New coaches prepare for debutsVicksburg’s Johnson, WC’s Robinson lay groundwork for tenures in summer

Published 11:23 am Thursday, June 21, 2012

By Ernest Bowker

When asked about his team’s summer workout schedule, Vicksburg High football coach Tavares Johnson didn’t waste time rattling off dates and times. He simply walked to a bulletin board, pulled the schedule off the wall and handed it to a visitor.

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The single piece of paper is deceptively full. Eight seven-on-seven camps are listed, along with two workouts each weekday beginning around Memorial Day. And that’s just the first month.

“We’re still working on July,” Johnson said.

In his first season as the Gators coach, Johnson has hit the ground running. The summer camps and workouts are a critical time as he tries to implement his program and philosophy and evaluate players.

“It’s very vital to the success of any program. You learn about what they can do and struggle with doing,” Johnson said. “I commend the administration of Vicksburg High for allowing me to get here as early as I did so we can do these things.”

Johnson isn’t the only coach in Warren County who’s laying the building blocks for a new program. Across town, Bruce Robinson is leading Warren Central’s boys basketball team through its first set of summer games in two years.

The Vikings have gone 9-3 so far and will conclude the summer slate with three games today at Yazoo County. More important than the games, however, are the daily practices. Robinson said those provide an invaluable opportunity to build team chemistry — among players and coaches — before preseason practice begins in October.

“Coaching is X’s and O’s, but it’s also building relationships,” Robinson said. “I have to get used to the players, them to me, and I have to figure out who wants to be a part of what we’re trying to build here.”

Building is the other half of the summer equation for both Robinson and Johnson.

Robinson is the Vikings’ third coach in three seasons. He inherited a team that went 10-14 last season, and hasn’t had a winning record since 2005-06. Warren Central has not reached the MHSAA state tournament in nearly 40 years.

Johnson, meanwhile, has more tradition to build on with Vicksburg’s football program, but has to replenish its talent. The starting quarterback, leading rusher and top three receivers all graduated, and the defense has given up an average of 38 points per game the past three seasons. The Gators haven’t reached the playoffs since 2008.

The lack of success for both programs has given the new coaches the additional job of cheerleader. Getting the communuty and student body excited about their teams is as important as anything they can do on the field, they said.

“We want to fill these seats up. We want to get people excited about Warren Central basketball,” Robinson said.

Both coaches added that their best tool for creating excitement is their players. If the ones already in the program are having fun, they’ll recruit their friends to play. Then, if the team has success, others will follow.

It’s a strategy that’s already bearing fruit. Robinson said he has a core group of about a dozen players at each workout, plus a few more who filter in around other responsibilities.

Shaun Archer, who has been on Vicksburg’s football coaching staff since 2008, said the turnout for this summer’s workouts is the best in several years.

“It’s almost doubled or tripled since last year,” Archer said. “Since my first year, I haven’t seen that many kids on the first day.”

Johnson said that’s the kind of enthusiasm that builds on itself — and builds a program.

“It becomes contagious,” Johnson said. “Kids see the program and they want to get better. And when they get better, everybody around them wants to be part of it.”