Like father, like son: Gavin Greene, son of NFL Hall of Famer, motivated by faith, family, and football / Caroline Hunt

Photo: Gavin Greene stands for a picture in Robinson-Hale Stadium at Mississippi College, his alma mater. Greene wears his father Kevin Greene’s Hall of Fame Induction Class of  2016 cap and Pittsburgh Steelers t-shirt, the team his father chose to present his Hall of Fame ring to him.

It’s 10:30 a.m. on a cold day in Rome, Georgia when the Mississippi College football team begins its pregame walk-through for an afternoon kickoff against Shorter University. One broad-shouldered defensive end sizes up Barron Stadium and begins to slowly walk up and down the turf’s length. 

After he’s done soaking in the environment around him, he goes into the locker room to change out of his warm-ups and into his #97 game jersey. 

He reappears on the green closer to the game’s 1 p.m. start time and taps Choctaws’ defensive coordinator Tony Gilbert, on the shoulder as he reclines on a sideline bench. Gilbert sits up and invites the defender to join him on the bench. 

A moment later, both have bowed heads and clasped hands as Gilbert’s lips move slowly while his player’s head nods to his coach’s words. They then look up simultaneously and Gilbert’s player rises and goes back to the locker room to wait for the start of another game in the Choctaws’ 2021 season.

Praying is how Gavin Greene prepares for the game at hand. 

*  *  *

Being the son of NFL Hall of Famer Kevin Greene ultimately puts a target on his back when preparing for his shot at the League. It won’t be easy to live up to his father’s career record of 160.0 sacks, placing him third on the all-time NFL sacks list, but Gavin Greene is confident in his ability to handle the pressure. 

Greene actually didn’t have aspirations to play football like his dad when he was younger. 

“My first memory of football was getting knocked out by a kid named Ryland Fisher who was a big fifth grader when I was a peewee guy who just started playing. He absolutely destroyed me and I decided then football wasn’t for me.”

Yet, a career shift for his father meant a shift in mindset toward football for Greene. 

“When my dad became the OLB [outside linebacker] coach for the [Green Bay] Packers, I became an equipment and water boy for the team during my summers when I didn’t have much else to do. And that’s when I really started falling in love with football,” Greene said.

However desirous Greene was about this newfound drive for football, his parents, especially his father, had reservations. 

“They worried about the criticism I might get for being Kevin Greene’s son. I wanted to be an outside linebacker just like him and they fought me playing football for a while,” said Greene. “I mean, statistically he’s the best OLB there is and me wanting to live up to and exceed that is daunting. They knew the pressure I’d have.” 

According to MaxPreps, a high school sports statistics bank, Greene played in 23 high school games, tallying 6.0 sacks, 58 solo tackles, 135 total tackles, 2 caused fumbles, and an average of 5.9 tackles per game for Niceville High School, located outside Greene’s native Destin, Fla.

Greene demonstrates a blocking drill in the north end zone of Robinson-Hale Stadium at Mississippi College. During water breaks at Choctaw practices, one could find MC defenders huddled around a goal post base as two defensive players face off to perform the drill trying to out-block the other, as teammates voraciously cheer each on.

The Greene family, consisting of Greene’s father Kevin, his mother Tara, and sister Gabby, moved to Florida after Greene’s father decided to relocate the family to the coast after an illustrious playing and coaching career that took the family to places like Charlotte, North Carolina and Green Bay, Wisconsin. Greene said they moved to the Sunshine State for the sole purpose of being a closer family- so his father could “just be a dad.” 

And, of course, it offered a place Greene could play at a high school that promised much in the way of football, a high school that even gave Kevin Greene the opportunity to coach his son during his senior year. 

Greene’s football success in high school got him noticed by coaches at Southern Miss, a Conference-USA school in Hattiesburg, Miss. And, after two seasons with the Golden Eagles and many memories, Greene transferred to Mississippi College to join the Choctaw family for his remaining college playing career.

At MC, Greene earned a bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice and a starting position in the defensive lineup for the Choctaws. He played in almost 30 regular-season games, including games in the shortened spring season of 2020 (due to COVID-19) with an all-career total of 52 solo and assisted tackles, and in the 2021 season alone, 31 tackles. His 2021 season high was 6 tackles on October 2nd at North Greenville University, which he later matched at Shorter University on October 16th and West Alabama University on November 13th. 

Greene stands in front of the home side stands at Robinson-Hale Stadium. Smiling, Greene poses for a picture on the sidelines. 

One practice, in particular, Charles Watson, an assistant defensive coach, remembers when Coach Kevin Greene paid a little visit to Robinson-Hale Stadium to spend the day with his son and his teammates. 

“One really great memory I have of Gavin is a day his father came and worked with the d-line. You could just see Gavin’s drive and raw hunger for knowledge,” said Watson. “That was a great day at practice for Gavin and it showed me the great relationship he and his father had.”

Kevin Greene is probably the biggest influence on his son’s NFL aspirations. Gavin has been coached by his father all his life. From coaching his son during his senior season of high school in Niceville to being coached from the stands at Southern Miss or the occasional stop-by at MC, Kevin Greene has permeated his son’s playing career in every stage. 

Except for this new stage of life Greene hopes to embark on. 

Kevin Greene passed in December of 2020, a month before Gavin would leave for the spring semester at MC. At just 58, the 2016 Hall of Famer’s death rocked the football world. But, even more so, his absence left Gavin Greene without his mentor, coach, father, and greatest friend.

“My dad was my best friend. We had a really strong relationship and he was one of the most important people in my life,” said Greene. “[The coaches] didn’t push me to come back, they actually said to take the semester off and then just come back if I wanted to. But I needed to be away from home, working on myself and trying to separate myself from the grief there. Huge support here was Coach Gilbert and the other defensive guys.” 

Greene’s faith was tested during this time. 

“I was angry. I just couldn’t understand why us, why now. I loved my father very much and for the first time in my life, I actually questioned God,” said Greene. “I’m not the best Christian out there, but I love Jesus and I try my best. That’s another thing I learned from my mom and dad- that enjoying life is easier when you love Jesus and love each other like Jesus. That’s us. That was my dad.”

The biggest trial of Greene’s 24 years, even more difficult than trying to make it to the National Football League, has proven Greene to be very resilient. He can sit and smile fondly when remembering stories about his father, family vacations, and his father’s faith. 

Former MC offensive lineman and friend of Greene’s, Cade Barrett, says, “Gavin has matured since his dad passed. He sees things differently but he’s carrying it proudly. He follows his father’s ideals and methods. He’ll continue to follow these and show it to others.”

A fierce coach and player on the field and an extremely loving father off, Kevin Greene was one of his son’s biggest supporters, encouragers, and advocates. And, even in his absence, his son is still learning from his father’s life. 

“When I lost him, I learned how important it is to enjoy your family. I could have all the money in the world but it won’t bring back my dad.” said Greene. “Sure, it can buy a little happiness here and there, but the material doesn’t last. What lasts is the time you spend with the people you love.”

Speaking on Greene’s influence on the Choctaw football program, Coach Watson noted the grit of Gavin Greene. 

“I will miss that guy’s hustle. Some days I would leave him in the game longer than normal and he never complained. He would go 100% even when he was tired. There was a play against West Florida where their running back broke for at least 60 yards. If no one stopped him he would have scored. Gavin sprinted the 60 yards and when their running back broke the last defender, Gavin stopped him,” Watson said. “The impact he’s left on our team is that he helped leave this place better than when he got here.”

* * *

As the Choctaws run onto the field at the start of Shorter University’s 2021 Homecoming football game, a small section of visiting fans are wearing gold and navy, standing up and shaking poms and yelling for one player in particular. Two fans wear #97 jerseys and scream louder than all the rest. “Go, Greene! Go, Greene! Go, Greene!” Gavin Greene’s mother and sister fervently cheer him on as he averages six tackles against Shorter, helping Choctaw defense hold Shorter offense. 

The Choctaws win 20-7. 

After the game, Greene is met with a surprise as his entire extended family meets him outside the gates of the stadium, embracing him for a game well-played. They all take a photo together to commemorate the occasion, pride and love shining on all their faces. In between “Hey, I didn’t know you’d be here!” and affectionate hugs, there is one person missing from the celebration. But, that one person missing is actually there in the way a mother and a sister embrace their player as he meets them off the field. 

Photos by Caroline Hunt. 

Motivated Choctaw Baseball Eagerly Await 2022 Season / Jace Aymond

Photo: Caleb Reese awaits a pitch against Delta State on May 1, 2021. The freshman was one of the top Choctaws at the plate, as he hit .326 on the year.

The feeling of knowing that one could have done more or performed better is one of the most gut-wrenching feelings an individual can experience. For the MC baseball team, that is exactly how they felt about their 2021 campaign. However, a disappointing season such as last year’s brings many positives in that the team can take a step back and open their eyes wider at what needs to be improved for a successful next year.

Last season, MC finished just below .500 with a 16-20 overall record while finishing 13-18 in GSC play. For the first time since 2016, the Choctaws were unable to make the postseason and GSC tournament, as they were just three games behind Auburn-Montgomery who claimed the eighth and final seed. 

It was a team loaded with plenty of talent, however, as Caleb Reese and Dakota Kennedy were both named as All-GSC First Team members. Kennedy hit .366 on the year, a team high, while also leading the squad with his 49 hits and 36 runs. Reese finished the year swinging .326 with 44 hits, 27 RBIs, and nine home runs.

Two votes away from adding an All-American to his collegiate career, Reese, a sophomore from Bossier City, La., was also selected by the GSC to the Preseason All-GSC Team. 

Of course, Reese mentioned, “It’s a great honor, but at the end of the day, I have to know that there’s a bigger and better promised land than that. It’s a great award to get and I’m very grateful for it, but at the end of the day, I want me and my boys to go to Cary, North Carolina, and win a World Series. That’s the ultimate goal.”

Reese has never finished with a losing record to end a season in his baseball career and he’s one of the lead advocates in making sure that this season is a successful one for him and his Choctaws. The concepts of trust, chemistry, and accountability are what Reese sees as things that need to be applied year-round to set themselves up for success.

“Such a big part of this game is trusting the guy to your left and right and keeping them accountable. That’s somewhere that we’ve really grown since the first week of the offseason. We’ve definitely improved since the fall, and I really think it’s going to be a special season this year.”

Head Coach Jeremy Haworth adds on to the approach they took this offseason by saying, “This fall, we made it a priority to put a lot of pressure on this team, see how they grow together, and I think they responded pretty well.”

On his team for the spring, Haworth also mentioned, “We have some key pieces on the mound coming back and we feel like they’re going to help us tremendously. As long as we can get healthy, I think we’ll be fine this year.”

With a new season comes new additions to the team as well. Haworth and the Gulf South Conference have big expectations for the first-year Choctaw players. The GSC’s Newcomer Watchlist highlighted Joseph Cuomo, a right-handed senior pitcher and a transfer from Bryan College; Kolby McWilliams, a sophomore catcher from Spring Hill College; and Gavin LeBlanc, a left-handed freshman pitcher from Iota High School.

The 2022 schedule is not forgiving in any way as of the 50 games on the ledger, 15 of those are against nationally ranked opponents. In fact, the Choctaws’ first series of the year is at home against the 18th-ranked North Greenville Crusaders on Feb. 4-5. 

Other notable non-conference games include top-30 Arkansas Tech, 21st-ranked Southern Arkansas, and 2021 national semifinalists and top-three-ranked Tampa University. Three GSC members also are ranked: No. 8 West Florida, No. 12 Lee, and No. 25 Delta State.

“If you want to win a GSC championship, compete in a regional, and win a National Championship, you have to play these teams to see where you’re at and where you stand,” said Haworth, who now is in his seventh year at the helm. 

He added, “Baseball is a game where if you can stay disciplined in what you’re doing and not worry about what the other team does and stay mentally strong, then you can beat anybody. It doesn’t matter about the talent; it matters if you’re willing to execute more than somebody else. If we do that and have a successful year, then that gives us confidence going into the playoffs and a good chance at winning a National Championship.”

Although this was a team that missed the postseason for the first time in five years last season, with new faces plus a productive offseason to reset the dynamics, the 2022 campaign for the Choctaws will be one filled with big plays, excitement, and emotion. Plus, it always seems that teams are tougher to beat if they are out with a vengeance.

“Last season really lit a fire under me heading into this one,” Reese said, “and I took it personally.”

Softball Set for 2022 After Multiple Postseason Finishes / Jace Aymond

Photo: Avery Barnett delivers a pitch against the AUM Warhawks in the 2021 GSC Championship game. It was the first time the Lady Choctaws played in that game since the 2017 season.

For most teams, it is extremely tough to string together multiple “successful” seasons in a row, extending beyond the regular season. But for the Lady Choctaw softball team, they have done it year after year.

Since returning to the NCAA and being able to compete in the GSC tournament again in 2017, MC has made it to the postseason and competed in the regional tournament each year, with the infamous 2020 season as an asterisk due to COVID-19. 

Last year was no different. Although the Lady Choctaws, who finished 21-22 and a 14-14 GSC record, only finished as the sixth seed in the conference tournament, it was after the regular season where they shone their brightest.

An extra-inning win on Senior Day was the perfect way to transition into the Gulf South Conference tournament in Oxford, Alabama. On their way to the championship game, MC defeated both nationally ranked Alabama-Huntsville and Valdosta State, with a dominant 8-0 victory over West Georgia as well. Although powerhouse AUM stopped the Lady Choctaws short of a GSC title, they had done enough to send them to the NCAA South Regionals. Although it was an early exit in the regionals, the Blue and Gold are more than excited to get the 2022 season on the road. 

And on the road they will be, as the first 13 games are either away or neutral site games. With the season ahead of them now, junior pitcher Avery Barnett knows that there still are things that can be improved upon.

“We had a really good end to the season, but what I think we could’ve done better was have a regular season that goes a little bit more our way. That’s what I’m really excited about this year.”

Barnett also mentioned how a newer squad benefits them, saying, “We have a lot fewer people in numbers, but that makes us closer, and I think that’s what we were lacking in last year. So, I think having a better team dynamic in the regular season is going to help us out a lot.”

Along with Barnett, MC returns many key contributors, like McCall Lee, who was selected to the Preseason All-GSC team. The sophomore catcher from Brandon led the team last year in batting average at .388 on her first season as a Lady Choctaw. Her dominant season also saw her out front in hits, doubles, home runs, and RBIs. 

With MC tabbed to finish in sixth yet again in the preseason poll, they also bring back the likes of Jordan LaFosse, Rayne Minor, and the ever-dominant Avery Sanders. New transfers to the team also were highlighted by the conference in their Newcomer Watch List.

Jenna Ergle, a graduate student infielder, started in 32 games for the Boston College Eagles last season and has plenty of Division 1 experience coming to the Lady Choctaws. Carlon Brabham, a catcher and infielder from Copiah-Lincoln Community College, hit .449 for the Wolves last season in 43 games played and was also named a second-team All-American in the NJCAA. Finally, Alexis Laughlin, a junior outfielder, was .384 at the plate last season in 53 games for Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College and was an honorable mention in the All-MACCC team. 

Barnett adds that they “have a really good incoming group of girls … It’ll just be interesting because we’re all going to have to mesh from playing at different levels, but I think we’ll be able to do it very well.”

Both non-conference and GSC play on the 2022 ledger will include some tough opponents. Four GSC teams ended the year ranked nationally in UAH, AUM at No. 21, West Florida at No. 15, and Valdosta State just outside the top five at No. 6. 

MC’s season gets rolling on Feb. 4 against Barry University in Gulf Shores, where the Lady Choctaws play five games in three days. The highlight game of that stretch is a matchup against the Nighthawks of North Georgia, who was No. 4 to end 2021. 

The Blue and Gold also will take part in the Charger Chillout over Feb. 11-13, with five games set for that time span as well. The final three contests are all against top opponents in No. 16 Young Harris, No. 25 Southern Indiana, and No. 10 Lincoln Memorial.

Ever since the Lady Choctaws were welcomed back to the GSC, they’ve consistently been a dangerous team that opposing coaches circle on their schedules. The team’s first game in Clinton is not until Feb. 23, where they host Spring Hill College. So even though MC has to wait for its first game on familiar turf, you can guarantee it will be a year full of talent, success, and the always-hanging thought that this is a team that can make history.

The Rise of a King: Brian King Joins MC Athletic Staff / Michael Long

Photo: Brian King (on left) discusses workouts with Assistant Track & Field Coach Joe Snyder (on right).

The unexpected move took place over December of 2021. Mississippi College’s former Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach Marcus “Mak” Makovicka unexpectedly left to accept a position at Arizona State University. As a result of that move, Brian King was promoted into the assistant coach position. 

New Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach King was promoted after being a graduate assistant from fall of 2020 through fall of 2021. Prior to that he started as an intern at the Madison Healthplex during the fall of 2019, before becoming an intern at MC in January 2020. In regard to his time at Madison Healthplex, King said, “I got to get some good experience there, and after that semester was over was when I kind of had in my mind that I wanted to go to the collegiate side of things.” 

At the age of 24, things have moved quickly for King and his collegiate career. When asked if he expected things to move so quickly for him, he said, “You know? If you’re talking about when I was in high school, I had no idea what I wanted to do. So no, not necessarily. Then now getting that assistant position a semester early, that’s kind of a shock and a very good thing and I’m very happy about that.” 

The “semester early” King was referring to was the completion of his graduate degree in May of 2022. King originally planned to send out applications and attempt to use contacts he had made in the past couple of years to stay in the Jackson area, most likely in a high school program. He planned to move down to high school despite his dream of working with college athletes in order to stay close to his girlfriend, who is currently completing PT school at UMMC.  

King expressed extreme satisfaction for the opportunity to be promoted inside Mississippi College’s athletic program. When asked why he had concerns about moving down to the high school level, he said, “A lot of times it’s hard once you get into high school jobs, it’s hard to get back into the collegiate side of things.” It was King’s dream and goal to work in college athletics.  

King’s responsibilities from graduate assistant to assistant coach have increased significantly. As a GA, King worked with the men’s and women’s tennis and golf teams. As the assistant coach, however, he directly supervises and runs workouts for men’s and women’s basketball, track and field, and cross country. King does not pick favorites; when asked if there was a team he enjoyed the most he said, “No, not necessarily one I enjoy the most. I will say, I haven’t had a ton of time working with these new sports … I have enjoyed working with them.” 

For those who wonder what workout the new strength and conditioning coach loves the most, it is jumping. When asked where his love for jumping came from, all he said was, “I love jumping. I don’t know. I’ve always loved jumping. It’s just a great method of training …” He went on to say, “I believe in jumping with every sport that I have. Even when I had golf the past couple of years, I’ve jumped with golf, even though it’s not something they do in their sport.” Many would consider this an odd thing to involve in workouts; however, King explained that it helps train explosiveness in athletes’ muscles and mindsets, as well as helping them master balance and body control.  

The last thing to know about Brian King is that he loves fishing. When fishing was brought up, he immediately said, “I love fishing. I’m addicted to fishing.” Fishing is like the other half of what makes King who he is. He loves largemouth bass fishing and crappie fishing; however, he said, “I don’t have a whole lot of honey holes for crappie … Usually I rely on people taking me crappie fishing …” Thus, those who would like to get to know King can go by and offer to take him crappie fishing. He would love to go with you. However, do not ask to go bass fishing with him as he does not reveal his bass honey holes to anyone. 

Women’s basketball comes up short at home against Lee Flames/Caroline Hunt

The Lady Choctaws Basketball team came home after Christmas break to play their first weeknight game back against Lee University. However, Mississippi College came up short at the end, dropping a 75-64 contest at A.E. Wood Coliseum. As the Flames took the lead, the home team athletes took some notes for their next game and left it all on the court. 

The last 12 matchups between the Lady Choctaws and Lee have resulted in the Clinton team’s defeat, making this 13th encounter a nail in the coffin for MC. Lee University now has a record of 13-3 in all-conference games contrasting Mississippi College’s 8-8, meaning that the team has much to prove as the March 1rst GSC Tournament looms closer.  

Scoring leader freshman Ally Alford put up 23 points for the Choctaws as well as incurring a season-high of nine rebounds in one game in the matchup against Lee. 

Other notable players for the Choctaws included Dezirae King, a junior guard from Houston, TX, who tallied 18 minutes of game time, wagering her season-high of 13 points, which made her the second scoring leader of the game. Freshman Amelia Bell, who was the second leader in rebounding with eight combined rebounds inside and outside the paint also racked up nine scoring points.

While the team has now lost three consecutive conference games, they are young, with Head Coach Greg Long only on his second season in the position and a majority of their starting lineup being freshmen. With youth, however, comes lots of potential and MC has no shortage of that. 

“What our coaches really want from us, win or lose, is just to finish the game. We had them [Lee] in the first half, and if, we’d been able to finish a little stronger, I think we could have had them in the second half too,” said Bell, an O’Fallon, Ill. native.

Another factor working against the Choctaws is the novel coronavirus, which has been plaguing college sports since early 2020. 

When asked about the loss, Bell stated a large challenge for the team has been the pandemic. 

“COVID, that’s what we’re really working against. Our legs weren’t fresh, and [because of COVID] we had some of our most experienced players out. We even have some girls still recovering from it. So, we were playing really young today,” Bell said. “[Starting as a freshman] is a little nerve-wracking at first, but we are slowly getting more confident, especially because our team has a lot of confidence in us too.”

In the most recent run with Lee, the Lady Choctaws held their own, combatting the technically and mechanically savvy Lee’s man-to-man offense with quick feet on the post, hard drives to the net, and expert three-point shots. 

Alford, as a guard, had to go head to head with in-your-face defense for the entire second half of the Thursday night game and expressed that is what the Lady Choctaws really thrive off of. 

“That type of defense is actually pretty ideal when we’re on the offensive side of it. Yeah, you can be quick as a defender, but we, as a team, are really smart offensively. We may have had the disadvantage experience-wise but matched up individually like that is what we want,” Alford said. “That’s where we are strongest.” 

However great a losing streak, this really signifies that the only way for this fresh-faced team is up. 

The Choctaws are set to play Shorter University on January 22 at 2 p.m. 

International MC Athletes Reach All-Time High / Jace Aymond

Across nearly every college campus in the United States are a number of international students, whether they are here to pursue a degree, participate in athletics, or both. Athletically, Mississippi College underwent a massive change recently that altered the entire system.

Since its inception, the Choctaws were a part of Division II in the NCAA. There, they showed great success, especially in football. A mere 25 years ago, however, the Board of Trustees voted for MC to continue their athletics at the Division III level as a member of the American Southwest Conference. During their time in the ASC, the teams compiled an impressive 25 conference championships in the 17 years MC spent at that level. With all their accomplishments, the NCAA accepted Mississippi College’s decision to return to the Division II level in 2014 as members of the Gulf South Conference. 

Looking at the numbers, it shows that 2013 into 2014 saw the greatest increase in international players, the same time MC transitioned to Division II. One of the main factors into this dramatic increase is the fact that no athletic scholarships are offered at the Division III level. Since Mississippi College now offers them, it draws in higher level players, including international athletes. 

At the current time, Mississippi College has 45 international athletes across all its sports programs. With the majority coming from the soccer programs, there also are others in the basketball, tennis, and golf programs to name a few. 

For many international players, agencies in their native countries contact them about potential opportunities in playing in the United States for college and universities. It’s a process that works incredibly well for both the athletes and college soccer programs across the country. For others, however, it was a more complicated path.

“I was actually supposed to go to a different school in Austin, Texas, and I signed my letter of intent to go there. While I was in the process of getting my visa to go there, they cut the program due to COVID,” says Pawemi Kumwenda, a freshman from Malawi. 

“I had a month to find a new school and the coaches at that old school knew the coaches at MC, so they referred me here. I had to reach out first, but they put in a word for me. That’s how I got to MC and I’m grateful to be here.”

In fact, the collegiate system in general attracts many international players because it “is so much better than anywhere else in the world. You don’t compete for university sports back at home,” states Olaf Conforti, a junior from Tasmania, Australia. “It’s also because you can get a scholarship for playing soccer while attending a university and compete at a good level.”

For Kumwenda, the draw to the United States’ system is “being able to play comprehensive, organized soccer and still pursue a degree. In most countries, if you want to train every day, have a training structure, and play competitive games, you have to play for a club. Most times, your club is completely separate from your school so it’s hard to try and balance both. The system of college soccer in the U.S. is really appealing to a lot of people who want to stay in school but still want to play because it works hand-in-hand, and you can get the best of both worlds.” 

With the international players at Mississippi College reaching an all-time high, it will be no surprise that this will continue to grow because of the scholarships that Division II schools are able to offer and the level of competition in the Gulf South Conference. 

Cross Country Clinches Spot in National Meet / Jace Aymond

On a wet day in Saint Leo, Florida, the Mississippi College men’s and women’s cross country teams competed at the Division II South Regional Meet on Nov. 6. Their season, much like the courses they compete on, was full of inclines and downhill stretches. 

The women came out on top their first two meets and had a strong finish at a loaded Missouri Southern race. However, they slowed down slightly at back-to-back Division I meets. Their last stretch saw major success, finishing first at the Watson Invitational and runner-up in the conference championships to secure a spot in the regional meet. The men stayed consistent almost season-round as they won their opening two meets while placing in the top 8 in their next meets, which were full of loaded rosters. The Gulf South Conference meet saw the Choctaws take the bronze medal behind Alabama-Huntsville and Lee. 

Jazmin Hernandez, who led MC to the women’s first nationals appearance in school history, placed 6th individually with her 6K time of 22:27. Josie Whipp placed 14th with Madeline Campbell in 18th, securing the trio All-Region honors. For the men, Hunter Kurz led the way for the Choctaws with his 10K time of 32:22, which yielded a 9th place finish. Other MC men to receive All-Region honors were Christian Balcer, Gabe Poulin, and Brock Kelly, who took the 13th, 21st, and 24th spots respectively.

Kurz vividly remembered how tight the results were, and when “we saw that we got third and we’re going to go to Nationals, we cried. It was a really emotional moment, and I was so excited when I found out. It was almost like a dream come true in a sense.” 

For Hernandez, she’s extremely proud of what the program accomplished, and even though “I don’t really know what the game plan is for nationals, but honestly just having the opportunity to run with the girls is just incredible. I know we’re supposed to do our best and not let our guard down, but it’s just a great opportunity and not a lot of people can say they ran at nationals.”

Kurz and Hernandez each share the trait of having transferred to Mississippi College from other universities. Kurz, who originally ran at Kentucky-Wesleyan, noticed the positive differences in coming to MC, saying, “The team dynamic at Wesleyan was much different and there’s not as much talent there as there is here. Having a team to train with here has made a world of a difference. The team culture is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. I mean we hang out a lot.”

Before dominating the courses she ran on here at MC, Hernandez was at Angelo State University. Like Kurz, she also is grateful for becoming a Choctaw and the team’s bond, saying, “The program I was at was so different. We just put so much work into this program here at MC and finally seeing the results that we wanted was great. We really are one big family and that’s what I really like about our team is that we’re really close.”

The Division II National Championship meet took place on Nov. 20 for both the men and women at the same course as the South Regional meet. Undoubtedly, it would give those who ran in that regional meet an advantage, which includes the Choctaws.

“We already know the course a little bit,” said Hernandez. “Not every region gets to do their own course somewhere else. We feel good about it and know what to expect now. Hopefully, it won’t be as muddy. Without that, we’ll do a lot better this time.”

“Coach Reneker gave us a race plan going into Regionals,” added Kurz. “And the plan isn’t going to change that much. There are parts that Coach really wants us to focus on, like not dying on those hills is going to be pretty important. It’s going to be a bit different because some of the best teams in the nation are going to be there so it’s going to go out fast. So the fact that it’s at the same place as regionals does make me think we have a little bit of an advantage.”

No matter what the final results say at the national meet in Florida, Hernandez, Kurz, and the rest of the MC cross country teams have had an incredible season, one that forever will go down in the program’s history.

Choctaws Cap Off Up and Down Season With a Win / Charles Williams

Coach John Bland’s eighth season at the helm of the Choctaw football team saw plenty of ups and downs. The Choctaws finished at 4-6 on the season and 2-5 in Gulf South Conference play in their first full season since 2019.

The Choctaws opened the season with a Thursday night 24-0 loss to Albany State. Following week two bye, the Choctaws would bounce back with a dominant 63-0 win over Fort Lauderdale as the Choctaws put up 418 yards of total offense and allowed just 70 total yards on defense. The next week, their conference opener, the Choctaws suffered the aforementioned 31-28 loss to West Alabama as the Choctaws rallied from down 31-21 but were unable to complete the comeback.  

However, they would bounce back the next week with a 42-21 road win at North Greenville. Quarterback DeAnte Smith-Moore hit on three of his five pass attempts including a 23-yard touchdown to Marcus Williams who also put up 93 rushing yards. The following week the Choctaws fell to West Georgia 40-21 as they were gashed through the air by quarterback Harrison Frost for 415 yards and 3 touchdowns.  

The Choctaws, and especially the defense, would bounce back in a big way the next week with a 20-7 win at Shorter. The defense gave up under 300 total yards and was led by Zadok Esters with 7 tackles and Nicholas Walker who had an interception. The defense would carry that momentum into the next week, only giving up 13 first-half points to eventual GSC co-champ Valdosta State. However, Valdosta would open it up in the second half eventually winning 41-14. 

At homecoming the next week the Choctaws faced the other GSC co-champion West Florida. The first half was a shootout, ending tied at 28. Three different Choctaws scored rushing touchdowns, and Sam Wilder hauled in a 30-yard touchdown pass from DeAnte Smith-Moore. However, the second half was all West Florida, and the game ended in a 63-28 loss.  

The next week MC faced rival Delta State in the Heritage Bell Classic. The heated rivalry game did not disappoint as it was back and forth all game, and regulation ended deadlocked at 21. In overtime, the Choctaws would get the ball first but ultimately fumble before DSU kicker Connor Mantelli hit a 28-yard field goal to claim the Heritage Bell trophy. While they lost, multiple Choctaws had good individual performances, including Cole Fagan who ran for 131 yards on just 12 carries. This includes his 64-yard 4th quarter touchdown run. Jonathan Jones, Nicholas Walker, and Zadok Esters all had good days on the defensive end as Jones racked up 17 tackles and Walker and Esters both tallied an interception.  

After that heartbreaking loss, the Choctaws ended on a high note with a 28-24 win at West Alabama. The Choctaws racked up 490 yards of total offense with DeAnte Smith-Moore and Marcus Williams both racking up over 100 yards on the ground. Their 4-6 record makes this Coach Bland’s second-best season at MC and second straight with 4 or more wins.   

Grateful to be Across the Pond / Jace Aymond

England is a country with an insurmountable love for football, or soccer as we like to call it in America. With all the soccer teams that England has to offer at all levels, the United States has much more due to its larger size and population. For many aspiring players across the pond, they will choose to start, continue, or end their careers in the land of the free and home of the brave. Coach Adam Johnson with the women’s soccer team fits perfectly into this category.

Born in Huddersfield, England, Johnson played soccer for most of his life but also graduated from the University of Huddersfield in 2007 with a bachelor’s degree in business. At around the same time, Johnson won multiple championships with Albion Park in Australia and also played semi-professionally for Thackley FC in England. 

He made his transition to America a few years later where he attended and played for Hinds Community College in Raymond. There, he graduated with an associate’s degree in 2011 and made the All-Region team that same year. As he closes out his now 10th year with the Mississippi College women’s soccer team, he’s also coached at Jackson Academy and is the current Director of Player Development with the Brilla Juniors here in Clinton. 

Johnson claims that his start to soccer gave him new insight on the game, saying, “I was educated on soccer in the streets of England. I didn’t really play for a coach and the game taught me. When I started coaching, I went to Australia and I came here, so I’ve got a whole new perspective. I have much different thoughts on the game of soccer than I did 10 years ago when I came here.” 

He also points out the vast difference in how the game is played amongst different countries, as “here, it’s a very physically athletic game with a lot of speed. In Australia and Europe where I played, it’s more advanced and strategic.”

Ironically, it was Kevin Johns, the men’s soccer coach, who introduced Johnson to Head Coach Darryl Longabaugh. After talking and getting along well initially, Longabaugh felt “at ease in making him the offer to join our staff.”

His players here at MC also enjoy his being on the staff and the positive attitude he always brings. 

Junior midfielder Avery Hederman is thankful that “with him, it’s a lot easier to understand what he’s saying when we do talk one-on-one so we’re able to have a regular conversation. Adam [Johnson] does a really good job of trying to make soccer a lot of fun. Whenever he’s around, it’s always really lighthearted and he tries to keep the mood light. He also makes it more fun to learn about the game and so the way that he coaches makes the girls a lot more interested in learning about the actual tactics of soccer.”

But most importantly, Longabaugh is more than glad that he welcomed Johnson onto his staff 10 years ago.

“If he left tomorrow, he left the program better than it was when he got here,” Longabaugh states. “From professionalism, to tactics, to recruiting, he’s come up with some great ideas and we’ve implemented them and they’ve done very well. He would have left the program in better shape than it was when he got here.” 

With all the people he’s met and experiences he’s shared with his team, Johnson truly knows that “it’s an amazing job to be able to not only coach soccer, but impact young persons’ lives. This job doesn’t exist where I’m from, but soccer has given me a lot of opportunities around the world, and this is just another incredible one. It’s really exciting and I’m extremely grateful for everything that I have here.”

In his now 10 years at Mississippi College as the Associate Head Coach, Johnson has accumulated an impressive 131-48-14 record and was here for the program’s transition back into Division II. The women’s soccer team at Mississippi College has seen tons of recent success, and it’s obvious to see that Adam Johnson has been one of the major factors of this in his time at MC. Now living in Madison, Mississippi, it seems that making the trip across the pond was a decision he’ll never regret.

New Athletics Program Off to Strong Start Despite Pandemic / Jace Aymond

Initiating a new athletics program for any university is challenging in and of itself. However, adding in the additional element of doing this exact thing amid a pandemic seems almost impossible. For Mississippi College’s women’s golf team, that was exactly the case. Yet, they made it through the rough year that was 2020 and are now starting their 2021 season off with incredibly impressive performances. 

The first player in the history of the program is none other than Sarah Hodson, a sophomore from Raceland, Louisiana. She, along with Jenna Belton, were the only two on the roster during the team’s first year in existence, and Hodson claimed, “It was truly special and something that I’m very grateful for. It’s so awesome to me that I can say that I was on the first ever Mississippi College women’s golf team, especially whenever it’ll grow in future years. It’s something that I’m really thankful for.”

Their coach, Brent Belton, also knew how difficult the start would be, but he’s even more excited that this team finally has a place at MC, saying, “We started in the midst of COVID, which was a challenge to say the least. MC has never had a women’s team, with 100 years of no women’s golf. We were trying to recruit people off a screen last year because we weren’t allowed to visit, so everything was done virtually, which presents a number of challenges. To have a full team and be able to represent a college that I care so much about and what they stand for is an awesome thing for us.”

In their opening year, COVID certainly did present some struggles, as Hodson noted, “A lot of our tournaments last year were cancelled because of COVID. It was all just a mess. Everything just kept getting moved around and players couldn’t go; it was just such a weird time. But this year is much better.” Sarah and Jenna participated in four tournaments during the fall and spring semesters last year with the two posting multiple top-10 finishes in the individual standings. 

The current fall schedule for the Lady Choctaws has produced some outstanding results as well. The team tied for first at the Tyler Junior College Invitational as a team, and Hodson took the crown for the individual title. At the Rhodes Classic in Millington, Tennessee, the Choctaws were the runner up out of the six schools competing, with Hodson once again leading the Lady Choctaws at only four over par in the two rounds of play.

The team consists of five freshmen and two sophomores, and as Coach Belton describes them, they’re “very, very young. It’s very much a start from the ground operation, but we’ll continue to grow and recruiting looks really strong for 2022, so I think the program is in great shape going forward.”

The last tournament for the fall slate is in Henderson, Tennessee, hosted by Freed-Hardeman University. The Lady Choctaws won’t hit the links again after that until 2022, but they have already shown that they are more than capable of competing with anyone after only a year of being in existence.