Vicksburg trying to jumpstart season

Published 12:00 am Thursday, September 26, 2002

A.J. Hicks of Vicksburg High runs for yardage during the Gators’ 32-14 win over Brookhaven. Vicksburg, which entered the season as the state’s top-ranked team, has struggled to a 2-2 start. (The Vicksburg Post/Melanie Duncan)

[09/26/02]Coming into the season, expectations for the Vicksburg Gators were sky high.

Expectations don’t win football games, though.

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Vicksburg dropped from the rankings, receiving a couple of votes in the Associated Press poll, the first time this season the team has not been ranked.

Grumbling fans expecting to see a run at a state championship are losing patience with a team that has struggled to a 2-2 start.

Still, coach Alonzo Stevens is as optimistic about the rest of the season.

“Nothing,” said Stevens when asked what’s wrong with the Gators. “The Gators are fine. Nothing is broke. It is not time to panic because we know we are a good football team.”

Statistics show differently so far:

In three of the first four games, the opponent has scored on its first possession leaving the Gators in a hole from the start.

“We haven’t jumped out ahead of anybody,” senior defensive back D’Eldrick Taylor said. “We need to get more fired up early in the game.”

The defense is also surrendering twice as many points per game (22) as it did last season and has yet to show the ability to stop an opponents’ offense especially running games.

Big plays, especially on third downs, have haunted the Gators’ defense.

“If we cut down on the big plays and make people work, we’ll be all right,” Stevens said. “We have to make teams work harder. It’s the two-and three-play drives that we have to stop.”

The deadly offensive attack that finished second in the state in total offense last year is well below that production. The Gators are averaging 23 points per game 74 of those against Brookhaven (2-2) and Natchez (0-4). Vicksburg scored 14 in losses to top-ranked Wayne County and No. 9 South Pike.

“Everyone on this team has to come together as one,” senior fullback Phelan Gray said. “Everyone needs to lay it on the line every play. It all starts with hard work at practice.”

Gray is carrying the rushing load and quarterback Justin Henry is leading in passing, but the difference-maker has yet to take charge. The loss of J.J. Brown, who could score on any play from anywhere, is hurting Vicksburg.

“The lightning is coming,” said Stevens of the quick-back looking to take Brown’s place and complement Gray. A.J. Hicks is scheduled to return from an injury and Michael Rainey and Maurice Taylor have yet to blossom.

“We’re definitely not running the offense like we did in the past,” Henry said. “It’s not like we can’t do it, we have guys that have been running the offense for three years.”

In-fighting has not been a problem, yet. Players came into the locker room Tuesday to James Brown’s “I Feel Good”. Smiles were on most of the faces and the team appeared loose as it prepared for a Northwest Rankin team fresh off a stunning 14-0 win over then-No. 2 Brandon.

“I don’t think anyone is panicking,” Henry said. “We have to come out more focused. Right now we get caught playing on too much emotion and when we get down, we’re having a hard time pulling ourselves back up.”

Stevens refuses to believe that his team is done for the year.

“The good thing now, is that everyone is 0-0,” Stevens said. With undefeated Warren Central as well as Madison Central, Clinton and Northwest, the coach knows his team has to kick things into gear.

“We’d love to be 4-0 and I feel like we should be 4-0, but some things didn’t go right,” Stevens said.

“We have to fix that and are going to fix that.”

He said if his team was measured as having eight cylinders, VHS is firing on about 6 1/2.

Stevens said if his team was measured as having eight cylinders, VHS is firing on about 6 1/2.

“If we were going to struggle, I guess that’s the time to struggle,” Henry said.

“This is the real season right here and everyone talks about making a run, and that starts now. You have to get into the playoffs before you can do anything.”