Through years of change, Tallulah emerges a winner
Published 8:22 am Tuesday, November 15, 2016
JACKSON — Tallulah Academy seniors Ryan Hodge, Ethan Beene, Brice Wood and Luke Fortenberry sat together at a table Monday at the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame in Jackson, just like they have at countless lunches and team meetings since their earliest days of school.
This was the third time they’d done this song and dance, answering questions for the media ahead of an MAIS eight-man championship game. It’s all familiar, all routine, no matter how often the face running the operation changes.
“Nineteen,” said Hodge, a running back and linebacker. “We’ve had 19 coaches since we started in junior varsity.”
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Tallulah Academy has gone through head coaches faster than Spinal Tap went through drummers, and yet this year’s class of 13 seniors has persevered. Showing a remarkable ability to adapt to new systems, the Trojans have won 25 of their 28 games since joining the MAIS’ eight-man division in 2013 and are on the cusp of their second consecutive state championship.
The current coach, Joe Coates, is the program’s third during this run. He complimented his players for staying focused throughout turnover that would have sunk a lot of programs.
“They were a little skeptical at first, but everybody has bought in. It’s about seizing the moment and task completion,” Coates said Monday as all of the teams playing in this week’s MAIS championship games gathered for a press conference at the MSHOF.
Tallulah’s (11-0) last obstacle to an undefeated season is Franklin Academy (8-4), which it has already beaten once this season. They’ll play in the title game Friday at 10 a.m. at Mississippi College.
It will mark the end of an era for the school in some ways. Next year’s roster will only have two seniors. This year’s group has played together since peewee football, and has been around long enough to remember the last dark days of Tallulah’s existence as an 11-man program.
The Trojans won a total of six games from 2011 to 2013.
“It was tough to get beat down every game,” Beene said. “It felt good to get a winning program going again and get our fans back out.”
Since moving to eight-man, Tallulah has been a juggernaut. It has not lost a home game since making the switch and reached the title game all three seasons.
Now the Trojans are trying to put together the final piece of a dynasty. All it will take is one more stellar effort to walk off the field as winners forever. No matter the outcome, however, Beene said he and his teammates are savoring the journey.
“We don’t take any of it for granted,” Beene said. “We’ll remember this for the rest of our lives.”
TALLULAH ACADEMY VS. FRANKLIN ACADEMY
MAIS Eight-Man championship game
Friday, 10 a.m., at Mississippi College
Online: The game will be streamed live at RaiderNetwork.org. For live scoring updates, follow The Vicksburg Post at twitter.com/vixpostsports and facebook.com/thevicksburgpost