Watkins becoming a standout for Tupelo defense

·2 min read

Sep. 23—On a defense as loaded as Tupelo's, it's hard for one player to stand out. But it's impossible to overlook what Clifton Watkins has done to this point.

The junior outside linebacker is making the most of his first season as a starter. Entering Tupelo's Division 2-6A opener tonight at Grenada, Watkins is tied for the team lead with 29 tackles and has 5 tackles-for-loss.

"He's built like an outside linebacker who can move like a safety," Tupelo coach Ty Hardin said. "He's very versatile in our defense, can cover space, is good at attacking the run."

That versatility has been quite evident. Watkins had an interception against Saltillo, and he returned a fumble 40 yards for a touchdown against Corinth.

The 6-foot-1, 180-pound Watkins echoed Hardin's assessment of his playing style.

"I think like a linebacker, and I try to play like a safety, too. But I feel I can play both of them," he said.

Watkins saw action in eight games last season, making 23 tackles. Now he starts on a defense that's allowed just 16 points all season.

The Golden Wave (4-0) will face their toughest test to date in Grenada (4-0). The Chargers average 266 rushing yards per game. Running back Jhordan During leads a balanced attack with 310 yards and four touchdowns.

As good as Tupelo's defense has been, Hardin said its ceiling has yet to be reached.

"We can play as good as we want to play," he said. "I think we will play up to our competition, and we'll play down to our competition. That's just a normal thing."

Also tonight

—In another big 2-6A opener, Starkville I4-0) visits defending state champ Madison Central (2-1). The Yellowjackets were the only team to beat MC last season.

—West Point (1-2) visits Lafayette (1-3) to open 1-5A play. This is the Commodores' worst start in five years.

—Teams in Class 1A also begin division play tonight. That includes Hamilton (4-0), which travels to French Camp (1-3) for a 3-1A game.

brad.locke@journalinc.com