Local programs usher in new eras this spring
[5/16/04]A new era is beginning for Warren Central football.
Spring practices concluded a week ago without coach Robert Morgan in attendance for the first time in 35 years.
Morgan announced his retirement on April 16, a little more than a week before spring practice. The Vicksburg-Warren School District moved quickly and chose long-time assistant coach Curtis Brewer to take the reins as interim coach.
Brewer had little time to prepare for what’s been given to him in fact, he hasn’t even moved into Morgan’s old office yet.
“I’ll get to that when there’s a good time,” said Brewer, who has been a WC assistant coach since 1971.
Despite the last-minute shuffling, Brewer said the team had a productive spring. He and the assistant coaches emphasized playing everyone at various positions to get an idea of what they were working with.
The most difficult thing for Brewer was refraining from acting like a position coach while adjusting to his new role.
“There were things I didn’t worry about and that I took for granted because Robert did them,” Brewer said. “You have to try dealing more with the kids, and not saying, You do what you want to do, go see the head coach.'”
The Vikings return a solid core of players from last year’s Division 6-5A championship team.
The 2003 Vicksburg Post Offensive Player of the Year Larry Warner returns for his senior season at running back, and he will be helped by teammate Fred Payne to form a very potent backfield.
Christian Hales steadily improved at quarterback all season, and Brewer said Hales had a very good spring.
“He’s 100 percent better,” Brewer said. “He’s just more comfortable, and now he’s got confidence in himself.”
The offensive line, however, was depleted of much of its strength. And WC’s three top receivers graduated, but Brewer said he has a lot of possibilities, including having Chico Hunter and Otis Stamps play on both sides of the ball.
The defense returns seven players from last year.
“It’s been unusual,” Brewer said of the practices. “But the assistant coaches have been the key to the spring going as well as it did.”
Across town, Vicksburg High is undergoing its own set of changes.
Gone from last year are 10 offensive starters and nine defensive starters.
The Gators also have made their own coaching moves. Longtime defensive coordinator Robert Erves retired, opening the door for David Tadlock to move up. And former offensive coordinator Jackie Williamson returns to the same position after a stint as head coach at Terry High.
But VHS coach Alonzo Stevens doesn’t seem too worried.
“I had a lot of fun this spring,” Stevens said. “The last two years have been a lot of anticipation, a lot of people at the fence watching. These guys just have to go out and play.”
Eugene Morgan will take over for James Jackson at quarterback, and Stevens said Morgan has looked very good in practice.
“Right now, I’ve got all the confidence in the world in him,” Stevens said of Morgan, who recently timed in at 4.4 seconds in the 40-yard dash.
At running back, Stevens still has a jumble of players, including Chavous McWhorters, Cordarryl Gleese and Marcus Harris.
“We’ve got a lot young guys that are untested,” Stevens said. “You don’t know if they’re going to stand up when the lights come on or duck down. We hope that the work ethic they had this spring can carry over in the fall.”
The Flashes’ biggest weapon is back, but many of last year’s other starters won’t be.
The Flashes had 32 players out for spring practice, minus several players from baseball, tennis, golf and track.
“We were just in and out,” St. Al coach Jim Taylor said. “We were hardly even able to get in pads. It just doesn’t work out because most of your skill people are doing other things.”
Warren County’s leading rusher, Rob Jones, returns from a 1,253-yard, 18-touchdown season behind a solid offensive line.
“Opposite from most years, it looks like we’ll have a pretty good group of linemen coming back, and maybe a little down on the skill positions,” Taylor said.
The Flashes have a good group of ninth- and 10th-graders coming up that Taylor thinks will be a dominant group.
Until they are ready, St. Al must find a quarterback and receivers for a passing game to take the pressure off Jones.
“Starting the year off we’ll be inexperienced, but hopefully strong enough in the line to hold on until we get a little experience,” Taylor said. “That’s about the story we had this past year. We started off 1-4 and won five of the last six.”
The Eagles also are losing a lot from last year’s squad 10 of last season’s 22 players, to be exact.
Porters Chapel is in the process of spring practices, but can’t get much done as long as the baseball team continues its playoff run.
Gerald Mims will take over for Ryan Hoben at quarterback, while Blake Purvis, Kenny Simms and Josh Lancaster will split time at running back.
Receivers Allen Cassell and Dean Hill both return as well.
“If we can develop a line, we’ll be fine,” PCA coach Bubba Mims said. “We’ve got a lot of talented running backs and wide receivers. All of them can play, but we just have to get a line.”
Cameron Owen will anchor the line, along with Sidney Meacham, but the other three spots have yet to be set.
Much like St. Aloysius, PCA expects a strong group of freshman to start making their mark. The freshman class has not lost a game its last two seasons and features future quarterback Michael Busby, who may get a look this season.