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Prep football kicks off tonight

By By Tony Krausz / assistant sports editor
Aug. 22, 2003
After four weeks of practice, the Mississippi Private School Association's football teams are finally going to open the 2003 season tonight.
Coaches and players alike are ready to suit up and get under the lights.
"The kids are really looking forward to it," said Heidelberg Academy head coach Tom Lewis, whose Rebels begin defense of their MPSA Class A State Championship at home against Columbia. "It has been four weeks of practice rolled up with an offseason, and you hope they can enjoy what they have been preparing for since November."
The Rebels' contest against the Cougars is also the beginning of the final season for a special group to Lewis.
Heidelberg's 10 senior players, including the coach's son, have been around the program for a long time.
"Several (of the seniors) started their career as managers in the third grade," Lewis said. "They have been really close to me, and I know them real well. They are good guys and good athletes, and I want their senior season to be a lot of fun for them."
Other games on tap for tonight include Newton County Academy hosting Leake, Kemper Academy traveling to Hebron, Sylva-Bay playing at Winona, Central visiting Union Academy, Oak Hill playing at Winston and Lamar hosting Wayne.
NCA's game against Leake marks the return of the school's headmaster to the sideline.
Mike Tucker, who assumes leadership of a program that has posted a 2-18 mark over the last two seasons, took over the Generals after Brian Sims departed for an assistant coaching position at Winston Academy.
"I admire these kids for struggling, because they didn't know who their coach was going to be until about five weeks ago," Tucker said. "I'm looking forward to seeing how well our kids are going to perform. We are coming off a 2-18 (record) over the past two years, and they only have one way to go and that is up. The kids have been really enthusiastic, and I will see if that enthusiasm will carry them through the 48 minutes or not."
Tucker will not be only new coach on the sidelines tonight.
Lee Davis, who took over for departed David Boykin, will make his first appearance on the Central Academy sideline, and Casey Macke makes his debut for Winston Academy, after taking the reigns of the program following the departure of Steve Kelley.
Kemper Academy will also be under the direction of a new coach. Headmaster Pete McCleskey, who replaces Gary Lee on the sidelines, will begin his second tour of duty with the Rams tonight.
Some games will be played a little bit different because of the summer heat.
"I'm not sure what the other schools around here are going to do, but rather than do one water break per quarter, we are going to ask for two," McCleskey said. "We are going to try to keep the kids from getting too hot."
The new Rams coach said he is ready to see his squad of 15 players in game action, as he searches for a strong ground game.
"I have several new people playing new positions," McCleskey said. "We are looking forward to see how that pans out."
Along with coaches finally seeing how their plans come to fruition on the field, teams can expect good crowds for opening night.
Because MPSA schools begin a week earlier than public schools, the teams will have the prep football spotlight all to themselves for one night.
"Speaking from an administration stand point, its great," said Tucker, whose team begins the season at home. "Usually that first ballgame is a real good gate."