|Last year, Northwest finished 7-3 and earned a spot in
the MACJC state playoffs, but was eliminated in the first round. Head
Coach Bobby Franklin, who is entering his 22nd season with a record of
181-48-6, thinks that his returning group makes up a great nucleus to
help Northwest get back on top.
"We feel pretty good about what we have coming back, but like always, how good our freshman play will determine a lot," said Franklin. "With all the rule changes and the state-wide recruiting, the league is getting more competitive every year, so we have to stay on our toes."
Eleven of the 20 returnees are on offense led by second team All-State quarterback Bobby Robison (6-3, 185) of Fort Walton Beach, Fla. A year ago, Robison turned in the third-best performance ever by a Northwest freshman quarterback by completing 162 of 334 passes for 2,359 yards and 20 touchdowns.
Three of Robison's favorite targets return in receivers Tony Jackson and Kenyaki Sanders, both of Senatobia, and Jamaal Jackson of Tunica. Tony Jackson (5-10, 175) is the Rangers' top returning pass-catcher. Last season, he finished second on the team in catches with 44 for 593 yards and two touchdowns. Sanders (5-10, 165) totalled 128 yards on eight grabs, while Jamaal Jackson(5-11, 170) caught nine balls for 167 yards and one score.
In the backfield, Quterria "Bamp" Tunstall of Olive Branch is the lone returnee, so finding some depth with freshmen is a must. Tunstall (6-2, 210) was second on the team in rushing last year with 41 carries for 202 yards and two touchdowns.
Up front on the offensive line, the Rangers have six players returning, but only two had substantial roles as a starter. All-State tackle Isaac Harris (6-4, 270) of Senatobia is the leader. Northwest coaches love his quickness and agility as both a run and pass bllocker. Center Joey Sewell of Senatobia was brilliant as a freshman. Sewell (6-4, 265) possesses toughness and stability which Ranger coaches hope will rub off on other members of the offensive line.
The other returning linemen are Justin Murphree (6-1, 255) of Oxford, Chip Guthrie (6-5, 295) of Southaven, Dustin Carr (6-2, 290) of Olive Branch, and Chadrick Davis (6-0, 255) of Coldwater.
Defensively, Northwest has been solid the last three seasons by finishing in the top four in the state in total defense. How well the unit responds to new defensive coordinator Charles Anthony could be the key the consistency. Anthony, who replace Craig Jersild in the spring, comes to Northwest from Southwest Community College where he built defenses that were among the state's leaders in yardage allowed for three years.
Anthony will have nine lettermen to work with, and will probably try build his defense around tackling machine Reginald Wilson of Charleston. Linebacker Wilson (6-0, 195) led Northwest in tackles last season with 60 solos and 40 assists. Seventeen of Wilson's stops were behind the line of scrimmage, including two quarterback sacks.
On the defensive line, sophomores Travis Ware (60, 245) of Batesville, Travis Stokes (6-3, 315) and Justin Brewer (6-0, 220), both of Water Valley, Rashad Raybon (6-3, 215) of Oxford, and Ches Dye (6-3, 265) of Bruce will bring experience, but incoming freshmen will play a huge role for the Rangers.
In the secondary, cornerback Jamaal Jackson of Bruce is the main man. A year ago, Jackson (6-0, 175) ranked third in the state in interceptions with eight so he will be an important cog. Safety Travis Buford (6-2, 185) of Oxford is the only other returnee.
Finding a placekicker and a punter will be a main objective for the Northwest coaching staff in the fall. Quarterback Robison will handle the punting duties if necessary.
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