Veteran sportswriter and high school football expert Robert Wilson is doing the Priority One Bank predictions column each week during the high school football season on teams from Hinds, Madison, and Rankin Counties. Robert had a 254-67 (79.1 percent) last season and finished the year predicting the winner and the final margin of the MHSAA Class 6A state championship game. Robert predicted Madison Central to defeat Brandon 28-21. Madison Central defeated Brandon 24-17.
By Robert Wilson
Greenville Christian (0-1) at Jackson Prep (0-0)
Alabama native and longtime Alabama high school coach Doug Goodwin will make his Mississippi high school coaching debut Friday night at Prep in Flowood.
Goodwin, a 59-year-old Auburn graduate, comes to Prep after a successful career coaching high school football in Alabama for 29 years. He replaced 35-year-old Tennessee native Tyler Turner, who resigned in January after an 8-5 record, the most losses at Prep since 1970, the first year of the school. Turner replaced former National High School Football Coach of the Year and Mississippi Hall of Fame member Ricky Black, who surprisingly resigned two years ago after 24 successful years and 13 state championships at Prep.
Goodwin was a special teams analyst for the past two seasons at Ole Miss and held a variety of coaching positions, including Director of High School Relations, at Auburn from 2014-2019. He had a 234-91 record, a 72 percent winning percentage, in 27 seasons coaching high school in Alabama at Marion County, Lineville, Demopolis, Russellville and Homewood from 1987-2013. In 2008, Goodwin became the first coach in Alabama history to take three different teams to a state championship game. He led his teams to 14 area and regional championships, 21 state playoff appearances, five state championship appearances, and one state championship. Goodwin led Demopolis to a 15-0 record and a state title in 2008 and set a state record with 761 points that season. Goodwin was named the Alabama Football Coaches Association State Coach of the Year in 2008 and elected to the AHSAA Sports Hall of Fame in 2015. Goodwin, a Sylacauga, Ala., native, was a walk-on defensive back at Auburn and graduated from there in 1984.
Prep opens the season Friday against two-time defending MAIS Class 3A state champion Greenville Christian, which had its 10-game winning streak broken by three-time defending MAIS Class 6A state champion Madison-Ridgeland Academy 48-6 last week in its season opener.
Greenville Christian defeated Prep 48-13 to open Prep’s season last year, but the Saints have only five returning starters from last year’s team, which finished ranked No. 74 in the nation by MaxPreps and is considered one of the best teams in MAIS history.
Goodwin will try to get Prep off to a good start and bring back the winning ways of Black, who had a 263-43 record, an amazing, 85.9 winning percentage, and 13 MAIS state championships, including a Mississippi record seven consecutive from 2012-2018, in his 24 seasons at Prep. Black is the second winningest high school football coach in Mississippi history with 401 victories.
Prep, which hasn’t won a state championship since 2018, suffered through a difficult season in 2021. The Patriots got off to an 0-2 start with losses to Greenville Christian and MAIS Class 5A champion Heritage 39-21. Prep also lost to Rankin County rival Hartfield Academy twice (22-17 during the regular season and 17-13 in the 6A semifinals) – the first time the two schools had met in football – and lost to MRA 50-20. The 50 points tied for the most points Prep had allowed in a game in school history. It was the second straight year MRA had scored 50 points against Prep.
Prep has 10 returning starters, including senior quarterback Paxton Thompson (2,249 passing yards, 20 touchdowns, 6 interceptions) and senior wide receiver Will Upton (61 catches, a school record 1,108 yards, 12 TDs). Look for Goodwin and his Patriots to improve on last season’s result against the Saints. Unfortunately for Greenville Christian, Mississippi Gatorade Player of the Year DJ Smith, and talented wide receiver Chris Bell, along with 16 other former Saints are playing college football this season and won’t be dressed out at Prep Friday night.
Jackson Prep 35, Greenville Christian 21.
Jackson Academy (0-0) at Starkville Academy (1-0)
Alabama native and former Alabama high school coach Aubrey Blackwell will make his Mississippi high school debut Friday night for JA.
Blackwell, a 40-year-old former high school quarterback and college baseball player, comes to JA from Benjamin Russell High in Alexander City, Ala., where he had a 3-7 record in his one season there, playing in Alabama High School Activities Association Class 6A. Before Benjamin Russell, Blackwell led Montgomery Catholic to a 54-19 record in six seasons and reached the AHSAA Class 3A state championship game in 2020. Before Blackwell came to Catholic, the program had had only two winning seasons in 19 years. He led his team to the playoffs the last five seasons and had 12-, 11- and 10-win seasons.
Blackwell replaced longtime Mississippi veteran coach Lance Pogue, who resigned after five seasons, the last two as head coach, at JA. Pogue is now the head coach at Heritage Academy in Columbus.
Blackwell had a connection with new JA associate head of school of student life Jimmy Messer in Alabama. They had known each other for more than a decade and Messer worked with Blackwell at St. Paul’s in Mobile for three years.
Before coming to Catholic, Blackwell was offensive coordinator at St. James in Montgomery for two seasons and assistant coach at St. Paul’s in Mobile for three seasons.
Before becoming a high school coach, Blackwell was an assistant baseball coach at his alma mater, the University of Montevallo and Campbell University. He played football and baseball at Robert E. Lee High in Montgomery and played baseball at Central Alabama Community College and Montevallo.
JA has not won a state championship in football since Coach David Sykes led the Raiders won three consecutive state titles in 2009-2011.
Pogue led JA to an 8-4 record and the 6A state semifinals last season and a 10-4 record and a 6A state runner-up finish in 2020.
JA returns nine starters, five on offense and four on defense, from last year’s team. Senior Merritt Nations is the top receiver returning with 32 catches for 629 yards and six touchdowns last season. Senior Win Hooker is the top tackler returning with 89 tackles and 6.5 sacks a year ago and senior Adams Kennedy returns after getting 81 tackles last season.
Starkville Academy defeated Lamar School 24-22 to spoil former MRA assistant coach Jacob Land’s debut as the Lamar head coach in last week’s season opener. Lamar senior Austin Acton’s left foot came down on the sideline of the end zone on a tying two-point conversion attempt with 9.5 seconds to play.
JA defeated Starkville Academy 37-0 last year despite not having star wide receiver Dakota Jordan, who was playing in an all-star baseball event in San Diego.
Starkville Academy should score Friday night, but JA will roll again.
JA 31, Starkville Academy 7.
Copiah Academy (0-0) at Madison St. Joseph (0-0)
Sophomore quarterback Emile Picarella – rated No. 7 among prostyle quarterbacks in the Class of 2025 in the country by qbhitlist.com – and first-year head coach Jason Moore make their 2022 debut for St. Joe Friday night.
Picarella had an outstanding freshman season completing 61 percent of his passes for 2,216 yards and 21 TDs with only 6 interceptions. He has offers from Division I schools Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Oklahoma State, Pittsburgh and Akron.
Moore, who had 25 years of experience coaching in the Rankin County school district, replaced John Bond as head coach after Moore was defensive coordinator for three seasons at St. Joe.
Moore inherits 12 starters from last year’s 4-7 team. Picarella isn’t the only St. Joe sophomore college coaches are looking at. Moore feels 6-foot-2, 260-pound sophomore defensive end Reggie Vaughn has a bright future. In addition, St. Joe picked up MHSAA Class 5A Forest Hill High transfer Million Kelly, a talented senior running back-wide receiver who gained 1,258 all-purpose yards and scored 12 TDs last season as a junior.
St. Joe will have its hands full with Copiah, which finished 11-3 and was the MAIS Class 5A runner-up to Heritage Academy last season. Mack Howard, who is rated as the top senior quarterback in Mississippi and one of the best in the country, threw for six TDs in a 51-21 win over Copiah in the state championship game.
Copiah is led by newly inducted MAIS Hall of Fame coach Billy Wayne Hankins, who has won 145 games in 14 seasons, 128 in 12 seasons at Simpson and 17 in the last two seasons at Copiah. He won four state titles at Simpson, including three straight from 2003-2005 and won 29 consecutive games. Hankins has never had a losing season as a head coach.
Copiah defeated St. Joe 34-19 in last year’s opener at Copiah. Look for an offensive shootout Friday night.
Copiah 35, St. Joe 28
In other games (winners in bold):
Amite School Center (1-0) at Canton Academy (1-0)
Natchez Cathedral (0-0) at MRA (1-0)
Central Holmes (0-0) at Clinton Christian (1-0)
Oak Hill (0-0) at East Rankin (0-0)
Park Place (0-0) at St. Aloysius (0-0)
Tri-County (0-0) at Indianola (0-0)
Washington (0-0) at Central Hinds (0-0)