There wasn’t an abundance of excitement Monday at Meridian High.
The first day of fall practice wasn’t met with much hoopla. Instead, it was business as usual for the Wildcats. And that suited MHS coach Larry Weems just fine.
“It’s not real emotional,” he said. “Summer camp is a grind, and it’s always exciting to start the year but at the same time, these guys are conserving their energy.
“I don’t care if they come out here with a whole bunch of ‘Rah rah.’ That don’t mean anything. We just come out here and work and we have a lot of work to do.”
Coming off a 13-1 season that ended in the Class 6A South State championship game, Meridian’s sites are set on a grander finish in 2012 — a return to Mississippi Veterans Stadium and a shot at a state crown.
That isn’t new. The Wildcats, the winningest program in state history — MHS has amassed a 666-268-43 mark since 1921, tied for the 69th most wins in the country — measures itself on championships. So, the expectation of winning should provide no new pressure.
“These guys understand what the expectations are for this program and what they have to do to get there,” Weems said. “I think they’ll put in the work and hopefully we’ll play good enough to have a solid year.”
However, if Meridian is to return to Jackson for the first time since 2010, the Wildcats may have to use a new strategy. After relying on a stingy defense to go 27-2 the past two seasons, the wealth of Meridian’s returning talent resides on the offensive side. That could mean a potent offense leads the way, much like the Wildcats rode the strong right arm of Tyler Russell and a wide array of playmakers to a Class 5A state championship in 2008.
“We’ve got more experience there,” Weems said. “We’ve got kids with more snaps on that side of the ball. So we need the offense to protect the ball, get opportunities to score and take advantage of those.
“We’ve got nine new guys over there that we have to replace, and hopefully we can score enough points until we get them some experience.”
Still, there is much work for the ’Cats to accomplish prior to kicking off the 2012 season against Clinton on Aug. 17.
“It was productive, but with only having three weeks before your first contest when you normally have four, I’m concerned that we don’t have much depth and with conditioning and stuff,” Weems said, adding that Meridian visits Neshoba Central for a preseason scrimmage Aug. 10.
“But we’ll come out here every day and work hard. Hopefully, we’ll be where we need to be.”
There is also work to be done away from the practice field before the Arrows visit Ray Stadium. After 75 years, “The Ray” is getting some new upgrades, which may and may not be finished in time for the opener. While Weems said the two-story fieldhouse is likely not to be ready for that first game, he is hopeful the new fieldturf will be ready, and that MHS can open the season at home.
“Looking at it, we started the project and right off the bat we had five or six straight days of rain,” he said. “It really held it up. But we’ve been fortunate the past week or so and have made a lot of progress on it.
“If we can get two or three more days without rain, we could get the pipes in for the drainage and then we put the rock base in on top of that and then it’s just the mat. So it’s really looking good right now.”
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