Gators start season at No. 4; Vikings ranked 19th

Published 12:00 am Thursday, August 21, 2003

[8/19/03]The Vicksburg Gators will start this season ranked slightly lower than in 2002, and that’s just fine with head coach Alonzo Stevens.

VHS is fourth in the Mississippi Associated Press Top 20 poll, released Monday. Wayne County, which drops to Class 4A after winning the 5A state championship last season, is No. 1. South Panola is No. 2, Southaven is No. 3, and Starkville rounds out the top five.

Warren Central, which lost to Southaven in the second round of the Class 5A playoffs last season, is No. 19.

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Vicksburg started 2002 as the preseason No. 1, but lost to Wayne County in the season-opening Red Carpet Bowl. The Gators struggled to build momentum all season, and lost to Horn Lake in the first round of the playoffs.

“I don’t think it was the big heads as much as traveling uncharted waters. You’re handling something you haven’t handled before,” Stevens said.

Stevens added that the lower ranking helps take some pressure off his team, even though it was nice to be recognized.

“Hats off to my coaches, and a good job for the program. That’s what we want, to be recognized year-in and year-out as a contender, and I think around the state of Mississippi we’re starting to be recognized,” Stevens said.

Wayne County received 10 of a possible 17 first-place votes and 163 points in the poll. The War Eagles have 14 starters returning from last year’s championship team.

“We know we’re going to have a big bull’s-eye on our backs,” Wayne County coach Marcus Boyles said. “We were the 5A champions last year. Now that we’re dropping down to 4A, some people think it’s going to be a cakewalk.

“But we know 4A is going to be tough.”

Just like Wayne County, defending 2A champion Taylorsville starts No. 1 in the Little 10 after ending last season on top of the poll for class 2A, 1A and academy schools.

In the top 20, South Panola, the runner-up to Wayne County in Class 5A last season, is again No. 2 behind the War Eagles. The Tigers received the other seven first-place votes and 155 points.

Marcus Griffin, who ran for 1,546 yards and 11 touchdowns, is the Tigers’ main man.

“Marcus has a lot of speed and moves real well,” Tigers coach Ricky Woods said. “He’s a big back who can run hard with a lot of cutting ability.

“We feel he’ll be better than last year.”

No. 6 is Oak Grove, followed by West Jones, West Point, Collins and Clarksdale filling out the first 10.

In the Little 10, Taylorsville received 10 of the 17 first-place votes and 58 points. No. 2 Ackerman received two first-place votes and had 49 points. No. 3 Puckett got three first-place votes and No. 4 Baldwyn had two. Weir rounds out the top five.