News 25’s 25 Teams in 25 Days: Stone Tomcats
The Stone football program made the playoffs for the sixth year in a row in 2021 and yet still played the fewest amount of games of any team on the Gulf Coast.
This year, life appears to be back to normal for the Tomcats who check in as stop number 22 on News 25’s 25 Teams in 25 Days during a mid-week practice at MGCCC.
Left Guard Kaleb Ladner said, “It feels better now knowing we’re going into our first game without having a break. We’ve got something to prove.”
Head Coach John Feaster said, “It’s like starting over again because last year, of course, we were shut down going into the season, last week of summer, and then we forfeited the last two ball games. So that’s a lot of days we missed, and I think our kids forgot what camp was or forgot how long it could be. Because we missed these days last year.”
COVID-19 has been a momentum killer for a lot of high school football programs over the last two years, but no team from the six coastal counties waited longer to kick off the 2021 season than the Stone Tomcats. Right tackle Michael Keating said, “Last year this time, it was angry. Because you see people posting on stories and stuff about being at football games. And you’re like, oh man, we could’ve been there, but we weren’t.”
“Biggest challenge from that, you can’t get those reps back. You’re not going to gain ground on people. You can’t make up game reps. You can’t make up those practice reps. So, I could say altogether, we missed 15 practice days total, and then those game reps you could’ve never gotten back, so it was tough.”
By the time, the Tomcats finally kicked off their season on September 17th against Forrest County AHS, it was already week four.
Stone able to win that first game and it’s first district game over Greene County, but otherwise struggled to the tune of an overall record of 2-5 and a Region 8 Class 4A Mark of 1-3. Still good enough to crack that final playoff spot, resulting in the program’s second straight first round loss to Mendenhall and its fourth straight overall by a combined 18 points. “Angry. Yeah, I felt a lot of anger. Losing in the first round every time is terrible. You want to try to at least win second, third or even go to the state.”
Wide receiver Chasden Collins said, “Didn’t sit right. Losing to the same team two years in a row, it didn’t – we just wanted it.”
“We’ve been on the brink for four years in a row, so why not us, man? Why we can’t get over that hump? We’ve been blessed to be amongst the playoff teams six straight years, but for me, it’s not good enough.”
Stone still not too far removed from its first playoff win and home playoff game in 25 years back in 2017. This year’s crop of 16 seniors were only seventh graders at the time, but showing similar leadership qualities, starting with the big guys up front all off-season long. “Every Thursday, we’d also have O-line practice. Make sure everybody got there.”
“Really, just about learning our plays, getting just right on the offensive line because everything starts with the offensive line. Really all about leadership because a good team has to have good leaders.”
Overall, Stone returns 13 starters this season, including leading tackler Trevor Bond. On offense, first-year starting quarterback Connor Tice leading the way alongside big play weapons Chasden Collins and Andrew Bradford.
Seventh-year Head Coach John Feaster says he’s been pleased with his entire team’s physicality, a by-product of its EAT mantra, standing for effort, attitude, toughness. “You always want to leave something better because you want to put Stone on the map. We’re not really on the map but we want to get there where everybody knows us.”
“Yeah, it’s the last ride, and we want to leave something behind.”
“We want to be the only show in a 30-mile radius at some point. So that’s what we’re striving for, man. We’re striving to continue to play through November. That’s the goal. We want to play in November. We want to cut our practice field lights on. Preach to them, leave a legacy, man. How do you want to be remembered.
The Tomcats kick off their 2022 season on the road at St. Martin on August 26th.
Coaches picks, John Feaster doesn’t want to play restaurant favorites so he says if he’s hungry in Wiggins, he’s having whatever Coach Marcus Hinton is cooking. As for coaching idols, he’s going with local legend Dodd Lee from Picayune and then Marion Henley from the old Carver High School. His favorite championship moment, the 2002 Cincinnati Bearcats winning the 2002 C-USA co-title.