VHS cornerback, PCA duo tops in county|[12/18/2005]

Published 12:00 am Monday, December 19, 2005

First-team All-State pick McGowan gave opposing quarterbacks fits

There is no lack of confidence in Willis McGowan’s game. That confidence also should serve him well as he moves on to the next level.

McGowan is this year’s pick for The Vicksburg Post’s Defensive Player of The Year after leading the county with seven interceptions, including three returned for touchdowns.

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As a junior, McGowan was known for his hard-hitting ways as a safety. But during preseason drills, Coach Alonzo Stevens and defensive coordinator David Tadlock moved the 6-foot, 175-pound playmaker to cornerback.

For McGowan, his breakout season which led the Gators back to the 5A playoffs, was all mindset.

&#8220My motivation coming into the season was that I can’t be stopped,” McGowan said. &#8220I did pretty good on defense last year, but it wasn’t anything compared to this year. They moved me to corner and I have to hand it to Coach Tadlock. He put me in the right spot and I made plays.”

Tadlock, who resigned his position as VHS defensive coordinator in November, agreed.

&#8220He can be as successful as any player we’ve coached as a staff here at Vicksburg,” Tadlock said. &#8220Willie Collins at Provine loved him.

&#8220In the game here, Willis knocked out one of his receivers. Coach Collins asked me ‘Who’s No. 3? If I had him, he’d be playing both offense and defense.’”

Stevens, who coached at the I-AA level at Alcorn State, said McGowan is one of the best defensive backs in the state.

&#8220He’s big time. He’s a player. I’ve never seen a DB make so many big plays. Not only did he make the seven interceptions, he was also a lock-down corner,” Stevens said. &#8220We put him on the other team’s best receiver. He shut down the kid from Northwest Rankin. He gave that other kid from Provine a concussion.

&#8220Willis’ skills remind me a lot of Bobo Harris, but Willis is bigger,” Stevens said referring to the standout VHS quarterback and defensive back of the 1980s.

When Grambling State came over to play Jackson State in late October, McGowan got to meet G-Men coach Melvin Spears in person as well other Tiger players.

&#8220I’ve been following Grambling for a long, long time. Andre Bennett is my cousin,” McGowan said of fhe former Vicksburg Gator who has become an All-SWAC offensive tackle for the Tigers.

But back when Bennett was in high school, McGowan had designs on becoming a basketball star.

&#8220I quit football my 10th grade year to do basketball, but then I came back to football last year and in two years, became a top DB.”

McGowan said his 4.4 speed in the 40-yard dash is far more useful in football than on a basketball court. He gave up hoops after just two games this season to concentrate on his school work.

&#8220I stopped playing basketball because I need to get my grades right so that I’ll be able to go where I want to go,” he said.

While Grambling is near the top of his list, McGowan reels off Alcorn State and Louisiana Tech as teams that could use his services.

&#8220I talked with the Alcorn coaches at the Grambling game and I know I could help a team like Louisiana Tech,” McGowan said.

Tadlock says someone will be getting a good player.

&#8220He made more progress in a year than I’ve seen from anyone in 20 years,” Tadlock said. &#8220He came into this year as being a hitter, but he has really come on with his coverage. He never backed down against the best receivers.”

Wright, staff guided PCA to state semis

By Ernest Bowker

Perhaps the biggest accomplishment for Porters Chapel Academy this season was one Randy Wright did his best not to talk about.

Week after week, the Eagles not only shut down their opponents, they held them out of the end zone. Twelve games, nine shutouts, a ridiculously low 785 yards allowed and three offensive touchdowns. For 11 of those games, the touchdown total was at zero.

PCA reached the Academy-A North State championship game with a defense that showed a level of dominance rarely achieved on any level. The Eagles had no blown assignments, a half-dozen goal line stands forced upon them by turnovers or long drives, and never broke.

For his efforts, as well as those of his staff, Wright earned the 2005 Vicksburg Post Coach of the Year award for the second straight time. Wright is in only his second season as coach of the Eagles, who have a 20-3 record under his leadership.

&#8220It’s a very good honor. I am absolutely honored, but no doubt this is an award for the entire coaching staff.” Wright said. &#8220I’ve got a lot of help. The people around me here are good people, and we work well together.”

The top assistant for Wright was defensive coordinator Mike Roach, the architect of a unit that overwhelmed opponents all season long.

PCA surrendered a field goal to Tensas in its third game, and a special teams touchdown to Tri-County in Week 8. But not until Lee Academy (Ark.) scored in the second quarter of the North State championship game did an opponent’s offense reach the end zone.

It was a streak that was both an impressive accomplishment and a potential distraction. Wright wanted to keep it going, so he kept his defensive starters in the game until the end. At the same time, he did his best to downplay it to his team to keep them from getting too full of themselves.

&#8220We tried to downplay it as much as we could, but we were still trying to go out and shut people out every week, because if the other team can’t score, they can’t win,” Wright said. &#8220We let our defense play. We subbed here and there, but never made wholesale substitutions. It was something we were proud of, and we didn’t want to give up anything cheap.”

While PCA’s defense was grabbing headlines, its offense was dominant in its own right.

Led by 1,500-yard rusher and Post Offensive Player of the Year Chris Mixon, the Eagles averaged 37.8 points per game and had most of their opponents put away by halftime – if not sooner. In a 49-0 win over Greenville Christian, PCA scored on each of its first five plays.

When the Eagles put it all together, there were few teams who could stop them. They advanced to the Academy-A semifinals before losing 20-13 on a late touchdown to Lee. In the process, they won back-to-back district titles for the first time in school history, beat archrival Tri-County two years in a row for the first time since 1981-82, and won a playoff game for the first time.

When all was said and done, this year’s PCA team also staked a claim as the best in the 32-year history of the school.

&#8220We’ve been very blessed to have some unbelievable athletes. We’ve been able to have success because of the athletes we have,” Wright said. &#8220We have worked really well together as a coaching staff, and seemed to have pushed all the right buttons for the most part. I think that has a lot to do with our success.”

Eagles’ back had foes at his mercy

By Ernest Bowker

Chris Mixon owns a bracelet, one he doesn’t wear often, that sums up his ability on a football field.

The inscription reads simply, &#8220You are at my mercy.”

This season, truer words have never been spoken.

Mixon, Porters Chapel Academy’s star running back, led Warren County with 1,502 rushing yards and 20 touchdowns while helping the team reach the Academy-A North State championship game.

He finished the season with 1,913 all-purpose yards and 24 total touchdowns, to go along with 104 tackles as a linebacker for PCA’s impenetrable defense. His 2,333 career rushing yards are the second most in school history. Only Earl Johnson, who gained 4,079 from 1974-76 and ranks third among all Warren County rushers since 1972, had more.

Now, Mixon caps his senior season by becoming the second player from the school to earn The Vicksburg Post’s Offensive Player of the Year award. Quarterback Ben Jernigan was the last PCA player to earn the honor, in 1996. Linebacker Humphrey Barlow was the Defensive Player of the Year in 2003.

&#8220I’ve thought about it since the beginning of the year,” Mixon said of winning the award. &#8220I’m pretty excited about getting it. It’s definitely an accomplishment for me.”

It seemed like the only thing that could stop the 6-foot-2, 205-pound tailback was not getting to play.

Mixon played all four quarters in only about half of PCA’s 12 games. PCA earned a forfeit win over Rebul, Mixon suffered a hip pointer early in a victory over UCS Prep and sat out the regular-season finale against CM&I. In several other games he played only a quarter or a half before PCA had a huge lead and coach Randy Wright took him out.

It was a similar setup in the 2004 season, when Mixon ran for 831 yards and 13 TDs on only 84 carries as PCA went 9-2. Despite not getting a lot of carries in his senior season, Mixon said he understood the situation and wasn’t upset about it.

&#8220I knew what (Wright) was trying to do. There were three reasons he pulled me out – keep me healthy, help the younger guys, and not run the score up,” Mixon said. &#8220I took it pretty well and knew what he was doing, so I didn’t get frustrated.”

Besides, the extra rest may have helped Mixon find another gear for the playoffs.

He ran for 537 yards and nine touchdowns in three playoff games, including shutout wins over Benton and East Holmes. In the loss to Lee, he finished with 131 yards and two touchdowns, and also made an astonishing 24 tackles from his linebacker position.

&#8220I might make some people mad by saying this, but he’s the best all-around football player we’ve had since I’ve been here,” said Wright, who has coached football at PCA since 1995. &#8220He’s had a huge impact on our football program the last two years. I can’t even begin to describe the contributions he’s made to the program on and off the field. Everything he’s done has been positive.”

Mixon started his high school career at Warren Central, but was wooed to PCA by former coach Bubba Mims after his sophomore year. When Mims passed away in May of 2004, Mixon decided to honor his memory by transferring to PCA and trying to help the Eagles win a state championship.

The Eagles didn’t get there during Mixon’s career, but did go 20-3 and came closer than any other PCA team ever has.

&#8220Once Bubba passed away, I made up my mind to come over and win a state championship. I wanted to win it for him,” Mixon said. &#8220I know he’s smiling down on us. We made some history here at Porters Chapel. I’m sure he’s happy for us and has a big smile on his face wherever he is.”