Vicksburg 7-on-7 squad headed to Washington

Published 12:00 pm Friday, July 8, 2011

The Vicksburg Gators are going to Washington.

Vicksburg High School football coach Alonzo Stevens said his program was able to pull in nearly $5,000 in two days to send the Gators to the National 7-on-7 Championships in Chantilly, Va., that begins on Thursday.

On Tuesday, Stevens said the odds were not very good that the Gators could raise enough funds to cover the travel expenses to Chantilly, a suburb of Washington, D.C. Vicksburg High qualified for the national tournament — which is hosted by ESPN NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper, Jr. — by placing third in last week’s Mississippi 7-on-7 championships at Brandon’s Shiloh Park.

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The Vicksburg community stepped up, Stevens said.

“A whole lot of parents came through for us,” Stevens said. “The community got behind us. Dr. (Elizabeth Duran) Swinford (the Vicksburg Warren School District superintendant) got excited for us. Initially, I wasn’t very optimistic, but we had our meeting with the parents Wednesday night, and from then on, we started getting the funds and even more pledges came in after that. Instead of looking to take a couple of vans, we’re now looking at getting a big bus.”

That will be great news for Gators coach Michael Banks, who will be in charge of the team when it competes at the nationals in Northern Virginia.

“A bus would certainly help me,” Banks said. “I sure don’t want to have to drive. It was pretty surprising that the community pulled together for us in such a short time.”

The national tournament will run through July 16.

Banks said the team, which will take at least 20 players, is scheduled to leave on Tuesday.

“We have to be there by Wednesday night for a banquet,” Banks said.

Vicksburg senior quarterback Cameron Cooksey was elated to get a chance to showcase his team’s skills on a national stage.

“I’m looking forward to going,” Cooksey said. “We’re going to face some really good competition and that’s going to be good for us.”

Cooksey has been a key reason why Vicksburg has had one of its best summers in the 7-on-7 format. The Gators placed second in the 32-team field at Mississippi State, going 8-1 with a pair of wins over the two-time defending champions, Tuscaloosa Northridge.

On June 25 at Memorial Stadium, Vicksburg won the first River City Shootout. The Gators reeled off six straight wins after dropping a 12-6 decision to St. Aloysius. Cooksey was impressive in the 32-14 win in the finals against Yazoo City, completing 15 of 16 passes for 160 yards and four touchdowns.

At the state tournament in Brandon, the Gators went 4-0 in pool play, but were upset by Jim Hill in the semifinals. They are a combined 27-7 in tournament play this summer.

One of Cooksey’s top targets, Clyde Kendrick, is also excited about the trip. It will be the first of three big trips for the Gator senior receiver and baseball pitcher.

“It’s good that we’re going,” Kendrick said. “We could have won the state, so now we’ve got a chance to pull this off.”

Besides the Washington D.C. trip, Kendrick has been selected to play in a national showcase event for baseball either in California or North Carolina on July 24-29. He is also scheduled to play for a select team in a baseball tournament in the Dominican Republic on Aug. 3-8.