Southern Miss Quarterback Dustin Allison tossing a quick route in a training camp drill at the M.M. Roberts Stadium in Hattiesburg, Miss. on Sunday, Aug. 7, 2022. (Hunter Dawkins/The Gazebo Gazette via AP)

Gazebo Gazette

Week in and week out in 2022, the Pearl River Community College (PRCC) football team was accomplishing something that hadn’t been done in a while. Heading into the 2023 season, the Wildcats hope to continue to pile up new achievements in year four of the Seth Smith era.

“Last season was a culmination of two years of hard work by our coaches and players,” head coach Seth Smith said. “We finished the season 6-3 and on a three-game winning streak. It was the first time in 12 years to win six games. All of that was a product of the hard work the coaches and players put in.”

Leading the offense in 2023 will be quarterback Dustin Allison (Pass Christian, Pass High), who transferred back to Pearl River after spending 2022 with Southern Miss. Allison was a Wildcat in the 2021 season and passed for 269 yards and two touchdowns.

Allison was the signal caller for Pass High in 2019 where the Pirates won their first playoff game in MHSAA history over Purvis 35-20. He finished the season with 3,732 yards of total offense and 44 touchdowns, either passing for 35 or rushing in 9 leading the district and one of the top in the state of Mississippi after twelve games.

“We just weren’t great offensively in 2021,” Smith said. “We didn’t have a great scheme and things like that. Dustin really endured it and had a great attitude through it all. He was afforded an opportunity to go to Southern Miss for a year and then decided to transfer back to us. It was a no-brainer when he reached out. He’s got loads of experience, and we feel like we’re in a position now to show what he can really do.”

Other members of the Wildcat quarterback room are redshirt freshman Ty Hullette and true freshman Christian Turner (Orange Grove; Harrison Central).

The running back position was a true battle throughout the fall. Due to an injury to the expected starter, numerous guys fought for the job. While Pearl River employed a bell cow last year with Nick Milsap, fans will see a committee in 2023.

Changes along the offensive line will be widespread in 2023 after all five starters from last year’s squad graduated.

“We had five sophomore starters last season. The good thing for us is that all five guys taking over are sophomores,” Smith said. “We’re not having to bring in guys who haven’t played at the college level. The guys who are going to start this year know who we are and what we do.”

Filling the void that All-American defensive end Bryan Whitehead II left behind is going to be no easy task for the Wildcats in 2023, but Smith feels that PRCC has more depth along the defensive line than ever before.

“You can’t replace a kid like Whitehead with just one player. You need multiple guys to fill that void,” Smith said. “We don’t have Whitehead, but we do feel like we have a lot more depth on the defensive line this year. They just have to learn to keep putting in that effort all the time.”

The linebacker position remains in good hands even with the departure of Alabama signee Justin Jefferson as watch list member Eli Hackbarth is back to lead the charge.

Other players who will feature in the position group are Dedrian Alexander (Pass Christian), Zavier Fairley, Deandre Shorts  and Dwight Williams.

“We had one of the best defenses in the country last year, and what helps that is field position,” Smith said. “When you have a punter like him that can flip the field, it makes it a lot easier for your defense. This year, he will be doing punting and kicking.”

The Wildcats will hit the road for their season opener to take on Holmes. Pearl River turned in a dominant performance against the Bulldogs in 2022, winning 49-24.

PRCC leads the all-time series against the Bulldogs 38-13-2.