HEAD COACH: Slade Calhoun (3rd season)
LAST YEAR: 9-3, lost to Henry County in second round of 5A playoffs
RETURNING STARTERS: 7 offense, 3 defense
KEY RETURNING PLAYERS: QB Jordan Bell, OL Zach Smith, RB Jace Hodgin, K Braxton Brown, OL Ethan Gullett, OL Joseph Noon, OL Jeremiah Sullins, LB Jaelon Dowell, DL Hunter Perry, LB Tristan Bohannon, DB Tyler Williams, DB Mason Madill, DB Martavious Bell, LB Clay Bridges
KEY PLAYERS LOST: RB Auvic White, DB Ben Cerniglia, DB Icarius Hodgin, WR Hunter Gill, LB D.J. Vassar, OL Nathan Tuggle, DL Darnell Vassar
Even before a couple of key offseason additions, Munford, the two-time defending Region 8-5A champs, figured to be really good in 2022 with the return of quarterback Jordan Bell, four offensive linemen and several key defenders.
Then Braxton Sharp and Isaiah Cobbs transferred into the program.
Sharp was one of the best running backs in the state over the last two seasons at Brighton, during which he ran for 2,137 yards and 26 touchdowns while averaging 10 yards a carry. Replacing the production of Auvic White (1,723 yards, 23 touchdowns, three straight 1,000-yard rushing seasons, two-time Region 8-5A most valuable player), who graduated, is a tall order, but Sharp appears to have the chops to do it.
“At first, obviously coming from a rival, I didn’t really know how it was going to go,” Sharp said when asked about switching teams. “Other than that, it’s been pretty easy. I know a lot of these guys because we went to (elementary) school in Atoka together. The school, in general, is very supportive.”
What will it be like when Brighton and Munford clash Sept. 30?
“Well, you know, I still have my friends over there. It’s definitely going to be a live game out there.”
Cobbs, a transfer from White Station, is a speedy wide receiver who holds offers from Eastern Kentucky University, Alabama State and the University of Memphis.
“From top to bottom, this may be the most athletic team I’ve ever coached,” third-year head coach Slade Calhoun said. “If it’s not the most talented, it’s in the conversation. But that doesn’t always mean anything. We beat teams with a bunch of dudes 50-0 all the time. Are you going to do what you’re supposed to do, taking coaching, all that stuff?”
Over the last two seasons, Sharp was a little on the small side for a running back, but Calhoun said his work in the weight room since joining the program has added a dimension of strength to his game.
“He showed a lot of power in the spring,” Calhoun said. “He’s a home run threat every time he touches it, just like some other guys we’ve got.”
On Cobbs, Calhoun said, “He’s a super explosive guy and we’re going to try and get him the ball a lot.”
And then, of course, there’s junior quarterback Jordan Bell. As a first-time starter last season, he completed 61 of 126 passes for 886 yards and 14 touchdowns. He also ran it 118 times for 1,063 yards and 16 scores and was named first team all-region. His performance in the regular season finale last season against Memphis Central definitely let anybody who didn’t already know that he’s an elite high school quarterback. He racked up 172 all-purpose yards and completed a long pass late in the game that helped Munford to a wild 29-28 comeback win that clinched the region title.
Bell said he feels much more comfortable as the starting quarterback with one year under his belt.
“I don’t feel too much pressure,” Bell said. “Our goal is to get out there, get the job done, go 10-0 in the regular season and advance in the playoffs.”
On Bell, Calhoun said, “I don’t know if expectations can be any higher. He’s just a really good kid to be around. He’s really improved his throwing, He’s super motivated. He’s going to work outside of practice and his arm strength is unlimited.”
Bell has already been offered by Eastern Kentucky and UT-Martin.
Other skill guys who will be in the mix include Malik Curry and Jay Dancey, newcomers who come over from the basketball team. Jace Hodgin is a super-quick senior running back/wide receiver who got his share of curries last season.
Hodgin said he’s very excited about the newcomers and returners.
“Our new running back, Braxton Sharp, he’s one of the fastest guys you’re going to see in your life. Isaiah Cobb has the best hands on the team. J.B. (Bell) has the strongest are you’ll ever see. We’ve got so much potential.”
The offensive line is in excellent shape. All-region guy Nathan Tuggle graduated, but starters Zach Smith, Ethan Gullet, Joseph Noon and Jeremiah Sullins are all back.
The defensive side of the ball has plenty of experience as well.
Senior Tristan Bohannon, who has offers from Missouri Southern Southeast Missouri and Alabama State, is moving from defensive line to linebacker. At 6-4, 220 pounds, he has 4.4 speed and is an excellent pass rusher.
Linebacker Jaelon Dowell started as a sophomore. Calhoun considers him a coach on the field. Clay Bridges is back at linebacker after earning all-region honors a season ago. Hunter Perry, Trey Scott and Connor Woodard are experienced defensive linemen. The backfield returns Mason Madill, Dancey, Martavious Bell, Hayden Jones and Ethan Kehaysia. Calhoun said Tyler Williams, a 6-2, 180-pound sophomore safety, is a young player with a ton of potential.
Calhoun said when determining who will earn starting spots on defense will depend on more than talent.
“It’s going to be interesting. We went from not having very many DBs to having a bunch. We may play more nickel and dime and there are a lot of guys fighting for starting spots. Some guys don’t want to study, If you don’t study you’re not playing defense at Munford High School.”