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What a difference a year makes.
One season ago at this time, Eupora head coach Junior Graham was about to embark on a 2010 campaign full of uncertainty.
At the time, Eagles quarterback Jamal Roby was just getting his feet wet on the high school football scene. There were doubts about the Eupora backfield, receiving corps and defense.
Yet as Eupora gets set to kick off the 2011 season at 7:30 p.m. tonight hosting French Camp, Graham says his worries of 2010 have turned to confidence in a group of matured players.
"Last year, we had a lot of question marks," said Graham. "We've narrowed those question marks down to just a couple going into (tonight's) game against French Camp.
"Our guys have responded this fall and battled the heat extremely well. We've seen a lot of bright spots on both sides of the ball."
Others have taken notice of the development of the Eupora team.
Multiple media outlets have projected the Eagles as the favorite to win Class 2A, Region 2 this season, a designation that Graham says is fine with him.
"You want to get in a routine where there is expectation every year to be successful and put a good product out on the field," said Graham.
Now, Graham says it is simply up to his club to live up to all the hype, beginning with tonight's game against French Camp, a group that finished last season with an 8-3 overall record.
Though tonight's contest is simply a non-division game against a Class A opponent, Graham says his team is ready to go ahead and make a statement.
"I'm honest when I tell folks that we don't look ahead," said Graham. "French Camp is the most important team on our schedule right now."
Vardaman at East Webster
A special night is in store for Cumberland tonight as East Webster hosts Vardaman at 7:30 p.m. in the first football game on campus since the destructive April storm that devastated the community.
Making the night even more memorable will be the matchup on the field, a battle between two playoff teams from a year ago.
New East Webster head coach Doug Wilson says he knows his Wolverines will have their work cut out for them.
"(Vardaman) is a great team and well-coached," said Wilson. "There's a winning tradition there like we have at East Webster. They are going to be a very difficult opponent to deal with."
Vardaman's attack will be led by quarterback Cody Jenkins, a player Wilson describes as an "athletic, tall, rangy guy that's real gritty."
"He doesn't mind getting hit," said Wilson. "He's a real threat back there."
As talented as Jenkins is, Wilson says dealing with Vardaman's diversity will be just as big of a challenge.
"They run a lot of spread and throw the ball a lot, but they do have some good running backs and can mix it up," said Wilson.
Noxapater at Ackerman
Ackerman will look for its first win since last year's season opener tonight when the Indians host Class A opponent Noxapater at 7:30 p.m.
The Tigers come to Ackerman on the heels of a 2010 season in which they went 7-5 before losing in the first round of the playoffs.
Noxapater did lose its leading rusher, Stanley Smith, from last year's squad, and while that fact may be of benefit to Ackerman, Indians coach Adam Dillinger says he's simply glad to enter the 2011 season with a more experienced group than he had a year ago.
"That's the kicker," said Dillinger. "Last year, we had a lot of guys without game experience that got thrown into the fire. Now they have it and we hope it pays off."
Dillinger will get his first glance at how far his team has come tonight. Yet the veteran Ackerman leader cautions that tonight, and every Friday night, could still feature some growing pains.
"We're still young," said Dillinger. "We're still playing a lot of sophomores and have some growing up to do."
West Oktibbeha at University Christian
West Oktibbeha will welcome University Christian to the Mississippi High School Athletics Association tonight at 7:30 p.m. in Flowood.
The Flames, formerly of the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools, went 9-3 last season in their final year of private school competition.
University Christian will have their work cut out for them in their MHSAA opener as West Oktibbeha junior quarterback Von Smith, who passed for 2,910 yards and 29 touchdowns as a sophomore last season, hopes to begin the Timberwolves' year with a bang and get the ball rolling towards a special campaign.
"This year, we're going to make the playoffs," said Smith. "We're going to work super hard and we're going to make it."
Leake County at East Oktibbeha
The East Oktibbeha Titans won four of their final five games to finish the 2010 season.
They'll hope such a positive trend carries over into 2011 tonight when the Titans welcome Leake County to Crawford for a 7:30 p.m. game.
Leake County, formerly East Oktibbeha's division opponent South Leake before the school consolidated with Thomastown prior to this year, is now a Class 2A team that Titans coach Randy Brooks hopes prepares his club for the rest of their 2011 slate.
"This will get us ready for our rugged schedule against Nanih Waiya, Weir and people like that," said Brooks.