Stop number eight on News 25’s 25 Teams in 25 Days is a world of two extremes.
The Pascagoula football program has seen both the highest of highs and the lowest of lows over the last decade, but the Panthers have seen a lot more highs and that’s what they’re starting to get back to in the tenth year of Lewis Sims era.
Head Coach Lewis Sims said, “When these guys started out as freshmen, there weren’t very many of them, but they were some of the toughest kids I’ve ever seen. And they’ve endured a couple of seasons that it was hard to be a Panther. And they’ve taken the coaching, they’ve taken their lumps, they’ve gotten in the weight room, they’ve gotten stronger and they just embody our WARFACE mentality.”
For a Pascagoula football program that played in the 5A state championship game as recently as 2012 that same program went just 1-10 as recently as 2018. Inside Linebacker Karon Laverette said, “Coming off that, we’re way hungrier than last year. First we were 1-10, then we went 6-6. We’re just getting way more people that’s coming in and they’re hard-working, and so we’re just working off of that.”
Last year’s five win improvement earned the Panthers their first trip back to the playoffs since 2016. And despite their first round exit at the hands of Laurel by way of a crushing three point defeat, the program’s Panther Pride is very much alive and well. WR/ CB Jaylan Thompson said, “When we lost to Laurel, that really had a great – a big part because we came from a 1-10 season to a 6-6 season and to making the playoffs and I feel like we can go farther this year.”
“I don’t think they’re satisfied. I don’t think these guys are satisfied at all. I think they understand that for the last couple of years we wanted to compete, and now it’s not that we want to compete – we’re expected to compete – now we want to contend. And going from competing to contending, that’s a big shift in mindset and I think these guys are embodying that.”
Or maybe that mindset has been there all along, disguised as the aforementioned WARFACE mentality standing for Work, Accountability, Respect, Family, Attitude, Character, and Enthusiasm. “It’s not a chant. It’s not an ah, I want to see your war face kind of thing. It’s what do you want to base your program on.”
“Accountability. Is everybody accountable for their actions? On the field, we don’t come out here blaming each other for whatever mistakes or anything like that. We’re just trying to get better, even if we are competing; we’re making each other better. Iron sharpens iron.”
The biggest change for the Panthers in 2020 might actually be on the schedule. As a result of COVID-19, the 82nd rendition of the Battle of the Cats between Pascagoula and rival Moss Point is now just a jamboree for the first time in a long time. “That was probably after the lady beat the referee with a shoe back in the 1930’s and they canceled it for about 10 years.”
Trading that one game for even a taste of one of the program’s three gold balls is one this year’s class of 18 seniors would make in a heartbeat, but another ten years is too long to wait. “We think about that every day. Every day we think about that.”
“If we don’t show character in the locker room, if we don’t show our accountability in the locker room – in the field house – if we don’t clean up after ourselves, it’s not going to be a great season so we’re picking things up – getting it fresher, man. We’re just going what we’ve got to do to get that championship, baby.”
“There’s a long-standing tradition of just holding that flame, carrying that flame forward and understanding that it’s your responsibility to leave it better than you found it.”
The Battle of the Cats will now take place on August 28th at Pascagoula. The Panthers were able to reschedule their game at Ocean Springs for September 18th.