Wheatley’s Hornets make big turnaround

Published 6:00 am Monday, December 29, 2003

Fifteen dedicated seniors, a strong offseason work ethic, a newoffense and a winning attitude provided the ingredients for LoydStar’s Cinderella football season. Rising from the ashes of a 3-7campaign, the Hornets regrouped and rededicated themselves in 2003,marching to a 10-0 regular season record and the Region 6-2Achampionship.

Loyd Star head coach Sidney Wheatley and his staff accomplisheda miraculous turnaround. For those accomplishments, Wheatley hasbeen selected The DAILY LEADER’s 2003 Coach of the Year on theAll-Lincoln County Football Team.

“It sure was a big turnaround,” Wheatley admitted. “Ouroffseason (workouts) had a lot to do with our success. Our biggroup of seniors really conditioned themselves and set the examplefor our younger players.”

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Loyd Star’s plunge from South State runners-up in 2001 toalsorans in one season provided a difficult situation for Wheatleywho was in his first year at the helm. Fans in the Loyd Starcommunity demanded a high level of success.

“The attitude of our players was a key,” said Wheatley. “Theywere willing to work hard. Our assistant coaches also worked hardand I give a ton of credit to them.

His assistant coaches are Josh Thibodeaux, Jonathan Breakfieldand Randy Delaughter. “Coach Thibodeaux did a great job improvingour lines,” said Wheatley. “Our offensive line enjoyed movingforward and hitting people.

“Coach Breakfield did a good job working with the line and CoachDelaughter did a good job with our receivers and defensivebacks.”

Changing to the Double Wing formation provided the Hornets witha difficult offense for opponents to defend. The Hornets didn’tchange their Pro Style offense until the start of preseasonpractice in early August.

“Our staff got together and decided to change our offense to theDouble Wing,” said Wheatley. “We had quick, speedy backs. We didn’thave big linemen up front but we had smaller guys who could pulland make blocks downfield.”

Senior fullback Matthew Delaughter provided power up the middlewhile wingbacks Juron Collins and Josh Townsend were blessed withexceptional, breakaway speed. Quarterback Justin Whatley providedthe sure-handed skills and wisdom to run the offense.

“First off, my plan was to gradually work into the Double Wingand use it more in some district games,” said Wheatley. “One dayduring a scrimmage, one of my players came over to the sideline andsaid, ‘Coach, we should dump our old offense right now and use theDouble Wing.”

As the season progressed, the Hornets became more proficient andconfident in the new offense. A big turning point came in the thirdgame of the season against Franklin County.

Loyd Star fell behind the Class 3A Bulldogs by 13 points andchances of a victory grew dimmer as the game progressed. However,the Hornets rallied and wound up beating Franklin County inovertime.

“Franklin County was the best team we saw during the regularseason,” said Wheatley. “To be down and fight back and win inovertime was great. Our kids overcame adversity. It was a pivotalgame and they responded.”

Loyd Star was ranked in The Associated Press Prep Poll’s Little10 for most of the season, climbing as high as fourth. An upsetloss to Heidelberg in the opening round of the playoffs ended theHornets’ dream of a state championship and a 14-0 campaign.

“Heidelberg was a tough loss but we still had a great season,”said Wheatley. “We lose 15 seniors and most of them (12)started.”

Wheatley will have three talented skill players returning inWhatley, Townsend and Collins. “We are going to work hard on ourpassing game in the spring,” predicted Wheatley.

“We need some of our younger linemen to step up,” he added. “Weare excited about our skill people who are returning.”

Wheatley, 35, is a graduate of McLaurin High School where hestarred in football and baseball. He signed a scholarship withMississippi College and played two years with the Choctaws. Hetransferred to Arkansas-Monticello where he played football andbaseball.

After a 3-year stint in the Air Force, Wheatley returned tocollege and graduated from the University of Southern Mississippiin 1996 with a degree in coaching and sports administration.

Wheatley also coaches the Loyd Star baseball team. The Hornetsare 2-time defending division champions.

In his spare time, Wheatley enjoys hunting and fishing.