Undoubtedly the question is warranted.

There's no question regarding what made West Jones a contender for the Class 5A title in 2018. The likes of four-star defensive end and Alabama signee Byron Young, along with Jon-Micah Coleman and Damion Cunningham made the Mustang defensive line arguably one of the best in the state. Now, the nucleus that was "the bread and butter" in Soso last season graduated. The core group of guys that gave West Jones it's best finish to a season in school history is gone - but not forgotten. So comes the question: where do they go from here?

"The beauty of high school football is each year is a different year," said West Jones football coach Scott Pierson. "You have a great year, and you put all the pieces of the puzzle together then you get rewarded at the end, but next year all those pieces of the puzzle are put back in the box, and it gets shaken up again.

"Now we're trying to put the puzzle back together again. We're a different team [this year], but at the same time we have confidence in the kids that they know we know what we're doing."

It wasn't the start - if you will - that put West Jones on the map in 2018. Against Wayne County on opening weekend, the Mustangs struggled to get a first down and fell to the War Eagles, 10-6. No one then gave West Jones a chance to win but maybe five games. Instead, they finished 12-3 and runner up in Class 5A, losing to three-time champ West Point in the title game, 27-12. Pierson said it was because each day they got better as a whole. So is the plan this year.

"I've said this before, I think football in August is no good, " said Pierson. "We played Wayne County in our first game last year, and I don't think we even got a first down. Folks then said we'd be lucky to win five games. And that team in August would have been lucky to win five games. But ultimately, as coaches and players, your job is to have a starting point and a finishing point. Our finished product isn't August 23. Unfortunately, that's our first game, so everyone what's it to be the finish point. But August 23 is our starting point. That's when we play our first game, valuate our talent and make sure we as coaches put our kids in the best spot to be successful and start moving kids around to find that spot they excel or don't excel. So then by the time, we get in district play we've put that puzzle together."

Losing Young, Coleman, and Cunningham on the defensive line is tough. Pierson calls the trio - plus the others that played on the line - the best he's ever had in his career at West Jones.

"I've been here 18 years, and every year I say this is the best defensive line we've ever had, and we've had some great ones," Pierson said, "but last years was dominated. We had seven shutouts. And I think there were two games where we gave up one touchdown late. So there is no way we can expect to be that good this year defensively, although I like the kids we have in the positions. But they're not an Alabama commit or Southeastern commit, so we have to identify what their strengths and weaknesses are and help them out."

Anchoring the defensive line is Detorurean “Scooter” Crosby. Crosby was a force, in conjunction with his teammates beside him, last season. He finished with 36 solo tackles - 14 of those for losses - and Crosby also recorded five sacks.

"Crosby is our guy this year," said Pierson. "We feel like he's a guy that can give us what we want, but you can run away from a defensive end, you can't run away from a defensive tackle, so we're asking a couple of guys to play defensive tackle and step up and be better than they were last year."

Though the defense will not be like it was last year, Pierson has confidence in his offense. The offense looks to take up any slack that might be given up on defense in the way they’re different from last season.

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West Jones practices in the August heat in Soso as the Mustangs prepare for the 2019 high school football season.

"[Offensively,] 21 points might not be enough this year," said Pierson. "In the past, if we scored 21 points, then we felt like we deserved to win. Well, this year might be a year we have to score 30, and we feel okay with that. Because offensively, we have some playmakers that we haven't had in a while.

"This year might be a different West Jones. Now we'll play hard, but ultimately you have to play to your strengths."

West Jones opens the 2019 season on August 23 at home against George County. Kickoff is slated for 7 p.m.

Sports Editor

James is a graduate of Stringer High School and Jones County Junior College. He is an award-winning AP and MS Press photographer, writer, and layout designer.

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