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South Pike Eagles favored in Region 7-3A

As preseason predictions go, South Pike head football coachRandall Huffman isn’t paying much attention to them.

Huffman’s Eagles have been voted the No. 1 team to beat in TheDAILY LEADER’s 2005 Region 7-3A Preseason Coaches Poll with sixfirst place votes. Franklin County received one first placevote.

“It’s shows the respect of the coaches,” said Huffman who isentering his third year at the helm of the South Pike footballprogram. “No ranking counts until the end of the season.”

The Eagles finished 11-2 last year as Class 4A members in thepowerful Region 6-4A. Moving down in classification hasn’t hurttheir image.

“We have a target on us,” added Huffman. “We’re going to beplaying in one of the state’s toughest districts again, so we haveto be prepared. It’s not that much difference in Class 4A and3A.”

The Eagles return a veteran group, highlighted by 14 seniors.Standout linebacker Dewayne Pittman and defensive backs D.J.Puttman and Pat Weber return. Pittman had 161 tackles and 10 sackslast season.

2004 Class 3A South-state runner-up Franklin County stands inSouth Pike’s way. A Sept. 23, meeting in Meadville will highlightthe Region 7-3A docket.

“We’ve just got to play one game at a time,” said new FranklinCounty boss Grady McCluskey. “This is one of the strongestdistricts in the state.”

McCluskey replaced departed Bulldog general Anthony Hart inMarch. Hart left Franklin County for Class 4A force LafayetteCounty. McCluskey served as the Bulldogs offensive coordinator thepast three seasons.

“This is by far the toughest schedule we have had since I’vebeen here,” added McCluskey. “We play a lot of good teams thisyear.”

The Bulldogs open up with Class 4A powers Brookhaven andLawrence County before entertaining Class 5A Natchez in Meadville.After that comes home games against Class 3A title contendersPrentiss and South Pike.

“We’ve got our work cut out for us,” continued McCluskey.

The Bulldogs return 15 seniors off last year’s 12-2 finish. LSUcommitment Marcus Tillman, a 6-4, 250-pound defensive end/tightend, and head-hunting linebackers Casey Hammack, Andrew Smith, D.J.Shaw and Gary Rogers, give the Bulldogs a potent look.

Tylertown, which is a new member from the Gulf Coast-ladenRegion 8-3A joins the district as a Class 3A title contender aswell. The Chiefs went 11-2 last year, losing a playoff game toFranklin County 28-21 in overtime.

“This year Class 3A South has a lot of tough teams in it,” saidTylertown coach Walter Denton. “A lot of schools from South Pike toFranklin County all the way over to Collins and Greene County havea lot returning.”

The Chiefs return 10 seniors. They received 27 overall points inthe poll behind Franklin County and South Pike.

“Those two, South Pike and Franklin County, are going to betough,” added Denton. “They have some outstanding playersback.”

Denton has two highly recruited linemen on his team in 6-7,315-pound tackle Josh Davis and 6-4, 410-pound tackle ChrisLampton. Davis orally committed to Ole Miss last month.

Rounding out the poll with a fourth place nod of 19 overallvotes was Wilkinson County. Columbia was fifth with 18 votes, whileWest Marion was sixth with nine votes. North Pike was picked tofinish last with eight overall votes.