Just one year removed from its last playoff win, the Stone football program is still trending in the right direction under the watch of John Feaster.
The Tomcats have been a perennial contender ever since he got to town, but they still have a few more boxes to check heading into 2019.
Head Coach John Feaster said, “I mean we’ve done some good things in a short amount of time, but again, we feel even though we made the playoffs last year, we’ve got a chip on our shoulder.”
A victim of its own success, Stone’s 2017 run to the second round of the class 5A playoffs has the Tomcats wanting more, a lot more. “As a head coach, you’re probably never satisfied until all the work is done. And for us, all the work will not be done until we bring football back to prominence here in Stone County. And again, we’ve been blessed the last three years to go to the playoffs and that hadn’t been done here in a very, very long time. So it’s good to be in that number, but we want to make a run. I mean I’m just going to be honest with you.”
What the Tomcats did that season in terms of both winning a playoff game and hosting one hadn’t been done in 26 years. But after back-to-back marks of 8-4 to start the Coach Feaster era, Stone fell to just 4-7 in 2018 yet still cracked the post-season once again on the strength of those four district wins. “It doesn’t get any easier. But you don’t lose, you learn, man. And we learned a lot from our mistakes. Our kids learned from their mistakes. And I feel like the kids have been trying to bring energy and intensity to the weight room before practice, even though it’s 100-plus degrees outside. So I think we’re heading in the right direction.”
Offensive lineman Zachary Bond said, “It was a good mind-setter for us. It let us know where we were as a team and that we needed to be more together. That’s all we need to do this year is focus on being a team this year. It’s always been split. Cool kids, not cool kids. It’s just always been divided and this year we’re just more together.”
With that renewed sense of family comes a fresh start for the Tomcats in Region 7 Class 4A. Competition level aside, Stone’s 10 member senior class of 2020 is striving to leave its football legacy on the right side of history. “All in, we’ve got to buy in. You’re either all in or all out. There is no I’m going to go hard this day, I’m not going to go hard this day. You’ve got to be going all the time.”
“We’ve never worked like this in Stone County. I’ve been here, I’ve played varsity football four years and we ain’t never worked this hard and we ain’t never been this close as a group, hanging out after school together. We ain’t never been this close.”
But team chemistry is only half the battle. On their quest to a fourth straight playoff appearance and maybe more, the Tomcats are also in search of confidence. The unwavering belief that they can beat anyone, anywhere, anytime. “The biggest thing for us is believing that we can beat anyone. Is it a tall task? Yes. But at the same time, again, we want to come out and compete. We just want to see competition each and every play. We want to see guys wanting to win every play. A championship mindset from each and every guy.”
Stone will open up its season on perhaps the biggest stage as the nightcap for the third annual Port City Bowl. The Tomcats will take on Gulfport at Milner Stadium on August 23rd.