By Austin Bishop
Special to The Star
SCOOBA — The secret behind East Mississippi Community College's winning streak really isn't that big of a mystery.
Fifth-year EMCC head football coach Buddy Stephens says it's really pretty simple: get good players, be consistent, and have a strong sophomore class.
The combination of those three things have gone a long way to helping Stephens post a 43-8 record since he took over as head coach in 2008, and has helped the Lions win their last 19 football games – just seven short of the unofficial NJCAA record of 26 set by Blinn (Texas) College in 1995-97.
"I think by having good a good sophomore class you keep the level of consistency you need," Stephens said. "Sometimes teams fall off, that's why you have to be consistent and you have to keep bringing in good, solid players."
It also helps to bring in players who know a little something about winning before they ever run onto the field at Windham-Sullivan Stadium as a member of the EMCC football team.
"It helps to have those guys," he said. "They know what it takes."
Two of the players Stephens was referring to are safety Shaquille Fluker and cornerback Jason Yarbor of Meridian High School.
"I really don't like losing," Fluker said. "That is what I have been playing so hard for — to make sure we don't lose. I don't like them scoring on us either."
Fluker said the winning tradition he experienced at Meridian High School — where the Wildcats only lost four times during his high school career — has helped him at EMCC.
In fact, he remembers each of his high school losses vividly.
"I remember when we lost at Wayne County when I was a sophomore. Then to Oak Grove (as a junior). And to South Panola in the state championship (as a senior). It makes you want to play harder and never lose again."
Yarbor, who like Fluker has played in each of EMCC's 19 consecutive wins and has never lost as a Lion, admits that things are different this year than last.
"There is more pressure than it was last year," Yarbor said. "We kind of snuck up on people last year. This year we have got everybody's attention and they give us their best game."
The Lions face their toughest challenge of the season on Thursday when they host 6-0 Northwest — also undefeated and ranked No. 5 in the NJCAA — at 7 p.m.
EMCC, 7-0, has lost only two MACJC North Division games under Stephens, with one of those losses coming to Northwest (25-19) during the 2010 season. Stephens is 3-1 against Northwest during his tenure, with none of the games being decided by more than eight points.
EMCC won 45-42 last season, 49-42 in 2009 and 27-19 in 2008. The Lions have won the North Division title three of the last four years. The only interruption came in 2010 when the Rangers of Northwest won the title and EMCC finished second.
Despite the winning streak and being the defending NJCAA national champions, EMCC still finds itself ranked just third in the latest NJCAA poll. The top two teams will play for the national championship.
"We have got a chip on our shoulders," Yarbor said. "The coaches don't want to say it, but they have one too. Every day we say 'We are No. 4 or No. 5.' We use it for motivation."
"We were really shocked," sophomore slot receiver Billy Shed of Starkville said about not being ranked at the top of the NJCAA poll when it first came out. "That just motivates us to go harder and show them why we should be No. 1."
Shed says last year's title isn't enough for the Lions
"Winning another one, that's really on our mind," he said. "Keeping the streak alive is about pride. It is just keeping us hungry from game to game."
Although it could be considered coach speak, Stephens said his squad truly looks at the small picture as it works on the big one.
"We take it day by day," he said. "We tell them we have to win each play. It's one play at a time. We can't play the season all at once. We have to play every game. It's one day at a time."
He said consistency is the main ingredient to running off 19 consecutive wins against competition as tough as a team finds in the MACJC.
"You can't let down," he said. "It gets old after a while to the coaches and the players. It gets tiring. But you just have to stay motivated, you have to change things up in order to stay sharp."
Lions look to add to streak against Northwest
By Austin Bishop
For the Newton County Cougars, their final game of the season couldn’t be bigger: state title or bust.
They forced a Game 3 in the Class 4A championship series with a 2-1 win over Lewisburg in 10 innings on Thursday night at Trustmark Park.
- Saints' Rob Ryan Ready for defensive challenges
- Sanchez flirts with no-hitter in win
East Central names Mays offensive coordinator
Mickey Mays was recently named offensive coordinator at East Central Community College in Decatur, announced head football coach Ken Karcher.
Mays is a former assistant to Coach Karcher, having served on his Liberty University staff as defensive line coach and special teams coordinator.
- (PHOTOS) Newton County Class 4A State Championship Slideshow from games one and two of the MHSAA Class 4A State Championship.
Not done yet
After being shutout less than 24 hours earlier, the Newton County Cougars used a 10-inning affair to force a Game 3 in the Class 4A championship series, topping Lewisburg, 2-1, in Game 2 at Trustmark Park.
Hollins focused on Spurs, not his contract
Lionel Hollins has been more successful than any Grizzlies coach and will be a free agent after June 30.
He has the Grizzlies in the Western Conference finals for the first time and has won more games with this team than any other coach.
Slive focused on future after big changes
Mike Slive sprawls in a comfy arm chair, propping his feet on a coffee table between one massive tome on Winston Churchill and an even thicker "Encyclopedia of Southern Culture."
He's relaxed and feeling awfully good about the state of the Southeastern Conference.
It's a rare moment of calm for the SEC's cerebral commissioner, but he can afford it since his "A pile" of things to do has gotten considerably slimmer over the past two years.
’Bama bounces Ole Miss from SEC Tourney
For the second day in a row, the Rebels went into extra-innings but were unable to emerge with the victory as No. 21 Ole Miss (37-22) fell to Alabama (34-25) 7-5 in 10 innings at the SEC Tournament on Thursday.
With the loss, the Rebels were eliminated from the SEC Tournament and will now await NCAA Tournament selection announcements at 11 a.m. on Monday. The selection of the NCAA Tournament field will be televised by ESPNU.
Tanner Bailey (4-2) suffered the loss for the Rebels, allowing two runs on one hit with two walks in 2.1 innings of work.
Roy shows big-league talent in win
Every youth leaguer dreams of being a Major League Baseball player. In Tuesday's Cardinals-Mets game, 8-year-old Trace Roy swung the bat and flashed some leather that looked like a glimpse into the future.
- More Sports Headlines
- Title Fever