EAST PRAIRIE -- The East Prairie Eagles open the 2005 season in front of the home crowd in a SEMO South Conference matchup with Hayti on Friday.
The South Conference rivalry features a matchup of two new head coaches with Corey Adkisson taking the helm at East Prairie and Shawn Jackson at the controls at Hayti.
Adkisson's Eagles will attempt to improve on last year's 3-7 record, including a 34-12 loss to Hayti in the opener.
Coming off an impressive performance at the Sikeston Jamboree a week ago in which the Eagles scored seven times and held the opposition scoreless, Adkisson still takes a cautious approach.
"There were some positives out of it," he said, "but there were also some negatives that we tried to polish up this past week in practice, so hopefully, we've got some of those things corrected. It's still going to be the first game of the season, so we're not going to be in midseason form yet."
East Prairie returns a solid core from last season, led by 1,100-yard rusher Dez Johnson who can light the scoreboard from anywhere on the field.
Senior fullback Darrell Allred is a hard-nosed runner and defensive leader at linebacker, while senior R.C. Strand is the leader on the offensive and defensive lines along with David Stalker and Charles O'Dell.
Senior newcomer Mitchell Winchester, perhaps short on experience but a solid athlete, triggers the explosive Eagles' offense from the quarterback position.
Other players to watch are junior fullback Paris Tipler, who bolted for a 40-
yard touchdown run in the jamboree, and sophomore receiver Tony Jones, who hauled in a 40-yard touchdown pass, also in the jamboree.
East Prairie certainly appears capable of putting points on the board, but the defense may determine the ultimate success of the team.
"I think the biggest thing is our defense," said Adkisson. "Coach Jackson runs that spread offense and stopping it is easier said than done. But if we can stop them a few times, don't turn the football over and run it well, I think we'll be in pretty good shape."
With new head coach Jackson, a Hayti native, aboard, spirits and expectations will run high.
Jackson, no stranger to coaching in the area, was the offensive coordinator under David Gilmore at Hayti when the Indians fielded playoff-quality squads in 2001 and 2002, then went with Gilmore to Caruthersville for one season. He most recently served as an offensive coordinator at Blytheville, Ark.
Hayti, which went 5-5 overall, 4-1 in the conference last season and usually possesses quality athletes, particularly at the skill positions, normally poses a difficult hurdle for any opponent.
Tremayne Pickens and Jordan Payne should provide offensive fireworks for the Indians.
Health is no issue for the Eagles in the opener.
Said Adkisson, "We haven't got beat up at all this year, yet. The injury bug hasn't hit us and, hopefully, it won't."
So, how big is an opener in terms of building momentum and setting a tone for the season?
"Well, I'm not going to put all my eggs in one basket, so to speak," said Adkisson. "We want to come out and win it, obviously, but the season's not going to be a total loss if we lose this first one. We do want to win it because I think it would be a positive thing -- to come out and win and look pretty good doing it -- for our kids to start believing in our system.
"We're going into this game thinking we're going to be competitive and come out on top."