Bender stresses team concept for Bobcats

ELLISVILLE – There is no secret to the success the Jones County Junior College Bobcats are presently enjoying on the field.

At least, that's what starting safety Jamie Bender says.

"The key is we finally started playing as a team," he said Wednesday afternoon in the Bobcat Fieldhouse. "At first, it was just a lot of individuals trying to go out there and get the job done. But now we have 11 guys on defense and 11 guys on offense putting it all together. We just realized we needed to put it together.

"We are on the same page now and it has really sparked us."

The Bobcats are now on a five-game winning streak and have clinched a playoff berth in the South Division. JCJC is 5-2 overall, 5-0 in league play and entered the NJCAA/ poll this week at No. 16.

Bender has been solid all season for the Bobcats, posting 24 solo tackles and 16 assists. But he really came through with some clutch play last week at Southwest Mississippi.

Bender had five tackles and two pass interceptions, one of which he returned 47 yards for a touchdown as the Bobcats whipped the Bears, 40-21. He credited defensive coordinator and secondary coach Steve Boyd with helping him to be in position to make the ‘pick six.'

"I was just doing what Coach Boyd teaches every day," he said. "They were in a formation where they had ‘trips' on one side and a back to that side. Therefore, I had to come down closer in the box. I read ‘quick pass' on the play, went on my instincts and it led me right to the ball."

Bender made the interception and it was clear sailing into the end zone. The play was crucial because the Bobcats were up only 7-0 early in the second quarter at the time and Southwest was driving down the field.

"Nobody was going to catch me!" said Bender. "I said if I ever got one like that then nobody in the country was going to get me. I had to get it in the end zone."

He almost had a touchdown on the second interception in the fourth quarter. Bender grabbed the interception at the Southwest 37 and returned it to the 5, but Jones was called for a block in the back on the return.

"The second one was a post route," said Bender. "They tried to do a ‘skinny post' on me. I read it, broke inside and got it."

Bender is a veteran of the juco ranks.

The 5-foot-10, 200-pound sophomore from Raleigh High School started all nine games for the Bobcats in 2008. He said having that year of experience under his belt has been quite beneficial this year.

"As far as this year goes, by me playing all of last year, I'm just used to the game, especially the speed of the game," he said. "Basically, I am more relaxed this year in the secondary. Instead of just being ready to go at the snap of the ball, I am more patient.

"Being patient is a key in this league and I am able to read my keys better this year."

Bender also likes the fact that fellow Raleigh High School product Chris Lofton is the starting cornerback on his side of the field.

"Chris and I talk a lot," said Bender. "During the games when we are on the field, I tell him to break on short passes because if they do a ‘hitch and go,' I will help him out over the top. We are always talking back there and I think that's a reason for a lot of our success.

"We communicate a lot back there."

With Raleigh being only 40 miles away from JCJC, Bender is happy his parents, James and Priscilla Bender, have been able to come watch him play quite a bit the past two years.

"My parents try to come to every game possible, especially the home games," he said. "They never missed a game in high school."

Bender, who is undecided on his major, is on schedule to graduate in December and expects to sign with a senior college. Right now, he lists the University of Memphis in Conference USA as his favorite. Former Bobcat defensive back Akeem Davis signed with the Tigers and Bender would love to become his teammate again.

"I am looking at Memphis right now," he said. "They are one of my major options at this point. Akeem is up there. There is no telling how great we would be in the secondary if Akeem was still here."

JCJC entertains Mississippi Delta Community College at 2 p.m. on Saturday at Bobcat Stadium/Sim Cooley Field. The Trojans bring a 2-5 record into the game, but Bender says the Bobcats will not overlook them.

"I think we need to get more focused on Mississippi Delta than we did against Pearl River," he said of the 27-10, upset victory JCJC posted over the Wildcats back on Oct. 1. "The teams you underestimate are usually the ones that knock you in your face. We need to even work harder this week than we did against Pearl River to come out on top."

The Bobcats have qualified for the playoffs. The top spot in the division will be decided on Oct. 24 at home when they meet Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College.

Bender and his teammates, however, are listening to head coach Eddie Pierce and preparing for Mississippi Delta this week.

"We are very pumped and very focused," he said. "Coach Pierce has taught us how to stay humble, even though we've had success."

But Bender believes this JCJC team still has a great deal to accomplish before the season ends.

"I think we can go all the way right now," he said. "I think we can win every game from here on out. We can win every one of them if we continue to play like a team. We cannot underestimate anybody we play. We just have to continue to work hard."

Saturday's game will be shown on with Lance Pittman doing the play-by-play and Mark Easley handling commentary. The game will also air on WGDQ-FM, 93.1. The pregame show begins at 1:30 p.m.

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