Gridiron 2016’s Hazlehurst preview: Indians eager to avenge last season’s playoff loss to West Marion

Published 10:00 pm Saturday, August 13, 2016

File photo/ The Hazlehurst Indians' defense returns 10 starters from last year's team that went undefeated in the regular season.

File photo/
The Hazlehurst Indians’ defense returns 10 starters from last year’s team that went undefeated in the regular season.

Hazlehurst head coach Todd McDaniel was haunted by his team’s last game of the 2015 season for some time. In fact, it took him awhile to even go back and look at the tape.

The game, a 12-8 loss to West Marion in the 3A State playoffs, took place Nov. 20, but Coach McDaniel admits he did not look at the game film until around March or April.

“That game left a bad taste in my mouth,” he said. “I really did not want to look at the film.”

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However, he added that when he did finally look it proved beneficial.

“Looking at it made me a better coach. I will never go into another game unwilling to take advantage of one-on-one matchups. Another team will never play me like that again,” McDaniel said.

Now, with the 2016 season on the horizon, the Indians are poised to make another deep playoff run.
Most teams may call a season after three All-State players graduate a rebuild. But when the talent pool is as deep as Hazlehurst’s it would be more appropriate to call it a reload.

The offense lost its starting quarterback in Ladarrious Williams, two of the top three leading rushers (Williams and Demariun Wilson). But again, this team reloads.

Junior Quamead Stewart will make the transition from safety this year for the Indians.
Senior running back Malik Gray (1,206 yards, eight TDs) is the final member of a trio who each rushed for 1,000 yards last season. He will take up the reins for the Indians out of the backfield.
Senior wideout Jaquevon Tillman (13 TDs) will lead the way for that unit. The offensive line will be bolstered by 6-foot-5, 285-pound All-State selection Shantavis Vardaman.

Just as it has in years past, Hazlehurst’s defense will be expected to be a standout unit, with nine starters returning.
At the center of the Indians 4-4 scheme is District MVP and All-State linebacker Tim Steward. The junior was an absolute menace for opposing offenses last year as he tallied a jaw-dropping 178 total tackles and 10 sacks.
Linebacker Patrick Harris (114 tackles, 6 sacks) is a beast in his own right and should be a great compliment to Steward.

At defensive back, Jaheim Joiner and Tillman will lead the Indians.
After last year’s disappointing loss, McDaniel said he has not had any trouble at all motivating his team.

“My kids are leaders and they are focused,” he said. “They want to go to the state championship so I don’t have to say too much.”

In order to get there, he said his team must remain physical while also playing smart.

“I believe physicality is the only way you can win. When most people look at us they only see the physicality and athleticism but we are a smart team too,” McDaniel said.

The Indians will begin their push to Starkville with a road game against Canton Aug. 19.