Stop number 23 on News 25’s ’25 Teams in 25 Days’ is the furthest away from our station here at WXXV and it’s really not even close. But George County is always worth the drive, especially when Lucedale is home to one of the best players in the entire state.
McKinnley Jackson and the Rebels both have a lot to prove heading into 2019, and they’re proving it together.
Head Coach Matt Caldwell said, “We get so familiar with each other in practice, and it kind of gets a little testy. It gets a little testy when it’s time to play somebody else, so I think we’re to that point.”
It might even be fair to say George County has been at that point ever since the end of last season in which the Rebels went just 4-8 overall and missed the playoffs by one game. “We usually give them like a week or two off after the season. I had our seniors come to me on Wednesday — we got through playing on a Friday — and said ‘Coach, we want to get back in the weight room today.’ ”
Offensive tackle McKinnley Jackson said, “It’s been like this since the last game against Meridian. After that, we were like, ‘Oh hey. We’ve got to get ready for next year.’ No breaks, none of that. It’s go time now. It’s finally our year for people to know our name just cause we’re seniors. Let’s make a statement right here.”
The Rebels needed to win their last three games of the year to crack the postseason, but they only won two. The one that got away was a late-October loss at Petal that still haunts them.
Quarterback Jonathan Havard said, “A bunch of the guys, they were a little upset about last year because we have — we’ve always had the team to make a playoff run and have a good team. And it just really hurt us to lose that game.”
It’s not very hard to spot George County’s potential on the practice field, largely in the form of Jackson and his 25 Division I offers. “It gets you a little excitement because you’re playing against a 5-star recruit. Alabama, Clemson, whoever you want to talk about that’s recruiting him.”
Technically a 4-star recruit, may as well be 5, Jackson narrowed that list down to a Top Five last week including Alabama as well as Auburn, LSU, Ole Miss, and Texas A&M. “I mean, it’s never going to be easy. There’s always bumps and bruises everywhere you go. This process is not easy, recruiting is not easy at all. There’s a lot of ups and downs, but I’m very blessed to be here.”
“He kind of keeps that separate, but when he comes here, he’s all about business with us.”
While those SEC suitors eagerly await his ultimate decision, Jackson continues to take his primary role as one of George County’s 22 seniors very seriously. “Well, I think it’s huge for him and all the guys on the team respect him. He demands that respect by the way he plays and the way he carries himself and the way he handles his business every day. So I think that our guys see that, and they know if the guy that’s got 20-something Division I offers is doing that, they need to do that, too.”
According to both ESPN and 24/7 Sports, Jackson is the number one player in Mississippi’s class of 2020. That clearly places him in the top one percent of high school football players across the country and it’s the same idea for the Rebels, now one percent closer to their first trip back to the playoffs since 2016 than they were the day before. “That’s the objective every day. We don’t want to go back, take steps back.”
“We’ve had this mantra all off-season, one percent better every day. That’s what we want to do. Find something, and you get better at it every day. Whether it’s in the weight room or in here or in the meeting room or wherever you’re at, just get one percent better every day and our guys have bought into that this off-season, and we will continue to do that every day.”
“It’s the opportunity of a lifetime to play your final season and get to the playoffs and have a successful season.”
George County will take the field in less than 48 hours against reigning 5A South State champion West Jones. Kickoff for Friday’s road game is set for 7 p.m.