By Robert Wilson
After Greenville Christian School won the MAIS Class 3A state title with a 52-20 victory over Carroll Academy and averaged winning by 36 points in its last nine games last season, coach Jon Reed McLendon wanted to find better competition.
McLendon called Madison-Ridgeland Academy coach Herbert Davis and he gladly accepted the challenge to set up tonight’s season opening matchup between two state champions with long winning streaks.
Two-time defending MAIS Class 6A state champion MRA plays host to defending MAIS 3A state champion Greenville Christian today at 7 p.m. at MRA. MRA went 12-0 last season, including a 41-14 victory over Jackson Academy for the 6A state title, and has won 19 games in a row and 31 of its last 32 against MAIS competition. Greenville Christian won its last 11 games, the last 10 after picking up several transfers from Greenwood High.
“Our guys wanted to see how they stacked up against the best out there after our success last season, so I reached out to Coach Davis,” said McClendon, who begins his eighth season at Greenville Christian. “We are also playing (6A schools) Jackson Prep and Jackson Academy this season. But first, we are looking forward to playing MRA. The guys are excited about playing against the best. After winning a state championship, you might have to worry about complacently, but not with MRA on the horizon. We are motivated. It’s going to be good for us.”
MRA’s leader, Under Armour All-American and senior linebacker Stone Blanton, will not play, Davis said. Blanton is still being held out after shoulder surgery this spring. The Patriots have plenty of firepower with 11 starters returning (seven on offense and four on defense), led by Priority One Bank/Mississippi Scoreboard Metro Jackson Elite Eleven senior wide receiver and Southern Miss commitment Davis Dalton, who caught 41 passes for 877 yards and 14 touchdowns last season. Another key returnee is senior running back Tylor Latham, who gained 889 yards and scored seven TDs last season. Davis is expected big things out of sophomore quarterback and Winona Christian transfer John White, who has already received offers from Southern Miss and Liberty. White started at quarterback as an eighth grader and freshman at Winona. “Greenville Christian had a great team last season, and they have a lot coming back this season,” said Davis, who has won 209 games and five state titles and is starting his 25th season. “They have a talented playmaker in quarterback D.J. Smith and a lot of other Division I level players. It’s going to a tough test for us. We have a good group back, but also have some holes to fill from last year. We are going to have to grow up in the hurry. John White is going to help us. He’s very talented, but he’s only a sophomore. John has the respect of our players and can run and throw. We lost a good bit from our offensive line. We are led by three-year starter Rush Bland. We’re going to use a lot of running backs. We played six in the jamboree last week.”
Greenville Christian has 17 starters (nine on defense and eight on offense) and is led by Smith, a senior who transferred from Greenwood High last season and passed for 2,581 yards and 30 TDs and ran for 903 yards and 12 TDs and played in only an average of three quarters a game. Southern Miss, Arkansas State and Louisiana-Monroe has shown the most interest. Greenville Christian has much more. Senior cornerback Jaterrious Elam, a Mississippi State commit, is ranked as the No. 16 top recruit in the class of 2022 by 247 Sports and is the second highest MAIS recruit behind Blanton at No. 7. Elam, like Smith, transferred from Greenwood High last season. Senior linebacker J.D. Stewart (6-3, 230 pounds) is a Southern Miss commit and is ranked No. 24 in Mississippi by 247. He also transferred from Greenwood last season. Stewart was the second leading tackler last season behind senior linebacker Daishun Scott (6-4, 205), who transferred from Greenville O’Bannon last season. Greenville Christian also has a new player this season, senior wide receiver and Southern Miss commit Chris Bell (6-3, 220), who transferred from Yazoo City.