Photo by Robert Smith
Madison-Ridgeland Academy head football coach Herbert Davis was in his office talking X’s and O’s on the phone. Other coaches were scattered about handling their respective duties. A couple of athletes were working out, while others casually walked through on their way to the nearby track outside. All in all, the scene was a relatively ordinary one for a late spring afternoon in the Patriots’ weight room.
That all changed – as did the fortunes of MRA football – when Drew Horton walked in with a good friend on that day roughly 17 months ago, however. Nobody knew who the surprise guest was. All they knew was, as a chiseled 6-foot-1, 200 pounds, he passed the eye test. Introductions were in order. Turns out, the young man was Philip Short. Yes, that Philip Short, the strong-armed quarterback who would eventually lead the Patriots to a 12-1 record and cusp of a state championship last season.
Fate works in mysterious ways, indeed.
“I remember it vividly,’ recalled Davis, with a big grin. “It was like the angel of football walked in the door.”
Said Short: “Drew was coming for a workout (at MRA) and asked if I wanted to come. I said sure I’ll go get in a workout, no big deal. I didn’t really give it much thought because I didn’t know anything about MRA. I hadn’t talked with anybody other than Drew, and didn’t know anybody. I had no prior knowledge of MRA. So I came to the workout, met Coach Davis, we talked it up and boom here I am. It was a God thing for sure . . . it was God leading me here. It has turned out great. I love it here. The only thing that would make me love it more is if we win the championship this year.”
Short has picked up where he left off a year ago in this his senior season, throwing for 1,123 yards and 14 touchdowns against no interceptions in leading MRA to a perfect 5-0 start. Keep in mind, too, that he has only played in the second half of only one of those games because the Patriots have been so far ahead at halftime. The only game he has played into the second half came against Jackson Academy, a game in which he threw for a season-high 333 yards and four touchdowns and also ran for another score.
In 18 career starts, No. 7 has eclipsed the 300-yard passing mark five times and has thrown four touchdown passes in four games. In total, he has thrown for 4,146 yards and 48 touchdowns against only nine interceptions. He threw a pair of touchdowns in Friday’s lopsided win at Bayou, tying the school record in that statistical category. He needs only 636 more yards to become the school’s all-time leader in career passing yardage. MRA takes on one of the best Class 2A public schools teams in the state this week, traveling to Philadelphia.
“Philip has a cannon,” MRA wideout Russ Sceroler said. “He’s got a special ability few dudes have.”
That was evident the moment he stepped on campus, although few could’ve predicted the level of success he’s achieved so far.
“I thought he was going to be good, but I don’t think anybody saw him being this good,” Davis said. “And he’s getting better and better every day. He’s better this year than he was last year. He’s more mature, and he’s had a year in our system. We’re glad to have him I can promise you that.”
Short, who is 17-1 as a starter, quickly won the starting job a year ago and before long was the centerpiece of Davis’ up-tempo, high-octane offense which averaged 45 points per game and eclipsed 5,600 total yards a year ago. He threw for 3,023 of those yards to go along with 34 touchdowns – averaging a whopping 17.7 yards per completion while completing 61 percent of his pass attempts.
It should be noted the Patriots finished 8-5 the season before Short’s arrival with mainly the same cast of characters and failed to reach the championship game for the first time in Davis’ tenure – a fact not lost on MRA’s head coach. “I dare to say what we would’ve been without him last year, or this year for that matter,” Davis said. “I think we would’ve been really good, but he really makes us go. He’s made a lot of plays for us.”
He was named the league’s Offensive Player of the Year after leading MRA to an undefeated regular season – the program’s first since 1992. Meanwhile, Jackson Prep running back Jerrion Ealy was named the league MVP, and Jackson Academy’s Kinkead Dent was selected as first team quarterback. Both are now playing at Ole Miss, leaving Short as the leading headliner/marquee attraction this season in the MSAIS.
A lot of those have been long plays. The Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College commit has 81 completions of 20 yards or more, 50 of 30 or more, 21 of 40 or more, 12 of 50 or more, and eight of 60-plus yards. Thirty-four of his 48 touchdown passes have covered at least 20 yards, including a career-best 80-yarder a year ago. That’s the one thing that makes Short unique – his ability to throw the ball deep. There’s not many quarterbacks who can pull off the 35-plus yard laser or uncork bombs the way he can, especially on the high school level.
“He is the best deep ball thrower I’ve ever had,” Davis said matter-of-factly.
Short started the first six games of his sophomore year at Northwest Rankin before being supplanted at quarterback. He came to MRA looking for a fresh start, and Davis was in dire need of a quarterback capable of taking his offense to a new level vertically. It was a match made in heaven.
“He wasn’t happy where he was, and he was looking to be in an offense where he could showcase his skills,” Davis said. “We were a perfect fit for him. We just happened to be going to more of a vertical passing game, so with his big arm it was really a perfect fit for us, too. He’s a great kid, too. He’s a good Christian kid, the type of kid you like to have in your program.”
While he has sufficient mobility, Short is viewed more as a pocket passer. He’s worked extremely hard at shedding that label and becoming a better all-around quarterback. That hard work has paid off. He’s bigger, stronger and faster than a year ago when he took the league by storm as a junior.
Never was that more evident than on one play in the JA game. With MRA clinging to a 7-0 lead about three minutes deep into the second quarter and facing a 3rd-and-10, Short did his best Steve McNair circa Alcorn State impression. After taking the snap from center in the shotgun, he pirouetted to his left with two defenders in pursuit, side-stepped one of those, then as he was being chased from all angles ran up the field to his right and off-balance deftly tossed a 25-yard touchdown pass to a wide open Tyler Starnes. He got hit on the play just as he was releasing the ball, making the highlight-reel worthy play all the more impressive.
“You can definitely tell the progress he’s made in terms of understanding the offense better,” Davis said. “As far as understanding his progressions and things like that, he’s grown in that area. And he’s been more accurate this year than he was last year. We all know he can throw it deep, he just needed to get better in the short game, the intermediate 10-15 yard throws. And he’s done that.”
Short has completed 67 of 91 pass attempts this season entering Friday’s much-anticipated public-private showdown at Philadelphia High. He has yet to throw an interception. As good as he’s been, and as much as he has improved, it begs the question: Why he doesn’t have any offers from four-year schools?
“You got me,” Davis said. “I don’t understand it. I could see it last year, but this year . . . I don’t know. I eventually think someone will take a shot on him.”
Short, a very religious young man, isn’t the least bit worried.
“It’s all in God’s hands,” Short said. “I know he has a plan for me. If that plan includes me going to Gulf Coast then that’s fine by me, that’s where I will go. I like it there. Gulf Coast has a family environment. It reminds me a lot of MRA. They have good facilities, and they run a similar offense so I feel like it’s a good fit. I’m looking forward to playing there if that’s how it all shakes out.”
First things first, as in completing his senior season at MRA, hopefully in style. Although the Patriots lost several key players from a year ago, they appear to once again have the necessary ingredients to make another run at the title. The undefeated Patriots have outscored their first five opponents 241-29 – 199-10 in the first half. In fact, MRA’s defense/special teams have outscored their opponents 39-29. The Patriots’ first team defense has allowed only one touchdown.
Those numbers figure to be tested in a major way in the upcoming weeks as the schedule gets much tougher, starting with Friday’s trip to Philadelphia.
“We hope to come back and win the championship this year,” Short said. “We definitely have a bad taste in our mouth after last year. It’s only right to come back hungry and give it another shot. We’re working as hard as we can as a team, trying to improve from week to week, and then we’ll see how it turns out.
“I know I’m more comfortable with everything, with this being my second year in the offense,” he continued. “I was new to the offense last year, so there were some kinks that had to be worked out. I’ve been working with Coach Davis every day, watching film and doing everything I can do to get better. Last year, I threw a lot of deep routes . . . a lot of bombs. So one of my main focuses this year has been improving on my shorter throws. And I feel like I’ve done that.”
Short completed passes to 16 different players last year, and is right at that number again this year. Seven different players have caught at least one touchdown pass. His top target has been senior Russ Sceroler (14 catches, 347 yards, 3 TD’s), but he has a plethora of talented receivers to choose from, including Colorado commit Joe Perkins.
“Those guys make my job a lot easier,” Short said. “They’ve made some big-time catches the past two years. And the offensive line has done a good job of protecting me. I couldn’t do what I do without them. It’s a total team thing.”
While that’s true, this MRA team will likely go as far as Short’s strong right arm takes it.
“We have 100 percent confidence in Philip,” MRA wideout Tyler Starnes said. “We may have some problems here and there, but he’s definitely not one of them. If the O-line does their job, and the receivers do our job, we know Philip is going to make the right read and drop a dime somewhere.”