CLINTON — New challenges await Silliman Institute as it prepares to kick off its football season Friday evening.
The Wildcats travel to Brookhaven, Mississippi, for varsity and junior varsity jamboree games beginning at 6 p.m. After that, they will face a new landscape in the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools, which revamped its football districts beginning this year.
As part of the shake-up, Silliman, whose 7-3 record last season included a 2-1 record in District 5-3A, will move up to District 3-5A. Longtime rival Central Private has joined the LHSAA, but there will be no shortage of tough opponents for the Wildcats.
New district members Copiah Academy, Central Hinds and St. Aloysius were all playoff teams last season while Adams County Christian won the Class 3A championship. All combined, the group makes up what looks to be, on paper, a highly competitive district.
Silliman coach T.J. Davis, who directed the Wildcats to an MAIS title in 2015, is impressed by the new district foes.
“Copiah is moving down from 6A to 5A so they’ve been going up against teams with 70, 80 and 90 people on the sidelines,” said Davis, whose team will go 34 deep and include several players going both ways.
“Adams County is always good. They’re the defending state champs. Central Hinds is always a playoff team, and St. Aloyisius is always an explosive team with good skill players.”
Silliman advanced to the 3A playoffs last season as the No. 5 seed, but lost at home in the first round to Wayne Academy 28-20. The Wildcats were dinged up with injuries before that game and face a similar situation now.
Quarterback Brock Berthelot and running back Jack Jackson, both seniors, have seen limited practice time and might not be ready for jamboree action against Brookhaven. Among the Wildcats' fastest players, they also man cornerback spots on defense.
“It’s a little different animal here,” Davis said. “Everybody is heavily depended on. People are going to get nicked up so our guys have to be prepared to step up and play multiple positions. Its not really that ‘next man up’ mentality. Its more of a ‘whatever the team needs’ mentality.”
Among those stepping up to do whatever is needed is junior Bo Gilkison. A starting safety on defense, Gilkison has also been playing quarterback while Berthelot heals up. Another offensive leader is senior center Jack Bishop.
Darius Colenberg, the Wildcats starting tailback, will also start at linebacker as part of a unit that Davis said might be Silliman’s strongest on defense. Other notable defenders are Richard Hurst, Lawson Cook and Tyler Archeluta.
“The greatest thing about our team is the heart we have and the camaraderie we’ve built over the summer,” Davis said. “This team should be a fun team, and it’s a talented team. Talent doesn’t always win games but, even though the schedule is tough, we have the talent, the heart and the mentality to put it all together and have success.”