As far back as anyone can remember, winning has been a habit at East Marion.
That has been especially true the past four seasons, as the Eagles have advanced to the Class 2A South State championship game each year since 2011.
However, third-year coach Kevin Jackson faces a big rebuilding job if East Marion is to make it five straight seasons.
“We’ve got some talented young men, and I think we’re going to have a very competitive group of guys,” Jackson said. “We have a lot of junior guys who are hungry and excited about putting on that Eagles uniform and competing.”
The biggest hole left by graduation is the one left by Johnathan Abram, who starred at quarterback and defensive back before signing with the University of Georgia.
“We lost an exciting player in Johnathan,” Jackson said. “We’ve got a huge hole to fill there.”
Junior Tyas Owens (6-1, 180) is the player who will be asked to fill the void left by Abram, both at quarterback and in the secondary. Owens is not without some experience after playing some in a back-up role last year.
The Eagles also have to replace Jaylin Akins at running back and at cornerback. Junior Lorenzo Armstrong (5-9, 185) and sophomore Jarveon Howard (5-8, 160) are expected to carry the brunt of the running load for East Marion.
Fortunately, the Eagles should operate around a relatively experienced offensive line, led by senior All-Area standout Deshondrick Foxworth (6-2, 340).
East also returns junior Louis Simon (6-0, 205) who will slide over to center after starting last year at guard.
Those players will also be a key on a veteran defensive line, along with junior Jeffrey Thomas (5-9, 180).
“Our defensive line is going to be the strongest part of our team,” Jackson said. “We’re looking forward to those three guys coming back.”
The Eagles will also return senior Walter Moses (6-0, 215) at middle linebacker, who Jackson calls, “the rock of our defense and our shot-caller over there.”
As usual, East Marion plays a demanding schedule, including games against Columbia, West Marion and Hattiesburg, as well as continuing the rivalry with Bassfield as a non-region game.
“It’s not an easy schedule,” Jackson said. “But football is football, and it takes 11 guys at a time to play it. These kids are fighters, and it’s my job as a coach to prepare them to fight.”
•Coach: Kevin Jackson
•Record: 22-8 (3rd season)
•Last season: 10-5 overall, 5-0 region (lost in South State championship game)
•State championships: 1991, 2006
•Assistant coaches: Glen Mosley, T.J. Echols, Jeremy Allen, Troy Davis
•Shoes to fill: QB/DB Johnathan Abram, RB/DB Jaylin Akins, OL/DL Dominique Lowe, RB/LB Ricky Johnson
•Players to watch: DL Deshondrick Foxworth, DL Jeffrey Thomas, LB Walter Moses, QB/DB Tyas Owens, OL Louis Simon
•The skinny: The Eagles have played for the Class 2A South State championship the past four seasons, but if they are to make it five straight, some untested players are going to have to step up.