• 32°

Gators’ speed, size concerns John Ehret coach

[08/29/01]Billy North sees green when he looks at the matchup between his John Ehret team and Vicksburg High in the Red Carpet Bowl.

That’s understandable when he watches a tape of the Gators … but it concerns him when that’s the color he sees on his red-white-and-blue-clad players.

“We’ve got 17 new starters,” North said by telephone Tuesday. “We’re very green. We’ve got all new skill guys … we don’t have anyone back who scored a touchdown last year.”

The Patriots bring a rich tradition but “a lot of question marks,” North said, to Friday’s game, which will be played at Warren Central.

“We really don’t know what to expect,” even after exchanging tapes with first-year VHS head coach Alonzo Stevens, North said. “They’ve got a new coach, and he’s sure to do some things different, and I hear they’ve changed defenses. We’re just going to have to see what they’re doing and try to counteract.”

The Gators return an experienced offense, led by Vicksburg Post Offensive Player of the Year J.J. Brown and a huge, seasoned offensive line.

Still, the Gators may have even more question marks than they present the team from New Orleans. They have yet to play. Their opponent has.

“They get a chance to work on things this week that we can’t work on until next week, so that’s alays a concern,” Stevens said.

The Patriots lost to 5A power South Lafourche, 24-19, in a jamboree last week. Junior quarterback Dewain Bannister (6-foot-1, 180) did well, North said. He completed 7 of 16 passes for 170 yards and a touchdown and rushed for another score in the shortened game.

“They’re very explosive on offense and aggressive on defense,” Stevens said. “They have that swagger.”

Seeing a tape of last year’s VHS-WC game wasn’t much help, North said with a laugh. WC threw the ball just 10 times in its 30-7 win, which didn’t give North a good look at VHS’ secondary.

The Patriots work out of the shotgun with four wide receiver sets.

“We throw the ball,” North said, “so it’s hard to tell what we’re up against.”

Rainy weather in south Louisiana has forced the Patriots inside for about half of their practices, North said.

“That’s not where we need to be with the type of offense we run,” he said.

John Ehret won 23 games in the last two years, but that was with a group of players who had been together for two years, North is quick to point out.

Eleven of last year’s seniors are now playing college ball and he’s had nearly 80 sign since he became coach in 1989.

“This is a fertile area for players,” North said.

The Patriots’ top prospect this year is linebacker Thaddeus Washington (6-0, 240), who is getting attention from Colorado, Southern Cal and Tennessee, among others, North said.

“He’s the kind people like to come see,” North said.

Washington will have his sights on promising junior quarterback Justin Henry, who will be making his first varsity start.

North said he was impressed by the handful of series Henry played against WC.

“He had good touch and hung in the pocket,” North said. “He showed a lot of poise.”

Even with all of the unknowns for him and Stevens, North said the outcome would be decided by players, not coaching adjustments.

“All we want to do,” he said, “is come there, play hard, and represent ourselves well, with class.”

Stevens said the Patriots “are as good a team as I’ve seen” on film.

“I tell our players, if you want to know where you are, this is a way to find out. “