Gators go through OTAs in preparation for spring practice

Published 9:39 am Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Mid-April is when the sun begins to make its way back to the constellation known as high school football.

Although spring practice for Vicksburg High won’t begin until Monday, coach Marcus Rogers and his team have participated in organized team activities going on three weeks.

The OTAs were designed to get his players acclimated to their helmets, and include various non-contact drills, throwing and conditioning work. A Mississippi High School Activities Association rule allows players to practice in their helmet and shorts three days a week until the spring season officially begins. Then, players are allowed to practice in shoulder pads.

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The spring practice session is when players compete for a starting position. It’s a decision agreed upon by the whole coaching staff, which Rogers said are great evaluators of talent.

“It’s a fresh slate. Guys come out and compete; we get competitive amongst each other and put everything together for Wayne County,” Rogers said.

Vicksburg takes on Clinton in its spring game Thursday, May 12 at Memorial Stadium, while the junior varsity will travel to Canton on Friday, May 13. The season-opening Red Carpet Bowl is Friday, Aug. 19 at Memorial Stadium against defending Class 5A champion Wayne County.

Rogers and the Gators will go into the spring game against one of Mississippi’s top teams and players. Clinton reached the second round of the Class 6A playoffs last season and its quarterback, Cam Akers, was recently rated as a five-star recruit by

Rogers isn’t shying away from his team’s identity, except with a more mature, comfortable team on the field.

“Like last year, the games that we lost it wasn’t the opponent,” Rogers said. “It was us shooting ourselves in the foot, not the opponent making us inflict wounds on ourselves, but I attribute it to youth.”

With the spring game against Clinton about a month away, Vicksburg isn’t putting all of its gator eggs in the Arrows’ basket. The team with all of the Gators’ attention and preparation hails from Waynesboro.

Wayne County won the 2015 Class 5A championship by defeating Oxford 45-41 in December. Even though that game is four months away, Rogers said preparation has already begun.

“We’re not watching film on Clinton, we’re breaking down Wayne County,” Rogers said. “Clinton is what it is. It’s a spring game, we’re going to go out and be competitive, give our fans and our community something to look forward to in the fall, but we’re putting everything on Wayne County.”

Vicksburg is returning 62 players after losing 19 to graduation. Ten of its departing seniors will play college football. After spending two previous years in his system, Rogers expects his returners to execute the offense and defense efficiently.

Quarterback Joe Johnson will be back for his junior season after throwing for 1,442 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2015. He’ll have a top target, too, with Raheam Moore. Moore was second on the team with 27 receptions for 381 yards and five touchdowns last season, his first on the varsity level.

Defensive end Jomon O’Neal, the 2015 Vicksburg Post Defensive Player of the Year who registered 13 sacks, is also back for his junior year. So are four starters on a talented offensive line.

Not every player is back in the same spot, however. In an effort to kickstart a weak running game, Rogers is moving Mike Sims from the secondary to the offensive backfield. The Gators only rushed for 1,589 yards as a team last season, and Johnson was their leading rusher with 474 yards.

“The cohesion in the offensive line and the quarterback together makes for a good blueprint for success. Also I’m moving Mike Sims — that was our starting strong safety last year — to tailback. He’s been looking good every day out here,” Rogers said.


May 12: Varsity spring game, vs. Clinton, at Memorial Stadium

May 13: JV spring game, at Canton

Aug. 19: Red Carpet Bowl, vs. Wayne County at Memorial Stadium