News 25’s 25 Teams in 25 Days: Poplarville Hornets

When you go through something painful in life, it is normal as a human being to want to block out that pain. Well, Poplarville is doing the exact opposite in response to last year’s state championship game heartbreak.

It’s starting to pay off as the Hornets kick off their annual Ironman Week with a single point in mind.

Wide Receiver Khalid Moore said, “I like this team because we’ve got a target on our back. We all know it. We’re all ready for it. Ain’t nobody shying down. Ain’t nobody trying to hide. I love how everybody is ready for it.”

Protecting the tradition of five straight South State championship game appearances starts by embracing the big red target in a big green and gold weight room as a part of Hornet Ironman Week, dating back almost 15 years. Wing back/ defensive back Tyron Holston said, “It’s a real big thing for us. Been doing it for years and years and everybody gets to come and compete. It’s a friendly competition between everybody, and it’s just a great atmosphere in here.”

A banner in the film room for the top 10 and a spot as team captain for the top one decided by the Wednesday through Friday grind of bench press, squat, power clean, agility drills, 40-yard dash, and the mile run. “That’s going to be hung up in that room until this place tears down. It’s a real big thing for everyone. It’s a big feeling.”

Head Coach Jay Beech said, “Some kids kind of make a name for themselves that may have been just quietly working their tail off and then get up in that Top 10 and maybe it will open our eyes, maybe it’ll force us to – hey, we need to get this kid on the field. He earned his way into the Top 10.”

As a program, Poplarville is certainly no stranger to being in the top 10 and almost always the top two. The Hornets have represented class 4A South in three consecutive state championship games and four out of the last five. “Not to be cocky about it, but it’s kind of like a tradition coming to us because we just come in here, every summer we put the work in to be able to play every December and practice on Thanksgiving and all that stuff, and it’s real big for us to do that.”

“No doubt we’re proud of what we’ve accomplished. Would we like to have a state championship ring? Absolutely.”

The 2020 state title game was supposed to be different and it was for more than 47 of the 48 minutes until Louisville’s late fourth quarter touchdown drive and supplemental game winning two-point conversion sealed Poplarville’s fate in the form of a crushing 15-14 gut punch. “It’s hard. I mean it takes a while. I mean a lot of us still have it on us now where it still hits us. It’s a hard thing to really take on losing by one point on the last play of the game. It’s heartbreaking, it really is.”

Born out of the ashes of defeat is Poplarville’s new dry fit t-shirt design just in case anyone forgot how bad it hurt. “What could you do, what could you have done, what can you do now to be one-point better?”

“When we first got it, it was a little embarrassing. We looked at it, we didn’t really want it on us. But then we sat back and thought about it, you see 15-14 on our back, we look at that last rep, do we really want to go that 15-14 again or do we want to win the game? So, it’s really motivation so we don’t end up like that again.”

More than just a messenger of inspiration, three-star recruit Khalid Moore is quickly turning into one of the state’s top division I talents, having already committed to Mississippi State ahead of his senior season. “His physicality and his relentless effort really stick out on film.”

“It feels good. I feel like I made the right choice in my heart because they’ve been with me since Day 1, so they make me feel like family.”

As for his Poplarville family, there’s no reinventing the wheel in 2021. Despite losing Gregory Swann to graduation, the Hornets return Tyron Holston and DJ Richardbey as two of the team’s three 1,000-yard rushers from a team that finished 10-4 despite starting 0-3.

The South State champs bring back 11 other returning starters as well as 22 seniors eager and ready to make sure that fifth time’s the charm. “I believe this is a really driven team being that we’ve been a part of three years of heartbreak and we have a lot that we want to get to, a lot we’ve got to prove here.”

“I hate to say it but the past is the past and the season is about to start, so we’ve got a new goal in mind. Well, same goal in mind, trying to get a ring. But 15-14, that’s still us. That still happened to us. We just let it motivate us.”

Big test for the Hornets right out of the gates, starting the season at Picayune on August 27th.

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