Gators face reboot next season

Published 11:43 am Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Vicksburg Gators closed the chapter on another season Friday night — and an era.

Alonzo Stevens, the team’s coach for 11 seasons, is retiring. Twenty seniors, including the core of the most prolific offense in Warren County history, are graduating.

What lay ahead is an uncertain future for a program that has already missed the playoffs three years running, and that faces a big rebuilding project to get back there.

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“I hope we can get a young, energized coach. I hope some of my guys on the staff put in, and step up and take it to another level,” Stevens said. “I think we’ve got some good young coaches. I think the program is on solid ground.”

This will be the first coaching change at Vicksburg since 2001, and just the fifth since 1978. The Vicksburg Warren school district posted an advertisement on its website on Tuesday and superintendent Dr. Elizabeth Duran Swinford said she hopes to have a candidate to present to the school board at its meeting in December or January.

The job ad states that applications will be accepted until Dec. 7.

“Out of respect to Coach Stevens, we wanted to wait until after the regular season. We’ve had some inquiries, people hearing it through the grapevine once it got out that Coach Stevens was retiring,” Swinford said. “We know we’re going to have a number of applications for the position.”

Whoever gets the job will not only have big shoes to fill — Stevens is the second-winningest head coach in school history and has been part of the program since 1976 — but also a lot of holes to fill on the field.

Quarterback Cameron Cooksey threw for more than 3,200 yards and 38 touchdowns in his senior season. The team’s top three receivers, A.J. Stamps, Lamar Anthony and Clyde Kendrick, caught 184 passes among them and all are graduating.

So is running back Darius Youngblood, who had five straight 100-yard games to finish with 1,066 yards for the season, and three starting offensive linemen.

On defense, six of the top seven tacklers, including linebackers Markeith Burks and Eli Brown and safety Bobby Twilley, are also departing.

A few key players will return — second-leading tackler Jonathan Tenner and junior linebacker Shaquan James, who suffered a season-ending knee injury earlier this year — and there’s some young talent on the way up, Stevens said.

Despite that, it still means another reboot for the program that lost three dozen seniors after its last playoff appearance in 2008. Stevens said rebuilding the team’s depth needs to be a top priority for his successor.

“We had four or five ninth-graders starting tonight on defense,” Stevens said after Friday’s 40-13, season-ending loss to Clinton. “We’ve just got to find a few more people and keep working. Get the numbers back up. That’s why we’ve got to beat the halls.”