Jackson Prep’s dominance as a member of the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools is head and shoulders above the rest of the league, and it’s not even close.
The Patriots have been operating at an elite level for the better part of five decades. It didn’t take capturing their 22nd state championship in a 51-13 win over MRA to realize that, but now is as good as ever to dive into what makes Jackson Prep the MAIS’ top football program year after year after year.
Few felt the Patriots would be in a position to achieve their first four-peat in school history this season. It didn’t seem feasible with 90 percent of Prep’s offense gone from last year’s team and a bulk of its defensive front and linebackers spots filled with players who didn’t even start on their junior high squad.
Instead, in 2015 Jackson Prep recorded an undefeated record (13-0), scored the most points in school history (540) and extended an 11-year regular season winning streak at home against MAIS opponents to 54.
The bar was already set pretty high. This group shattered expectations and raised it even further.
The MAIS (formerly the Mississippi Private School Association) was formed in 1968. Jackson Prep joined the activities association when it opened its doors in 1970. A year later, the Patriots won their first title. Currently, Jackson Prep holds claim to nearly half the organization’s football championships and more than double the number of other programs, regardless of classification.
Jackson Prep evolved into a well-oiled machine over the last 44 years, one whose long line of success starts long before athletes reach high school.
For lack of a better phrase, Prep has the best ‘farm system’ in Mississippi. Years before they suit up for long-time coach Ricky Black, athletes are conditioned to the culture of Prep in junior high football, which begins in seventh grade. Before that, they’re already being taught the basics of the game well before many of their peers.
First Presbyterian Day School in Jackson is the premier feeder school for Jackson Prep. This is where future Patriots get their feet wet.
“You’re getting kids that have never played the game before,” former First Presbyterian coach John Andrew Griffin said. “We’re implementing the discipline of the game, technique, blocking and tackling. If they want to continue to play in the seventh, eighth or ninth grade, they’ll learn the power game and spread game. We’re trying to give them the very base of everything that Prep does.”
Griffin coached at First Presbyterian for 18 years before retiring this fall. He led the Crusaders through the playoffs and to multiple fifth- and sixth- grade championships during his tenure. The work put in at First Presbyterian doesn’t mimic anything Jackson Prep does as far as scheme, but serves as the base of the Patriots success.
After elementary football comes Prep’s junior high program which compiled an 83-4 record over the last 11 years. This is where athletes are introduced to the Patriots culture and tradition of winning. More importantly, this is where they’re developed into future varsity players.
“I spent most of my time with our middle school and junior high coaches because of how much we stress and place an importance on player development,” Prep athletic director Will Crosby said. “It’s the development from a physical standpoint, understanding the culture, the expectations we have. The sooner we can get them to understand that, the better it’ll be down the road.”
The junior high program isn’t a carbon copy of the varsity Patriots, either, but making sure everyone is on the same page starts in the seventh grade and travels all the way up to high school.
“Coach Black does a great job telling our middle school and junior high coaches, ‘Look, run what you want. If you’re going to run shotgun spread, that’s fine because we run shotgun spread.’ All he asks is that they call it what the (varsity team) calls it and use the same terminology that they do as far as the x’s and o’s on offense and defense.”
Quarterback Chance Lovertich didn’t go through Prep’s junior high program but is well versed in the talent it produces and surrounds him with on the varsity squad. As a sophomore, his career performance in the MAIS AAAA-Division I championship helped the Patriots win No. 22.
“This is all new to me,” Lovertich said before receiving his gold championship medallion on Friday. “They’ve won four in a row now and I’ve never experienced anything like this.”
For Lovertich, there’s likely much more in store down the line.
The consistency factor is what this dynasty was built on. The players will change from year to year but the expectations, focus on player development and winning tradition stays a constant.
That’s Prep’s recipe for success and ability to sustain its winning ways. The self-sufficient system its established should lead to titles 23, 24 and 25 in the coming years.
Contact Courtney Cronin at (601) 961-7091 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @CourtneyRCronin on Twitter.