Now in his third year as East Central Community College’s head football coach, Brian Anderson can finally say “his” Warriors will take the field for the 2011 campaign, which begins Thursday, Sept. 1, at Northeast Mississippi Community College in Booneville.
Anderson, who joined the ECCC staff in 2008 as offensive coordinator, was named interim head coach the following season and “officially” took over the program prior to the 2010 campaign.
A former successful coach on the high school level, Anderson said improvement has been made each season, as the Warriors were ranked among the top offensive and defensive squads in the state and nation.
“Each year has been part of a building process,” Anderson explained. “This is our first year having 100 percent of our recruits on the team, which makes this season very special for us. We’re going to be young, however, with a lot of first-year players – transfers as well as freshmen - and several returning sophomores. So we are going to have a good mix of talent on the squad, which I think is important for success.”
Although the Warriors have “statistically” been successful on offense and defense, Anderson said “inconsistent” special teams – along with turnovers and injuries – led to back-to-back 2-7 campaigns. The Warriors were winless in the MACJC South Division in 2009 but improved to 2-4 last season.
“Statistically, we have been very competitive on both sides of the ball,” said Anderson, referring to the success of the 2010 squad, which finished fourth in total offense and second in total defense in the MACJC and placed in the top 20 in both categories nationally. “But there are three phases to a football game – offense, defense and special teams – and we have not been consistent with our special teams.”
Offensively, Anderson expects success to continue in piling up chunks of yardage, even though a first-year quarterback will once again be at the helm.
The Warrior offense was led last year by freshman Blake Matherne, who completed 122 of 226 passes for 1,652 yards and nine scores in 2010. He averaged 182.4 yards per contest. Matherne, product of Belle Chase High School in New Orleans, is continuing his career at Mary Hardin Baylor in Texas.
Taking the reins for this year’s squad is freshman Mitch Manley, a product of Pittsburg (TX) High School. Manley (6-5, 216) received All-District honors for three consecutive years and was a pre-season All-State selection his senior season.
“Mitch has the talent and leadership ability to successfully lead the offense,” said Anderson. “Mitch is very cerebral….he understands situations and can manage those situations into successful outcomes. He is very good at reading defenses and making the necessary adjustments to execute a play. We are looking for great things from Mitch and the offense this season.”
Anderson said Manley will have a talented corps of receivers from which to choose, including top returnees Reggie Hall (5-9, 170), a product of Neville High School in Monroe, La., and Corey Collier (6-3, 205) of Tuscaloosa (Ala) County High School.
Hall is the top returnee with 29 receptions for 355 yards and one touchdown. He is considered one of the fastest receivers in the MACJC and is also a dangerous return specialist. He was ranked in the top 25 nationally in kickoff and punt returns. Hall may also be called on to play a role on the Warrior defensive unit.
Collier is a bigger target at 6-3 and is considered one of the stronger players on the team. He has a good combination of speed to go with his strength.
“Reggie and Corey can be dangerous,” said Anderson. “Reggie is a slot guy who can run and make plays. And Corey is a tough, physical receiver.”
Also expected to see action at receiver are returnees Deonte’ Harper (5-8, 165) of Morton; and Zach Pendleton (6-3, 185) of Forest Hill, and freshmen Greg Timmons (6-3, 208) of Eisenhower High School in Houston, TX; Lavadius Lyles (5-8, 180) and Cameron Stowers (6-2, 194), both of Forest; KeiVondre Watford (6-4, 220) of Tuscaloosa (Ala.) Central High School; and Brock Hall (6-3, 200) of Paul W. Bryant High School in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
Timmons, who sat out the 2010 campaign, was rated the top receiver in Texas in 2009. The same year he was named to the Parade All-American, U.S. All-American and Texas All-State squads. In addition, he received All-State and All-District honors for 2007, 2008 and 2009.
Lyles helped lead the Bearcats to a perfect 2010 season capped by the State 3A Championship. An All-State and All-District selection, Lyles was also named the most valuable offensive player in 3A his senior season and was selected Class 2A Player of the Year as a junior.
Anderson also considers Lyles the top running back as preseason workouts get under way.
“Lavadius is a little further along (at running back) than anyone else right now,” said Anderson. “He is a very sharp kid and can do multiple things. We are excited to have him in our offense.”
Stowers was also a key member of the state champion Bearcat squad and earned All-State honors.
Watford previously signed with the University of Southern Mississippi and is also a welcomed addition to the receiving corps.
Hall is a two-time recipient of most valuable player honors.
Anderson is also pleased with the offensive line.
“Up front offensively we are huge…bigger than what we have been,” he said. “Bigger does not always mean better, however….but we do have great size.”
Top returnees on the offensive line include Tate Rogers (6-1, 280) of Louisville, who will start at center; and tackle Andre Lucious (6-1, 315) of Tuscaloosa County (Ala.) High School. They were part of an offensive line that helped the squad average 176.7 rushing yards per contest.
Anderson said he is “most excited” about the defense, which last year was ranked second overall in the MACJC, allowing 279.2 yards per contest.
“We have some huge guys up front….and we don’t expect them to get pushed around,” he said.
Some of the “huge guys” on defense include Darnell Hughes (6-6, 350) of Forest, Bradley Dorsey (6-6, 385) of Morton, and recent addition, Semisi Tupou (6-5, 419) of Orange High School in Long Beach, Calif.
“We’ve not had players of that size and statue since I’ve been here,” said Anderson.
In addition to the defensive players mentioned, Anderson said other standouts include ends LaKenneth Weidman (6-5, 233) of South Leake and Vondrick Lucious (6-6, 270) of Tuscaloosa County; tackle Kalvin Smith (6-1, 302) of Newton County; linebackers Ricky Cavanaugh (6-2, 215) of LBJ High School in Austin, TX, Darius Wren (5-10, 208) of West Lauderdale and honorable mention All-American Chris Ficklin of Scott Central; and secondary members Dennis Thames (6’, 188) of Louisville, a transfer from Mississippi State University; Jonathan Scott (6-5, 190) of Seabreeze High School in Daytona Beach, FL, formerly with the University of West Virginia; and Ben Brooks (5-9, 175) of Northeast Lauderdale.
Weidman was named to the first team All-State and All-District squads.
Ficklin led the state in total tackles with 126 and placed second in the nation. In addition to All-American recognition, he was named All-Region 23 and first team MACJC All-State.
“Chris is a player,” said Anderson. “He makes tackles from sideline to sideline.”
Thames was included in The Clarion-Ledger’s Dandy Dozen in 2008 prior to signing with MSU.
Smith’s honors include All-State and All-Division.
Scott received All American honors in high school and was also an All-State selection. He was chosen central Florida’s top defensive back in 2009.
Brooks received first team All-State and All-District honors and was named District Defensive Back of the Year.
Returnees Jimmie Broomfield (5-11, 190) of Scott Central and Za Reese (6’, 155) of Morton are among contenders at cornerback.
“Our secondary should be very, very good,” said Anderson.
Anderson said this year’s special teams will be much improved with the addition of punter Rob Moffitt of Winston Academy and kicker Dylan Alford of Leake Academy.
“We’ve not had a punter like Rob or a kicker like Dylan since I’ve been here,” said Anderson. “These two guys will make a huge impact on our team this year.”
Moffitt (5-11, 205) received All-State and All-Star honors in 2010 and is a three-time All-Conference selection.
“Rob averaged in excess of 42 yards per punt, which is a great average at any level,” Anderson said. “His average will probably soar since he will only be punting and not playing other positions like he did in high school.”
Alford (6’, 210), was a first team All-Conference selection last season and received honorable mention honors in 2009.
“Dylan had 48 touchbacks last season, which was a remarkable accomplishment,” said Anderson. “Of course he’ll be kicking off from the 30 yard line in college (instead of the 40), so we don’t expect 90 percent of his kicks to land in the end zone. But nevertheless he has a great foot and will be a tremendous asset for our special teams, as will Rob.”
Members of Coach Anderson’s staff include Blake Frazier, defensive coordinator; Derek Pouncey, defensive line; Keith Houston, defensive backs; Kyle Watson, offensive line; and first-year assistant Antwone Courington, wide receivers. Anderson also serves as offensive coordinator.