Success has followed Bobby Hall. Just look at his walls.
A stroll through the Madison Central coach’s office reveals frames showcasing his accomplishments in high school football. Among them are four state championships: one at Louisville (1991); three more at Amory (1994, 1995, 1998).
But for all that, a title has managed to elude Hall since he took over the Jaguars’ program in 2006.
He believes that can change this season.
Hall and Madison Central, No. 6 in The Clarion-Ledger’s preseason Super 10, will get one heck of a litmus test when the Jaguars host top-ranked Brandon in both teams’ season opener at 7 tonight at Jaguar Field.
It’s the first meeting between the two schools since 2006.
“We don’t get to be the underdog much,” Hall said. “So we’ll cherish that role.”
Hall admits this is the most talent he’s fielded at MC since “2008 or 2009.”
The Jags are hungry, especially after seeing their season end in the state semifinals for the past five seasons.
“We’ve ran more (this offseason). We’ve been more focused. We’ve come together as a team more than the past two years,” middle linebacker Braxton Bartlett said. “We’ve been focused on this game since the end of May.”
Of course, so has Brandon.
The Bulldogs are coming off their first trip to the Class 6A title game, a 31-23 heartbreaker to perennial power South Panola. The bitter taste of being oh, so close still hasn’t been forgotten in the halls of the school on Mississippi 18.
“Our guys are not satisfied with being second,” Brandon coach Brad Peterson said. “They’ve worked extremely hard, and they want to get back to that stage and come out victorious.”
Getting back is no guarantee, though, especially in Region 3-6A, which includes fellow Super 10ers Oak Grove, Petal and Meridian.
It’s why Peterson, who quarterbacked Hall’s first championship team at Louisville in 1991 and coached the school to back-to-back 3A titles in 2007 and 2008, has made it a point to be proactive when approaching the hype surrounding his Bulldogs, who last debuted at No. 1 in 2002.
“We’re making them understand (the difference) between what last year’s team did and the expectations of this year’s team,” Peterson said. “We have a target on our back. We’re going to get everybody’s best every week.”
That includes Madison Central, which returns 11 starters from last season but also welcomes a newcomer in Neshoba Central transfer Joseph Willis.
“(Willis) is a big man,” Hall said of his 6-foot-5, 225-pound quarterback. “By getting him, it allowed me to put Trey Smith at running back. So, it created a two-headed monster.”
Brandon returns seven starters on defense, including three in the secondary.
Additionally, junior Fletcher Adams joins seniors Kyle Strickland and Michael Brooks on what is perhaps the state’s most talented defensive line.
“They’re not No. 1 for nothing,” Jags’ senior offensive lineman Jimmy Terry said. “We know they’re good, but we’re just as good.”
On offense, the Bulldogs can score in bunches. Third-year starting quarterback Gardner Minshew, a junior, is the catalyst. Josh Stowers gives Minshew a capable target at wide receiver while senior Devin Wilson heads a trio of solid running backs.
“Our Level 2 defenders have got to play well, and obviously our Level 3 defenders too,” Hall said. “I don’t know that you’re going to put a lot of pressure on (Minshew) because they don’t hold the ball very long.”
One of those “Level 3” defenders Hall is talking about is Jeffrey Pate, who led Class 6A with seven interceptions last season.
“I don’t like being crowned as underdog, nor does my team,” Pate said. “We’re going to come ready to play.”