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Wildcats claw way into rankings

By By Tony Krausz / assistant sports editor
Oct. 8, 2003
As the old saying goes, "A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step." The Meridian High School football team (4-2) may not be traveling that far, but the squad has taken its first step on the road to prep football prominence.
After notching their fourth straight win last Friday over Natchez, the Wildcats earned the No. 16 spot in the Mississippi Associated Press' Top 20.
Ed Stanley, who took over the head coaching duties at Meridian High in 2002, said the state-wide ranking is the initial step in his five-step program of building a successful football team.
"We think we are right on course," Stanley said of earning the ranking. "This is our first step in the winning process. We need desperately to take step two."
The next step for the team is defeating teams ranked in the poll's top 10, which the Wildcats will have a chance at when they meet No. 8 Picayune on Friday and No. 3 Oak Grove on Oct. 17.
Stanley's five-step program's third step is making it to the playoffs and winning in the first round. The fourth step is making it all the way through the three-round state playoffs to the state championship game, and the fifth is winning the ultimate prize a state title.
"In our kids' eyes getting into the top 10 is a major step, not necessarily getting into the top 20," Stanley said. "It does send a message that Meridian is coming back. There are a lot of steps being made, and this is the first step in winning."
The No. 16 ranking is the first in-season ranking for the Wildcats since Stanley took over the program. Meridian High was ranked in the top 20 in the preseason polls in the coach's first year.
Meridian High joins other area schools ranked in the state, with its ascent into the Top 20. Wayne County, the defending 5A state champions, started the season ranked No. 1, and the team is currently ranked second in the state.
Lamar School is currently ranked No. 3 in the Jackson Clarion-Ledger's Academy AAA poll.
Stanley said he is more concerned with how his team will finish the season than where it is currently ranked, but he added the team will be helped with the state-wide recognition it has received.
"It gives the guys a sense of confidence," Stanley said. "A confident player is a better player. They are not overconfident by any means, but anytime you can go out on the field feeling confident, things are going to go a lot better. Right now, we are fortunate enough we are on a four-game winning streak and feeling like we can win. This the first time since I've been in Meridian that I can say that."
The biggest boon that came from the rankings in the coach's eyes is his team's desire to earn a spot in the top 10.