Gator receivers catch fire

Published 11:42 am Friday, October 7, 2011

When Vicksburg High’s high-powered offense is in rhythm, it’s as if a symphony is making beautiful music on the football field.

Quarterback Cameron Cooksey is, of course, the conductor. Waving his right arm with a football instead of a baton, he gets everyone where they need to be and keeps things in tune.

Running back Darius Youngblood is the cymbals, providing an occasional clattering change of pace. The offensive line provides the thunderous bass.

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And the strings, the backbone of the operation with their speed, grace and power, is the receiving corps. The trio of A.J. Stamps, Clyde Kendrick and Lamar Anthony — along with tight end Dillard Reed — make it all possible.

Stamps, Kendrick and Anthony have emerged this season as the best group of receivers in the state. No two teammates have caught more passes for more yards than Stamps and Kendrick. Anthony is a little further behind in the statistical categories, but with his speed, he is a major deep threat that helps open things up for the other two.

“All of us are really enjoying playing with each other,” Anthony said. “We’re trying to go out with a bang. We want to be one of the best receiving corps to come through Vicksburg High.”

The three seniors have certainly accomplished that goal.

Stamps, who didn’t become a starter until the beginning of his junior year, needed only a season and a half to become Warren County’s career leader in receiving yardage. He had 1,021 yards in 2010 and set the mark — along with a few others — with a 19-catch, 285-yard, five-touchdown performance last week against Northwest Rankin. All of Stamps’ totals shattered the county’s single-game records, and are also believed to be state records.

Stamps now has 1,911 career yards. He only needs 110 more to become the first player in county history to record two 1,000-yard receiving seasons.

He’s also closing in on the county record of 24 touchdowns set by Porters Chapel’s Cole Smith from 2004-06. Stamps needs two more scores to make that record his own. The touchdown that gives Stamps the career record will also tie him with Smith for the single-season record.

Stamps is also on pace to become the all-time leader in receptions. He needs 20 more to pass former Gator Delmon Robinson.

“It’s good to be down with some of the greatest receivers in high school,” Stamps said.

Kendrick is in his first year as a starter, but has already broken out in a big way. He’s caught 39 passes for 486 yards and five touchdowns.

Anthony, who caught 16 passes last season, already has 25 receptions this year for 362 yards and four TDs.

Reed, the tight end, has almost been lost in the mix but still has 16 receptions and two touchdowns.

With half the season remaining, the talented receivers have helped put Vicksburg’s passing game on a record-shattering pace. Coach Alonzo Stevens said a strong work ethic that accompanies the natural talent deserves the credit for their success.

“This group is a little special group. All summer, they’ve done the things that other people just didn’t do,” Stevens said. “At the end of my career, I’d like to have more victories. But I’m having fun with these guys.”

The receivers themselves say a lot of this fall’s success stems from the work they put in during the summer. Vicksburg posted a 29-10 record in 7-on-7 games, which are basically competitive passing drills. The group participated in a 32-team national tournament in Washington, D.C.

“The 7-on-7 was most of what we did this summer. All the camps, all the games, it’s paid off,” Stamps said. “We had our timing right and had our routes crispy.”

Running great routes has been an underrated part of the Gators’ game. Although they’re able to run past a lot of defensive backs on deep routes, those plays are often set up by several shorter patterns.

The small gains draw in the coverage. If the offensive series doesn’t end with one of the receivers sprinting away for a touchdown, Cooksey will usually give a quick pump fake while the receivers go long. The misdirection gets his intended target wide open, and then it’s just a matter of pitch and catch.

Nine of Cooksey’s 24 touchdown passes this season have covered 30 yards or more.

“You have all these guys that can run after the catch. Once they square their shoulders up, they can take it all the way,” Stevens said. “Then you back off them and there’s no way you can run with them.”

For all their success, there are still a lot of things on the Gators’ to-do list. In addition to winning a few more games, there’s some individual goals.

“We want to have a game where all three of us have 100 yards,” Anthony said.

The Gators have already come close to that one. In all six of Vicksburg’s games this season, at least one receiver has gone over 100 yards.

Against Tylertown, Anthony, Kendrick and Stamps each had more than 80 yards, but only Stamps surpassed 100. The following week against Lawrence County, Stamps had 74 yards, Kendrick 81 and Anthony 103.

Last week, in a 42-40 loss to Northwest Rankin, the trio came within a couple yards. Stamps had nearly 300 yards, Anthony caught 13 passes for 105 yards, and Kendrick had 10 receptions for 98 yards.

So they’ll keep trying to reach that magic number, while in the process leaving a trail of destruction through the record book. By the time the season’s over there will be little doubt where they stand among Mississippi’s best.

“I feel like we are the best in the state,” Stamps said. “Don’t brag about it. Just play.”