40 in 30: Kemper County Wildcats

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DE KALB, Miss. -- After a brief retirement, former Jackson State quarterback John McKenzie returns to the coaching ranks. A former head coach and assistant at the college level, he makes his first venture as a head coach of a high school football program.

"This is a new experience for me" McKenzie said. "Usually, I'm working with guys ranging from 18 to 22 years old, and it's much different at this level."

McKenzie was hired at Kemper County in July after the departure of former head coach Joshua Pulphus, who left the program for personal reasons. In a short amount of time, McKenzie has already hit the ground running with the returning stars for the Wildcats.

"He's a great coach" said sophomore linebacker Ishmael Naylor. "He knows a lot about football, he coached at the college level for a long time, and with him I think we can make it a good season."

"He expects us to work hard" said sophomore defensive back JaGarrion Butler. "I think we should play good this year."

After a 15-1 finish with a 3A State Championship in 2016, the Wildcats struggled in 2017, with departed seniors on both sides of the ball. Kemper County finished 3-9, reaching the second round of the playoffs before being eliminated by Jefferson Davis County.

The Wildcats return just seven seniors in 2018, with a young core of returning talent for McKenzie to groom this season and beyond.

"We're going to play a lot of ninth and tenth graders, but I think they're very talented" McKenzie said. "By the time they're 18, they'll be ready to take that next step. We're trying to get them to that next level, not just on the football field, but off the football field."

Kemper County opens the year in De Kalb on August 17th against Northeast Lauderdale.