Rogers’ resignation is 2017’s top story

Published 7:36 pm Saturday, December 30, 2017

Editor’s note: This is the last in a series counting down the top five sports stories in Warren County in 2017.

By Ernest Bowker

The Vicksburg Post

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At 11:47 p.m. on April 5, Warren County Sheriff’s Office deputies were called to the scene of a wreck at the intersection of Lee Road and Old Highway 27.

The driver was not injured. The wreck, however, mangled Vicksburg High’s football program as much as the ditch did the Dodge Charger belonging to the Vicksburg Warren School District.

Vicksburg High football coach Marcus Rogers was behind the wheel, charged with a DUI, and arrested. He resigned from his job two days later, and a tumultuous time for the VHS program was just beginning.

A number of players transferred or left the team. Assistant coach Lorenzo Breland was hired as Rogers’ successor, but not before a long process that dragged into the summer. On the field, the Gators reached the Class 5A playoffs for the third year in a row, yet had to overcome an 0-5 start to do it.

The long-lasting effects of Rogers’ wreck and resignation make it the top sports story of 2017 in Warren County.

“By no means am I a perfect man. I make mistakes. And in making mistakes, right now I cost myself the best thing that ever happened to me, being here at Vicksburg High School,” Rogers said shortly after his resignation. “Being the head coach here at Vicksburg High School has always been a dream of mine since I was playing football at Jackson State. I regret the mistake I made, but the mistake I made is going to be an eye opener for me.”

Rogers had had great success on the field with the Gators. He took over a struggling program in 2014 and led them to a nine-win season in 2016. Twenty-six players during his three-year tenure — nearly all of the seniors who wanted to do so — signed either with four-year or junior colleges.

Lurking behind the scenes, however, was a personal battle with alcohol that came to the surface on that early April night.

According to Warren County Sheriff’s Office reports, deputies responding to a 911 call at 11:47 p.m. April 5 about a single car wreck at the intersection of Lee Road and Old Highway 27 found a 2016 Dodge Charger in a ditch on the east side of the road with front end damage.

The report indicated the car was apparently eastbound on Lee Road, and the driver failed to negotiate the intersection and went off the east side of Old Highway 27 and into the ditch.

The driver of the car, who was identified in jail records as Rogers, was the only occupant.

He was not injured in the accident. According to jail records he was booked into the Warren County Jail and later released on $1,000 bond.

Deputies investigating the wreck indicated the car was leased to the Vicksburg Warren School District.

Neither Rogers nor VWSD officials commented about the incident itself, although Rogers did talk later about his battles with alcohol.

“I battle with demons. You have to know about my past, the way I was birthed. It’s been a problem that’s been controlled, but it just was a matter of time,” Rogers said after his resignation. “So now I have to do what I have to do to be a better man, a better father, a better husband. That’s the most important thing right now. I’m willing to do what I’ve got to do to make myself better.”

Rogers quickly faded away after his resignation, but the aftermath followed the Gators deep into the season.

Breland served as interim head coach during spring practice and was recommended for the full-time job in early May. A principal change at VHS delayed Breland’s approval by the school board initially, and then what officials called “paperwork issues” kept his status in limbo until late July.

By the time Breland was finally approved by the Vicksburg Warren School District Board of Trustees, several key players had left the program. The Gators lost the season-opener to Oxford in the Red Carpet Bowl, the first of five consecutive losses to start the year.

Breland got his first victory as coach on Sept. 29 with a 23-0 shutout of Neshoba Central, and the Gators wound up winning five of their last six regular-season games to reach the Class 5A playoffs.

The strong finish was a bright spot for the team. But after finishing 9-3 the year before, and with a large and talented senior class that had been steadily improving, it was clear the effects of Rogers’ incident lingered long after the dust settled from it.

“I’m really proud of what we did, because we turned the whole season around. We shocked the state,” VHS senior linebacker Nick Anderson, the 2016 and 2017 Vicksburg Post Defensive Player of the Year, said in December. “After 0-5, most people were throwing us away. We just kept each other up. We played for our brothers, played for each other, and it got us to the third seed in the playoffs.”

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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