Columbia will feature plenty of youth both on and off the field in 2015.
The Wildcats lost several key starters after last season. Possibly the biggest loss, though, came on the sideline.
Walter Denton, who turned Columbia football around in his three seasons as head coach, retired following the 2014 season. But it won’t be very much like starting over, as the Wildcats tabbed longtime assistant James Harvey to take over for Denton.
“My whole objective is to build the program,” said Harvey, an assistant coach at Columbia since 2008. “Restore Columbia football to its former glory. But we’re going to be a very young team this year. We have some talented kids in certain areas, but it’s a growing process.
“The kids have been working hard and stepping up to the challenge, which is all you can ask for.”
Mikail Webb is back at quarterback for the Wildcats. As a junior last season, Webb threw for 637 yards and four touchdowns. Junior Frederick Peters also returns for Columbia after rushing for 1,286 yards and 16 touchdowns.
“Mikail Webb is one of the few seniors I do have,” Harvey said. “So we’ll lean on him and Frederick Peters is one of our top returning kids. I’ve got a senior offensive lineman, my right tackle, Zack Jones. He broke a bone in his ankle in the spring, but hopefully he’ll be fully recovered by the time we kick it off.”
The Wildcats are also facing change this season in terms of scheduling. Columbia and Purvis are the only holdovers within Region 7-4A. Forrest County AHS, Poplarville, Greene County and Sumrall make up the rest of the district.
“That’s a tough row to hoe, as my grandmother would say,” Harvey said. “Too late to cry about it now. But in order to get better, you’ve got to give the kids a taste of what it is we’re shooting for.”
•Coach: James Harvey
•Record: 0-0 (1st season)
•Last season: 4-7 overall, 3-2 region (lost in first round of playoffs)
•State championships: 1982
•Assistant coaches: Phelix Shoemaker, Robert Cheatam, Quentin Sullivan, Drew Fortenberry, Brandon Thompson
•Shoes to fill: RB C.J. Newsome, ATH Bryson Medious
•Players to watch: QB Mikail Webb, ATH Frederick Peters, S Austin Fountain
•The skinny: The Wildcats return few starters but those who are coming back line up at key positions. Under a first-year head coach in a new (and highly competitive) region, the team will likely find itself in a large number of high-scoring games.