Damien Wilson, who led the MACJC and was fourth in the NJCAA in tackles last year, has graduated and is battling for a starting position at the University of Minnesota this year. Marion Chapman, who was second in the state and ninth in the nation in tackles as a sophomore, also graduated. He signed with Northwestern State.
Wilson was an NJCAA Honorable Mention All-American and the Most Valuable Defensive Player for Region 23 in 2012. Wilson and Chapman were both MACJC All-South Division first-team performers.
Plus, backups Anthony McGilberry and Lakelvin Newell are gone. McGilberry signed with Delta State University and Newell elected not to return to Jones.
That means Bobcat linebackers coach Donovan Baucum has quite a bit of teaching to do heading into the 2013 season.
"We lost the top two tacklers in the state in Wilson and Chapman," Baucum said. "Plus, their backups are gone, too. So we are completely new at linebacker. That makes you a little nervous, I guess, because we have nobody that has played in a game at this level. It's kind of a ‘wait and see' thing for the linebackers.
"But I think overall, the players we have this year are progressing pretty well."
Kendall Island (6-0, 235) of Bay High School is currently the leader at the Mike position, while Jamal Lucas (6-1, 219) of Hoover High School in Hoover, Ala., heads the Will position.
"Kendall works extremely hard," said Baucum. "He came to camp in great shape when he reported in July, so you can tell he worked hard over the summer. Once he gets everything down, he has a chance to be a really good player.
"Jamal is like Kendall. He has the ability and once he gets it all down, he can be a good player."
Ashton Elzey (6-1, 230), a sophomore from Tylertown, is spelling Island at Mike. He played running back at Southwest Mississippi under current JCJC offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach David Thornton two years ago. Doug Cross (5-11, 215), a Picayune freshman, backs up Lucas at the Will slot. He was chosen to play in last year's Bernard Blackwell All-Star Football Game.
"Ashton was a running back at Southwest and has never played linebacker before," Baucum said. "He is getting used to the techniques and other things he has to do to be successful. But I think he will help us out.
"Doug started out at strong safety, but we moved him to Will. He has only been there for a few days, so he is still learning. But he is a pretty athletic kid and played a large role at Picayune."
Fezell Myers (5-8, 205) out of Colliins and Richard Scott (6-0, 210) from Prentiss are also in the mix at linebacker.
"Fezell has a chance to help us out on special teams," Baucum said. "Richard showed up this summer as a walk-on and through hard work earned a scholarship spot. He will be like Fezell and help out a lot on special teams."
Another walk-on is Joey Arnau out of Oak Grove. He will help out on the scout team this fall.
"Overall, I've been very pleased so far," Baucum said. "The players have showed up to work each day and they are very receptive to coaching. The biggest thing is just that lack of experience.
"They just have to realize they don't have to make any special plays or extraordinary plays. They just need to make the plays they are supposed to make. If they do that, they will be fine."
The Bobcats of head coach Ray Perkins will open the 2013 season at 7 p.m. on Thursday at Holmes Community College. The game will be audiocast on www.jcjc.tv with Mark Easley and Ed Smith on the call.
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