By Austin Bishop
The Winston County Journal
SCOOBA — Looking for a new starting quarterback is nothing to fret about at East Mississippi Community
For the past four seasons the Lions have simply replaced one record-setting quarterback with another one and there is no reason to think that will change this year.
“We are confident that everyone we have can step right into a game for us and play well enough for us to win,” said EMCC offensive coordinator Marcus Wood. “We have a lot of talent back there, and some experience.”
Last year’s starter, Dontreal Pruitt, has moved on to Troy (Ala.) University to play NCAA Division I football, as have the four starters before him — Quez Johnson, Florida Atlantic; Bo Wallace, Ole Miss; Brad Henderson, Northwestern (La.) State; and Randall Mackey, Ole Miss.
Both Todd Mays, who played some at quarterback and running back last season, and Clemson reverse transfer Chad Kelly — the nephew of legendary Buffalo Bills quarterback Jim Kelly — are battling for the starting spot headed into August workouts, but there are others waiting in the wings as well.
High school signees Wyatt Roberts of Louisville High School and Joseph Willis of Madison Central have both done a good job this summer of getting prepared for competition in the fall.
“Wyatt has really come in here and done a good job for us,” Wood said. “We feel comfortable that if we need him to play he could step right in and do the job.We usually carry three quarterbacks (on the roster), sometimes four. This year, we will likely have four, because we have someone who can play two positions.”
That man this year is Mays.
The 6-foot, 200-pound sophomore from Olive Branch High School, played in all 12 games last season and was second on the team in both passing and rushing as the Lions rolled to a 12-0 mark and the NCAA National Championship.
Mays, who spent a freshman redshirt season at Arkansas State before transferring to EMCC two years ago, rushed for 641 yards and 15 touchdowns on 111 carries in 2013, while hitting on 31-of-47 passes for 341 yards and two touchdowns.
“We are looking for versatile guys who can do a lot of things, and (Mays) as a quarterback, is a great example,” Wood said. “He is a quarterback who is an athlete. He is being recruited as a Division I running back, but he can pass the ball too.”
“I have been a quarterback since I was 4-years-old, but what I really want to do is what is best for the team,” Mays said. “I am the type of player who wants to be where I can contribute best.”
Wood said at this time that will likely come from both the quarterback and running back spots.
“You feel good throwing the ball because you know you have some guys (receivers) out there who will make a play for us,” Mays said. “You have to have good people around you in order to win championships. All the people here want to win. We all want the same thing.”
So far Mays has offers from the University of Cincinnati, Missouri, University of Memphis, Southern Miss and Louisiana-Lafayette.
Mays said he wasn’t really familiar with EMCC when he first made the decision to transfer to Scooba from Arkansas State, but noted it didn’t take him long to see that things on the two-year campus were run in a first-class manner.
“I didn’t know about East Mississippi, besides them winning the National Championship (2011),” he said. “When I got here I saw how hard they worked, how focused they were and how prepared they were. It all starts in the off season if you want to be a champion.”
Kelly, who is 6-foot-2 and 195-pounds, is a red-shirt freshman who got some experience at Clemson last season as a back-up to Tajh Boyd.
“He is a big strong-armed guy who has some experience,” Wood said of Kelly. “He is in the mix at quarterback, as well as Todd and the others.”
Playing quarterback at EMCC in the Buddy Stephens era, which began in 2008, has usually led to big numbers. Since that first season five different EMCC quarterbacks have passed for 300 or more yards in a game a combined 32 times, while three different quarterbacks (Brad Henderson with 502 in 2010, Pruitt with 502 in 2013, and Wallace with 549 in 2011) have passed for more than 500 yards in a game.
Seven times one of those quarterbacks have thrown for seven touchdowns in a game — Wallace four times, Pruitt twice, and Mackey once.
In all six seasons under Stephens the EMCC quarterback has passed for at least 2,700 yards, with Wallace putting up 4,604 in 2011.
“We like to score points,” Mays said.
“The big thing about us is how many plays we run,” Wood said. “We may run 88 or 89 plays on offense a age, while others may run between 60 or 65. It’s all about pace with us and making the right reads. We continually put pressure on the defense.
“Also, we don’t have to look to just one guy to make the big play for us, we have several who can do that,” he said.