kickoffs and PATs in 2018 will be handled by junior college transfer Sam Cox, who played his high school football at Starkville Academy. The competition is still open for a punter.

“We will be looking to build team chemistry during August,” said Karcher. “How quickly we come together as a family is important with such a tough schedule, along with not beating ourselves with turnovers and penalties.

“I’m much more encouraged after our July practices than I was going in. We have a lot of talent. Now we just need to come together as a team.”Karcher welcomes a couple of familiar faces to the East Central coaching staff this season. Former NFL player and NFL Europe head coach Mike Jones will coach running backs and tight ends for the Warriors. Karcher and Jones have a relationship that spans three decades and have worked together twice before. Jones led the Frankfurt Galaxy to the 2006 World Bowl Championship and also served as offensive coordinator at Tennessee State University for six seasons. He was a sixth round draft choice of the Minnesota Vikings as a wide receiver out of Tennessee State in 1983 and played six seasons in the NFL.

Also joining Karcher’s staff is former Warrior standout and University of West Georgia running back Lamarcus Franks, who will help with the linebackers and defensive line.