Jones Country Junior College

Jones Preview: Linebackers

ELLISVILLE – If you play linebacker at Jones County Junior College, you can expect to be one of the top tacklers in the state, as well as the nation.

Sixth-year linebacker coach Donavan Baucum said that's a selling point for the program.

"When we recruit guys, we tell them you are going to have a chance to make a lot of tackles," he said. "The way we play our defense, it's set up to let the linebackers run free and make plays. A lot of that credit has to go to (defensive line) Coach (Anthony) Maddox and the defensive line for eating up blocks and letting us look good by running free and making those stops."

JCJC linebackers have been all over the top of the state and national tackle charts the past three years.

In 2012, Bobcat linebackers Damien Wilson and Marion Chapman were first and second in the MACJC and fourth and ninth, respectively, in the NJCAA in tackles. After being named All-Big Ten at Minnesota in 2014, Wilson was a fourth-round draft choice of the Dallas Cowboys earlier this year. Chapman went on to play for Northwestern State where he led the Southland Conference in tackles in 2014.

In 2013, Jamal Lucas had 108 tackles and was the leading returning tackler in the nation heading into the 2014 season. In 2014, Lucas and teammate Kendall Island had 84 and 82 tackles, respectively, to finish 12th and 23rd nationally in tackles.

"We've had some good players," Baucum said. "Damien and Marion were 1-2 in the league in tackles three years ago. Jamal was in the top five nationally his freshman year in tackles and Kendall was right up there a couple of years ago before he got hurt."

Going into the 2015 season, the Bobcats return two sophomores to fill the linebacker slots, even though they did not play the position last year.

Ty Hill (6-1, 210) of Brookhaven is the leader at mike linebacker and Jahmaad Harrell (6-2, 215) of McComb tops the will linebacker position.

"Ty and Jahmaad set the tone," Baucum said. "In our defense, the mike and will have to make a lot of calls. With them having experience, especially early in the year, that will help with getting people lined up properly.

"The thing I've really liked is that they have tried to help the new guys a lot. They are teaching them the little things, such as what to do when you drop or which way to move in certain situations."

Harrell had 10 tackles last year with 1.5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks. He also had an interception and forced a fumble. Hill had four tackles, including one tackle for loss.

"Jahmaad played a lot last year, but mostly at defensive end," Baucum said. "Ty played a lot, but mostly on special teams. So, neither one has played in a game at linebacker. But I've been proud of both of them for stepping up and trying to lead."

Four talented freshmen will spell Harrell and Hill. In fact, Baucum feels comfortable with any combination of those players in a game.

'We don't have a set depth chart behind those two guys right now," he said. "This is one year we would not be hesitant to put any of the six in a game. We have good quality depth all the way round."

Cannon Gibbs (6-2, 215) of Northwest Rankin and Zach Ladner (6-1, 230) of St. Stanislaus are backing up Harrell at the mike slot.

"Cannon has really picked up the defense well," Baucum said. "It's been good to have both Cannon and Zach there because they really push each other."

Behind Hill at the will position will be C.J. Johnson (6-0, 210) of Petal and Brooks Edwards (6-3, 230) of Madison-Ridgeland Academy.

"C.J. and Brooks are both doing well," Baucum said. "Like I said, I would not hesitate to put any of those players in a game. Of course, they will also play a lot on special teams."

Aside from their physical talents, Baucum is pleased with the way the six JCJC linebackers conduct themselves off the field.

"All six of them are great kids," he said. "They are 'Yes, sir' and 'No, sir' types of kids. You don't have to worry about them being at study hall or breakfast check or any of those kinds of things. A lot of that comes from the fact that they all come from good families.

"We had a scrimmage the other day and I believe maybe all but one of their parents was able to be there. So, you can tell they come from good families. Their parents did a great job with them."

Baucum knows the Bobcats are inexperienced when it comes to playing time at the linebacker position, but he knows they have the ability to make the plays.

"We have to stay healthy and take it as a process," he said. "We have to take it day by day and try to improve a little bit each day."

Jones started the season with a 42-20 loss to Northwest Mississippi last Saturday. This Thursday, the Bobcats will face off against Itawamba on the road.

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