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Stevens not gloating over Gators’ success

[11/29/01]Alonzo Stevens remembers how it felt when he wasn’t the first choice to be Vicksburg High’s new head coach.

“It hurt,” Stevens said.

Four months and 10 wins later, the doubters and naysayers are quiet.

“It would be hard to find them now,” Stevens said with a laugh.

But he isn’t gloating. He’s busy trying to take the Gators (10-3) somewhere they’ve never been to the Class 5A state championship game.

“I just thank God that some people said, Give him a shot; he’s paid his dues,’ ” said Stevens, who was the fourth choice of the search committee that was formed to find a replacement for James Knox after he retired. “Some special people went that extra mile for me. I just wanted to get an opportunity. There’s no bitterness now.”

The Gators host No. 2 Starkville (12-1) for the North State championship Friday at 7:30 p.m.

Vicksburg Warren School District athletic director Lum Wright Jr., who was on the search committee, said Stevens is the reason the Gators have gone deeper into the playoffs than they’ve been in 10 years.

“He’s taken responsibility for the outcome of Gator football,” Wright said. “He doesn’t make excuses or blame others.”

More than 30 applicants wanted the job after Knox retired. The reason for the interest, Wright said, is obvious.

“There have been three teams here in the last 10 years that had the capability of winning a state championship,” he said.

The Gators lost to Tupelo in the 1990 and 1991 North State championships, but they hadn’t advanced past the first round since 1993.

Wright said the committee worked hard to find the best coach for VHS, not just to make a quick hire to fill the spot.

“This community deserved it and those kids deserved it,” Wright said. “We worked hard to find the right person.”

And he has no doubt that the right person is there now.

“There are stronger philosophies … just a different attitude out there now,” Wright said.

Wright, who won a state championship at Magee in 1989, said that offensive coordinator Jackie Williamson has been one of the big keys to VHS’ success.

“He has a lot of imagination,” Wright said. “They haven’t had that kind of success since Butch Newman was offensive coordinator and (Stevens) was defensive coordinator.”

And now, Stevens is the one who brings the whole thing together.

“He makes sure that the coordinators stick to the game plan,” Wright said. “He takes the role of leader.”

Stevens knows how to treat assistants since he was one for so long. He was an assistant at VHS for more than a decade before going to Alcorn State as offensive line coach, then returning to VHS as an assistant to Knox in 1997.

“I had always prided myself in being a good assistant,” Stevens said. “But it seemed like that would be my downfall. Everybody kept saying, You don’t have any head-coaching experience.’ ”

But now he does. And his winning percentage is a gaudy 77 percent.

Stevens said he realizes there may still be some skeptics out there who say he’s just benefiting from outstanding players.

Stevens credits the players for his success. But he says the future is bright at VHS, too.

“Just wait,” he said. “You ain’t seen nothing yet.”