BY DUDLEY E. DAWSON
Mineral Springs was one of the state’s high school football’s best turnaround stories in 2022 and the Hornets have legitimate championship aspirations this season.
First-year head coach Jason Hathcock arrived from Lafayette County and quickly turned a program that was winless in 2021 and just 7 games the past there years into one that went 7-4 last season.
They will open the 2023 season at Jessieville on Friday night.
“The Good Lord put me there and the kids already had a good coachability about them,” Hathcock said. “We had a good group coming up that had success in junior high, a good core group and they bought in to everything I was telling them.
“They saw the turnaround that I had as a coach at Lafayette County so they believed what I told them – you could win a championship or compete for championships and we did.”
Mineral Springs, which made the playoffs before losing to Carlisle 32-28 in the opening round, will be looking to win its first conference championship since 2002 with a lot of returning starters bolstering the Class 3-2A favorites.
“We fell a little short in the playoffs, but I return nine starters on both sides of the ball thus season,” Hathcock We started six sophomores last season and I have two All-State players returning that will be seniors this year.”
Mineral Springs looked sharp in a 36-13 blitzing of Horatio in a benefit scrimmage.
“Preseason has been good and we’ve got everybody healthy and back,” Hathcock said. “We’ve had a lot of competition through our two-a-days and our scrimmage and our sophomores have really, really come on.
“It is allowing us to play a lot more kids and keep us fresh, especially on these hot, early games.
Both sides of the ball flourished in the scrimmage.
“We played Horatio and I think it was 36-13 and we played a half,” Hathcock said. “The defense forced four turnovers, two of them for touchdowns, so the defense was really flying around.
“We move the ball around (offensively) and were able to pass and run at will and were able to mix a lot of people in.
“We are excited. We had a couple of people move in the didn’t really play in the scrimmage because they were still learning, but we are going to try and get them on the field this weekend a little bit and see what they have got.”
Mineral Springs downed Jessieville 45-30 last season and the Lions returned 7 starters on offense and 9 on defense for the rematch.
“We feel like we have a really good match up with Jessieville, who has a lot of returning starters,” Hathcock said. “But we feel like we should have the advantage with speed.”
Hathcock is happy with what he has seen with his numbers this season.
“We have 29 kids on the team and I would feel comfortable starting up to around 16 or 17 of them,” Hathcock said. “We are doing pretty good about that.”
That list is headed up by all-state tailback Katrevion “K.T.” Thomas (6-1, 190), who rushed for 1,022 yards and 13 touchdowns lasts season and all-state offensive lineman turned fullback Jace Amerson (5-9, 260).
Junior quarterback Evan Erwin (5-10, 165), who added 30 pounds in the off-season, is back after passing for 1,025 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2022. while Nashville transfer Malik Matthews adds to a deep backfield.
“We have been mainly a run-focused team, focused on bringing physicality to the football program, now we have to work on also being able to pass and catch when we need to,” Hathcock said.
Thomas is also a linebacker that led the team with 101 tackles last season while linebacker D’Kendrick Piggee (5-10, 180) added 76 stops and three interceptions and Amerson 34 tackles for lost yardage from his nose guard spot.
“The defense is improving so we are really excited and we have a good shot this season if we can keep everybody healthy.”
Phoito by John D. James