Mentor Of Champions: Jones County Junior College coach turns football players into pros

Steve Buckley 2

Chloe Mayenknecht
Oxford Stories

Jones County Junior College in Ellisville, Mississippi is known for its football program and having many successful players move on to D1 schools, including the University of Mississippi, the University of Southern Mississippi, Mississippi State, Virginia Tech and South Carolina. This fall, the Jones County Bobcats won the Mississippi Bowl Game against Eastern Arizona.

Who is behind this success? Steve Buckley, 55, of Petal, Mississippi has been the Jones County Junior College Football Team coach for the last three seasons. Buckley played football at the University of Southern Mississippi and graduated in 1985. Soon after, he began his coaching career. He has previously coached for Petal High School, George County High School, Louisiana State University and Southern Miss.

What is it like to coach at such a small school where players come only to leave shortly after?

“The biggest challenge is having to adjust how quickly the players need to get out of there,” said Buckley. “Coaching at a D1 school, you have four to five seasons with those kids and are able to develop relationships and trust. But at a junior college, you only have a little over a year to prepare them. It makes you think outside the box in coaching, strength and academics.”

Time isn’t the only struggle for Buckley as a coach. Resources do not easily extend to all players.

“Money,” he said. “It’s just as simple as that. D1 teams can provide for their players in all areas, but in junior college, we can’t even pay for their books or summer school. It puts some players in serious hardships.”

Buckley has been coaching since he was 27, and he has worked with many successful athletes.

“As my time as a coach, I have coached 54 NFL players and five all-pro players,” he said. “It is a huge deal to see players who were on their last straw with having a career, being drafted in the first rounds, and playing on Sunday nights.”

Steve Buckley

Coach Steve Buckley Photo by Chloe Mayenknecht.

Former Petal High School player Javon Patterson, who just finished up his senior season at the University of Mississippi, believes Buckley to be one of the most influential coaches he has had.

Coach Buckley gave me the first opportunity that changed my life,” he said. “He told me if I wanted to play on varsity, I had to switch positions from defensive lineman to offensive lineman. Little did I know, that was my ticket to success. He is a great guy who I call family, always welcomes players with open arms, but is all about business. That’s what keeps him a winning coach.”

With Buckley having such success in his coaching career, there is a large time commitment that comes with it. He and his wife, Kristi Buckley, have two children, Slade Buckley and Annaleigh Buckley. Son, Slade, is now a graduate student coach (defense) at University of Louisiana Monroe. So how does being a football coach leave any room for family?

“Coaching is as taxing on your personal life as you make it,” he said. “My wife gets it, and my two kids understand it. I’ve always included them in this lifestyle, and that’s how we all understand each other. We are a very close family because of my career. Everyone understands my role.”

Daughter Annaleigh Buckley was also a previous Petal Panther athlete on the school’s cheerleading team. She had a sideline view watching her father coach.

“Having a coach as a dad is one of my favorite things about my family,” she said, “and during the fall, our whole lives revolve around the game. Don’t get me wrong. It’s hard at times, because your whole life depends on if he wins or not. But being able to watch him work so hard during recruiting, spring and summer practice, and then getting to watch him win and his players grow is so rewarding and makes me so proud of my dad. It makes me work harder for the things I want in life. He’s taught me discipline, determination, and dedication in all aspects of my life.”

Steve Buckley 3

“My main goal for Jones is to graduate kids and get them to the next level,” he said. “I am beyond winning. That is not what being a coach is about to me. I want to see kids realize their dreams and watch them overcome their hardships.”

Buckley wants to remain as head coach at Jones County Junior College and hopes to see the school grow in football and academics.

“My main goal for Jones is to graduate kids and get them to the next level,” he said. “I am beyond winning. That is not what being a coach is about to me. I want to see kids realize their dreams and watch them overcome their hardships.”

Buckley said he wants to continue coaching for many more years. “I am 55 now, and will definitely be coaching for another 10, but knowing myself, I won’t retire until I’m at least 70.”

The Jones County Junior College team is just coming off a major win in the Mississippi Bowl Game. They had an 8-1 season and won the MAJAC playoff game. All this success returns to head coach Steve Buckley.

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