Rebuilding process|VHS to face Ocean Springs in Red Carpet Bowl

Published 12:00 am Thursday, August 20, 2009

With 19 of 22 starters and 32 seniors gone from last year’s playoff team, the Vicksburg Gators are staring at a long rebuilding season.

And, naturally, the first thing to come along in any construction project is a bulldozer

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The Gators open the 2009 season Friday night in the Red Carpet Bowl against Ocean Springs, one of the top teams in Class 6A. The Greyhounds return 12 starters from a squad that went 9-2 last season and reached the Class 5A semifinals in 2007.

Ocean Springs is loaded with Division I prospects such as tailback Allen Howze and tight end Travis Dickson. Finding a way to beat them will be a tall order for an inexperienced VHS squad, but one that coach Alonzo Stevens feels his team is up for.

“It’s a David and Golaith. Thank goodness I believe in the story,” Stevens said with a laugh. “It’s a program that has seniors and experience right now against an inexperienced team. But the good thing is we have to play the game.”

That game kicks off a brutal four-game, season-opening stretch for the Gators. After next week’s open date they’ll face a Richwood, La. team that reached the Louisiana Class 3A quarterfinals in 2008. Tylertown, a Mississippi Class 3A finalist a year ago, and Lawrence County follow before the start of region play.

“I want to see how mentally tough we are. How we handle adversity,” Stevens said. “The only good thing about the schedule is we have their undivided attention. A problem I’ve had with my teams is, when they have an opponent they don’t know much about they aren’t as focused. When you see a No. 4 or a No. 1 next to the name, they get focused. You’ve got to play or you can get embarrassed.”

Ocean Springs will do its best to make the Gators feel shame.

Howze, a senior who has committed to Southern Miss, ran for 914 yards and 11 touchdowns last season. Senior quarterback Sam Noblin is a three-year starter who had 619 yards and six TDs while leading an option attack.

And Dickson might be the best of the bunch.

The senior plays tight end and defensive end, and is one of the top-rated recruits in Mississippi. He has committed to LSU, where his brother Richard is a starting tight end. At defensive end, Travis Dickson had 74 tackles last season.

“He’s a good player because he’s an every-down player. He’s going to give you everything he’s got on every play,” Ocean Springs coach Todd Mangum said. “He plays with a high motor.”

If Ocean Springs has a weakness, it’s up front. Three of the six starters lost from last season were offensive linemen. Mangum said the Greyhounds are also breaking in a couple of new starters in the secondary, which could give Vicksburg an opening to exploit.

Stevens plans to rotate in three different quarterbacks — Cameron Cooksey, Millan Nasif and Clyde Kendricks. He likes the way they’ve played in preseason practice, but getting a good game from them on Friday night will be crucial to getting the season started on the right foot.

“We’ve got to throw the football. We’re not good enough to be a one-track offense,” Stevens said, adding the defense will also have to step up. “We’ve always been noted for our speed, and we’re going to have to be around the football. We’re going to have to make some plays on defense.”


Contact Ernest Bowker at