Prep football practice gets underway

Published 11:28 am Tuesday, August 5, 2014

St. Aloysius senior George Tzotzolas runs ladder drills Monday afternoon during practice. (Justin Sellers/The Vicksburg Post)

St. Aloysius senior George Tzotzolas runs ladder drills Monday afternoon during practice. (Justin Sellers/The Vicksburg Post)

In an era of year-round football, seven-on-seven passing leagues and summer camps at faraway college campuses, the first day of practice for Mississippi High School Activities Association teams still feels like a fresh start, coaches said.

Warren Central, Vicksburg and St. Aloysius — along with dozens of other teams around the state — hit the practice field for the first time Monday. The three local teams had one afternoon workout apiece as they embarked on the 2014 season.

“I read the story the other day on Porters Chapel, and I saw them with their helmets on and started getting goosebumps,” Vicksburg High coach Marcus Rogers chuckled. PCA, a member of the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools, started practice last week. “I couldn’t wait. I went on the High School Activities Association web site and it said 1 day and 19 or 20 hours. I just kept looking and counting it down.”

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Monday truly did represent a fresh start for Vicksburg High. Rogers, entering his first season as the Gators’ head coach, led his team through the first preseason workout of his regime.

Rogers spent last season as Murrah’s offensive coordinator before coming to Vicksburg when Tavares Johnson Sr. left to become head coach at Hollandale Simmons.

Johnson led the Gators to a 6-6 record and a berth in the Class 5A playoffs last season. Rogers believes this group has the potential to do even better.

Nearly 60 varsity players were at Monday’s workout, giving the new coach a solid base with which to work. About 40 more ninth-grade players will also be worked into the first week of practice to give both them and their coaches a feel for what lays ahead.

“We’ll break up when school starts, but right now we’re getting that extra tutelage to those guys,” Rogers said. “They’re the future. Like I told the older guys, it’s fine and dandy what you’re going to do, but I need to know about the program. We’re trying to go to the next level, and that’s part of our maturation process.”

St. Al had its annual picture day on Monday, followed by a full practice with 33 varsity players. Coach BJ Smithhart was hoping it was the first step on a long and successful campaign.

The Flashes lost 10 seniors from a team that reached the Class 1A semifinals in 2013, but still have plenty of talent to make another run.

Quarterback Connor Smith, who ran and threw for more than 1,000 yards each last season en route to earning the Vicksburg Post Player of the Year Award, is back for his senior year. Protecting him are five returning starters on the line, including four-year starters Bash Brown at center and Drake Dorbeck at left tackle.

“Just like every year, every team is excited with all the possibilities. You’re kind of anxious to see exactly where you fit at. Hopefully we compete and get after it,” Smithhart said.

Smithhart added that, like most teams, his focus this first week will be on conditioning and fundamentals. With a more veteran team, though, he’s also fighting the urge to skip ahead a few pages while the players get their feet under them.

“It’s always a temptation to do more. But you better make sure everybody on your roster gets step A before you go to B,” Smithhart said. “That’s all about developing the young ones. You treat them all the same way. Make them do things a thousand times before you move on. When you get older you dread it, but you learn to appreciate it because when it gets down to it, the play you’re going to run the most is the one you practice the most. And those are the ones we put in today.”

Smithhart’s alma mater, Warren Central, has similarly high aspirations.

The Vikings finished 8-4 last season and won a share of the Region 2-6A championship. With six starters from the stingiest defense in the state back this year — most of whom are drawing recruiting interest from colleges — the prize WC is eyeing is even bigger now.

Or, at least, they’ll be eyeing it in a few weeks. Head coach Josh Morgan said the focus the first two weeks was squarely on laying a foundation for success.

“We’re going to focus on execution and alignment, those little things that are going to carry over through the season,” Morgan said. “It’s all about us right now. We’re not harping on expectations, by any means. We’re not harping on any individual game. It’s about us being the best that we can be.”

WC had 92 players dressed out for Monday’s practice.

“That’s where we want to be. That’s through spring and offseason doing what they’re supposed to do,” Morgan said. “We’ve got a good group and feel good about our team.”

Warren Central, Vicksburg, St. Al and Porters Chapel will all open the regular season on Aug. 22, but all four schools will also take the field before then in preseason jamborees. In the jamborees, teams typically play a quarter or a half against two different opponents.

St. Al and PCA play Aug. 14 in a 10-team jamboree at Mississippi College. Their opponents have yet to be determined, but Smithhart said he didn’t think they would be paired against each other.

Warren Central hits the field the next night at Jackson Academy, against host JA and Madison-Ridgeland Academy.

Vicksburg suits up Aug. 16 at home against Jefferson County and Yazoo City.

About Ernest Bowker

Ernest Bowker is The Vicksburg Post's sports editor. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post's sports staff since 1998, making him one of the longest-tenured reporters in the paper's 140-year history. The New Jersey native is a graduate of LSU. In his career, he has won more than 50 awards from the Mississippi Press Association and Associated Press for his coverage of local sports in Vicksburg.

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