25 Teams in 25 Days: Stone Tomcats
Better late than never, but never late is better. Unfortunately, the Stone Tomcats had no choice in the matter when it came to last month’s COVID-19 quarantine lasting the better part of three weeks.
Now approaching week two of the high school football season and they’ve still yet to take the field for the first time in 2021.
But they are finally ready to take their turn as stop number 25 on News 25’s 25 Teams in 25 Days which means the countdown is officially on.
Head Coach John Feaster said, “I’ll be 40 this year, and I’ve been playing football since I was 10 years old, 11 years old, and I never went that long without football going into the fall. So, it’s been very tough for me personally, and I learned that it’s very tough for kids to shut off during the summer, and then come back in the heat and try to acclimate themselves to this and it’s tough, man. And it’s been tough.”
When the Tomcats returned to practice on August 31st, for the first time in 19 days, the rest of the high school football calendar had passed them by. Jamborees on the 20th, season opener on the 27th, all the while Stone getting an unwanted crash course on the value of patience in the face of adversity. “Don’t take stuff for granted.”
“We’re super excited, man. Can’t wait to hear them pads clacking.”
Outside linebacker Dalton Lee said, “I feel like it’s just been an extra three weeks of off-season. While some people, they’re playing, having to scout for each team, new week, we’ve just been getting better, working on ourselves.”
“We’re playing teams that’s going to have played three or four games. When we play our first game, we’re playing someone who’s going to have played three games. So, we’re at a disadvantage, but it is what it is.”
If there’s any program battle tested enough to handle the worst of times, probably Stone. Playing week one on week four is a small price to pay compared to re-living what should of, could of, would have been. “21-0. 21-0 with 10 minutes left in the second quarter. Went into the half, 21-21.”
Ultimately, the Tomcats fell short in last year’s first round home playoff game against Mendenhall 28-27. Déjà vu for a program that’s now lost by just one point in back-to-back post-season games and by just four points combined in its last three playoff games. “I mean that hurt. We were up 21-0 and it was going great, and then at the end it just didn’t come our way and you just see those seniors, like the emotion knowing that was their last game, it was just hard.”
Wide receiver Rylan Brown said, “That hurt bad, man. Just hearing that last buzzer, knowing it’s not your last year, but some people it was, and knowing you can’t really get that moment back. Just makes you want to grind harder.”
On the bright side, the Tomcats kept their playoff streak alive, having now reached the post-season all five years in the John Feaster era.
They also posted their first winning season since 2017 with an overall mark of 5-4 and a region 7 class 4A mark of 4-1. 2017 is also the last time Stone won a playoff game. “We’re trying to do a lot this year, and they ain’t won a playoff game since four years ago. We’re trying to do it again this year and go farther.”
“I mean it’s nice, but we want that one win, but we want to take it farther than that.”
“We just want to be the first to have a state championship here, go all the way. That’s what we’re looking forward to.”
For the Tomcats, going the distance starts in the backfield with a guy who is plenty used to going the distance, senior running back Carlos Brown, who returns the second most rushing yards on the Coast with more than 1,300 to go along with 15 total touchdowns. “He’s an animal, man. When he gets the ball, you just see him, see nobody else on the field, just see the endzone, man. He gets straight to it.”
Running back Carlos Brown said, “I just take every game, every day, just push my teammates. Coaches push me, and I just let it go, let it flow.”
“I mean if we can tackle Carlos Brown, we can tackle anybody. So, I mean it don’t get much better than that.”
“Dalton is right about that. He’s going to be one of the tougher guys to tackle in the state. I know he’s Top 3 in the state, and I’ll take him over anyone.”
Brown is one of ten returning starters and 16 seniors that have seen just about everything except a gold ball. “We want to get to college. That’s really the main goal. We want to get out of here and go to college and make our mom proud, really. But most of all, we want a ring. We’ve got to get Coach Feaster a ring, man.”
“It would mean the world to us to send them out on a high note, and let them know that we appreciate the time that they’ve put in, and hopefully they can leave a lasting legacy here at Stone High School. And they already have by the adversity they’ve been through. They’ve basically been through two pandemics and shut down twice, so I would think, man, just send them out of here on a high note, and the only way we can do that is to make a great run in the playoffs.”
Stone finally kicks off its 2021 campaign on September 17th at home against Forrest County AHS. The Tomcats are also one of two newcomers in region 8 class 4A this season.