Vicksburg High starts season No. 1

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 27, 2002

Rory Johnson, a linebacker at Vicksburg High, hits a tackling sled during a drill on Thursday. Johnson and the Gators are ranked No. 1 in the Associated Press preseason poll. Vicksburg opens the season on Friday against Wayne County in the Red Carpet Bowl. (The Vicksburg Post/victor sumerall)

[08/27/02]Vicksburg High starts the prep football season on top of the mountain.

Now, coach Alonzo Stevens’ job is to keep them there.

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For the first time since 1991, the Gators are ranked as the top team in Mississippi as selected by a state panel of sports writers and broadcasters.

“I’ve said earlier that I am pleased with the recognition for our kids and coaching staff, but we still have to understand that we have to play every Friday,” said Stevens, whose team opens the year on Friday night against No. 7 Wayne County in the Red Carpet Bowl.

“I hope our seniors have the leadership to keep our feet planted solidly on the ground, avoid the big head and take care of business.”

The Gators, with 14 starters returning, took nine first place votes and easily beat out Provine for the top spot. The teams earn 10 points for a first-place vote on down to one point for a No. 10 vote.

Eupora, another experienced team coming off a good season, has the top spot in The Little 10 in the polls. The polls were released Monday.

The Gators, who last played for a state championship 24 years ago, have a loaded backfield operating behind a massive line that includes three 300-pounders.

“There are high expectations but we’re going to have to play one game at a time,” Stevens said.

Fullback Phelan Gray rushed for 1,060 yards and 20 touchdowns last year. The speedy Justin Henry threw for 1,551 yards and 10 touchdowns as a junior.

The two smallest starters on Vicksburg’s offensive line are 295-pound juniors Chris Noye and Fred Kelly, who will man the left side.

Center Paul Gorney (6-foot-3, 300), tackle Delvechio Ellis (6-3, 305) and guard Michael Smith (6-4, 320) round out the Gators’ powerful line.

Vicksburg’s schedule includes several stern tests, including the opener against No. 7 Wayne County, a Sept. 20 road game at No. 14 South Pike, and an Oct. 4 home game versus No. 8 Madison Central.

Provine is No. 2, having received three first-place votes and 100 points.

No. 3 Moss Point, a 5A finalist last season, received two first-place votes and 97 points to edge No. 4 Clarksdale. The defending 4A champions received 96 points and one first-place vote.

Brandon, which spent most of last season as the No. 1 team in the state, is No. 5.

Defending state champion Starkville is No. 13.

Eupora has 17 starters, including six three-year starters, back from a team that went 10-2 last season. Last year the Eagles were eliminated in the second round of the playoffs.

“Hopefully, we can use that as a motivational factor to go even farther this year,” Eupora coach Lance Pogue said.

The Eagles have won 21 games over the past two seasons. Running back Kentrell Brooks rushed for 2,097 yards and 20 touchdowns last year. Eupora received five first-place votes and 39 points.

Ackerman, Pelahatchie, Gulfport St. John and Mize round out the top five of The Little 10.

The Associated Press contributed to this report