Warren Central uses spring game against Brandon as gateway to the 2018 campaign

Published 8:00 am Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Spring football games come in all shapes and sizes. Some teams split the rosters and play intrasquad scrimmages, some get together with multiple teams for jamborees, and others face opponents in contests with set play limits and guidelines.

Warren Central and Brandon, meanwhile, have decided they’d rather play for real.

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For the fourth year in a row, the two teams will hook up in a full-contact, regulation-length game to close out their spring practice session. Kickoff is at 6 p.m. Thursday at Viking Stadium.

Warren Central coach Josh Morgan said the ability to prepare for this exhibition game as if it’s the real thing helps everyone from starters to equipment managers. It’s also good competition to face a program that has won at least one playoff game in seven of the past eight seasons.

“Year in and year out, they’re a quality football team, and they’re also a close team we don’t play in the regular season,” Morgan said. “Everybody is getting reps. There’s no dead time. You’re getting the equivalent of a real game and using the dead time you do have to work with the JV.”

The Vikings won last year’s matchup at Brandon, 34-33, with a touchdown late in the fourth quarter. They used that as a springboard to a 9-4 season that marked the fourth year in a row in which they’d won nine or more games.

There were 19 new starters on the field for the Vikings in that game. There are only 10 this time, but several of them will be at key spots or filling roles left by experienced players.

Perhaps the biggest hole is at quarterback, where junior Shane Lewis and senior Antonio Thompson are battling for the starting job. Lewis missed all of last season with a back injury, and Thompson is in his first year at Warren Central after transferring from St. Aloysius.

Although Thompson was St. Al’s starter the past two seasons, this will be the first time since 2012 that Warren Central will enter a season with a quarterback who did not throw at least one varsity pass for its team the year before.

Morgan said the biggest challenge with that situation is ingraining the team’s offensive concepts and terminology into the new starter’s brain.

“It’s slowing it down and teaching. You want to pick up where you left off and you can’t do it teaching-wise,” Morgan said. “It’s going to be a big question mark. The good thing is, we have two capable guys we feel comfortable with.”

Quarterback isn’t the only hole on the roster. Walt Hopson’s graduation took away the team’s starting free safety, punter and kick returner. Hopson led the team with seven interceptions and anchored a secondary that included departed cornerbacks Jalen Allen and Caleb Wilson. All three signed with junior colleges this offseason.

“Replacing Walt is going to be a big deal. He filled three key positions and we’re going to have to do that now with three people,” Morgan said. “Both corners signed to play at the next level, and that’s a big void, too.”

The spring game, however, offers the Vikings a chance to find their replacements as well as new stars. Last year’s spring game was a coming out party for quarterback Fred Barnum, Jr., who went on to become the Vicksburg Post’s Offensive Player of the Year and signed with Jones County Junior College. It was also a proving ground for all of those new starters who quickly stepped into leadership roles and made the 2017 season a success.

Morgan said all of that, and more, is the real focus Thursday night.

“It’s starting over, but you have a veteran group, a big senior class that knows what to expect. The focus is on finding answers for the questions we have going into spring. It’s really the first step of the 2018 season,” Morgan said. “That’s the idea of it. We want to have a high mark and expectations, but at the same time this is the beginning phase. Some of them have new roles and positions they’re adjusting to. It’s a lot of starting over and learning.”

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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