County teams filled with confidence, expectations|[08/05/08]

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 5, 2008

When they were Class 5A, Vicksburg High coach Alonzo Stevens said the Gators marked three games as the “the big three.”

Now with the start of its second year in 4A, the list has changed names and added one.

“We now have a ‘big four,'” Stevens said Monday as the Gators open preseason work with 82 players reporting.

Email newsletter signup

Sign up for The Vicksburg Post's free newsletters

Check which newsletters you would like to receive
  • Vicksburg News: Sent daily at 5 am
  • Vicksburg Sports: Sent daily at 10 am
  • Vicksburg Living: Sent on 15th of each month

“When we were 5A, our big three were Warren Central, Madison Central and Clinton. Now its Warren Central, Yazoo City, Canton and Ridgeland,” Stevens said.

Vicksburg was able to beat Warren Central for the second time in three years last year, but they lost all three meetings with their new divisional foes in 3-4A.

“We gave the Yazoo City game away, we didn’t show up in the first half against Canton and Ridgeland, I just want to leave that one alone,” Stevens said of the bitter, overtime loss to Ridgeland that cost the Gators a homefield date in the 4A playoffs. Vicksburg went on to lose to West Point in the first round and finished 6-5 after a 6-2 start.

“With 30 something seniors, we think we can have an exciting year. I think we’ll be in the thick of it,” Stevens said.

The Gators will spend a week in shoulder pads and shorts before beginning contact work next Monday. They will tune up for their anticipated Red Carpet Bowl clash with five-time defending state champion South Panola at Memorial Stadium, by playing 3A power Franklin County in a scrimmage on Aug. 22.

“We go to Franklin County on the 22nd. I heard South Panola is going to Louisville to play them and Meridian,” Stevens said. “And the Sporting News has Panola ranked No. 8 in the nation.”

Stevens says he has an experienced team with nine starters returning on defense and four of his five starting offensive linemen back.

“Nine back on defense and we’re looking real good on that side of the ball. I think this is going to be the fastest group we’ve had,” Stevens said.

The Gators will have to replace three All-Warren County players in quarterback Stanton Price, wide receiver John Qualls and running back/receiver Delmon Robinson.

“That was a lot of experience we lost, but I like the quality of guys we have back. One of the guys I look to step forward is Kurt Cooksey. When you combine his blocking, catching and effort, he’s one of the best in the state,” Stevens said. Les Lemons will replace Price at quarterback.

Many new faces fill Vikings’ roster

Warren Central started its march to the season opener Monday afternoon with the usual number of players and an unusually low number of familiar faces practicing with the first team.

Around 80 players suited up for the Vikings’ first practice. Only 10 of those started last season, making the four-week run-up to the Red Carpet Bowl a battle for positions as well as to get in shape.

WC does have a few key cogs back. Linebacker Joe Harris, who led the team with 95 tackles last season, returns, as do linebacker David Cosby and lineman John Gustavis, who had two sacks apiece. Cornerback Larry Davis and safety Tim Jones will help shore up the secondary.

Season openersPorters Chapel at Claiborne, La.Aug. 22, 7 p.m.——St. Aloysius hosts Bogue ChittoAug. 29, 7:30 p.m.——Warren Central vs. ClarksdaleAug. 29, 6 p.m., at VHS——Vicksburg hosts South PanolaAug. 29, 8:30 p.m.Offensively, the Vikings are strong on the line with three starters – Jonathan Chaney, Clayton Koestler and Danny Bunch – returning. Quarterback Keaton Sanders and tailback Joel Forbes will enter their third year as starters. Forbes has gained 1,944 yards over the last two seasons and has a chance to become the first Warren Central back to rush for 3,000 yards in a career since Brian Darden did it in the early 1990s.

“You’ve got 10 positions back, and some of those are probably going to move,” WC coach Curtis Brewer said. “We’re looking for a full defensive line, a couple in the secondary. There’s a lot to be replaced on defense. We lost a couple of mainstays with (lineman) Bennie Peoples and (linebacker) R.W. Comans. This team is going to have to develop its own personality and go-to players.”

Before the position battles heat up, however, Brewer said the Vikings will spend this week dealing with the heat. Temperatures in the 90s are forecast for most of the week. WC will practice in shirts and helmets all week – MHSAA rules don’t allow practice in full pads until next week – as they get their legs back under them.

“The big thing today, tomorrow and Wednesday is to work a little, cool off, work a little, and cool off. Make sure we accustomize ourselves to the heat,” Brewer said Monday. “You have some that have worked outside all summer and are accustomized to it, but then you have half of them that haven’t. If you had a little cool front you might throw some agility drills in there. But with the weather the way it is, you can’t sap all the water out of them in the first 10 or 15 minutes.”

Smithhart takes over at St. Al

Thanks to a full spring practice and summer workouts with his new team, B.J. Smithhart’s first day of fall drills at St. Aloysius was more like another day at the office than a new beginning.

Smithhart started his first season as St. Al’s head coach Monday with a pair of practices heavy on conditioning work. The Flashes will go through two more days of two-a-days today and Wednesday. They’ll put on pads for the first time next Monday.

“We went through two weeks in spring, so that helped a lot,” Smithhart said of the transition from former coach Jim Taylor, who led the Flashes for 10 seasons, to himself.

Smithhart also credited a large group of upperclassmen and an experienced coaching staff for helping his own adjustment from assistant to head coach. Smithhart, a Warren Central graduate, spent two years as the head coach at Warren Junior before moving to Stone County High School as an assistant for the last two years under former Viking Brian Oakes. This is his first varsity head coaching job.

“It’s definitely different, because you’ve got to make tougher decisions. The coaches here have made it easy. Coach (Jimmy) Salmon, (Will) Vollor and (Mike) Jones have done a good job,” Smithhart said. “We’ve also got a great group of upperclassmen. That’s made it easier, too. They’ve been coached well and they know how to practice.”

A total of 33 players, including 11 seniors, reported for practice on Monday. Only one player was absent, and Smithhart expected him to be on the field when school starts on Thursday. While he appreciated the early contributions, Smithhart said he made it clear everyone has to make a good impression in the weeks leading up to the Aug. 29 opener against Bogue Chitto.

“I told them we don’t have anybody starting yet. That’s up to them,” Smithhart said.

Porters Chapel Academy began its training camp on July 28.