Hughes, new-look Gators set for debut in Red Carpet Bowl

Published 8:00 am Thursday, August 16, 2018

Tim Hughes has done all of this before — running out of the tunnel and onto the field at Memorial Stadium, coaching in the Red Carpet Bowl, being on the sideline with the Vicksburg Gators.

There’s still a twinge of excitement, however, as he prepares to do it all again for the first time.

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Hughes will make his debut as Vicksburg’s head coach when he leads the Gators against Clarksdale in the Red Carpet Bowl Friday at 8 p.m. at Memorial Stadium. He spent a decade at VHS as an assistant before leaving in 2011, but now will be the man in charge for the first time in his career.

“It’s all the behind the scenes stuff that you’re not necessarily privy to beforehand. I enjoy it. I get that opportunity. It’s not dreadful,” Hughes said. “Some things are the first time, but it’s been seven years since I’ve been part of a game on this field. That’s kind of exciting just to be back out there.”

While Hughes is making both his return and debut with the Gators, he’ll hardly be alone in that regard. Three assistant coaches — offensive coordinator Ben Shelton, defensive coordinator David Tadlock, and line coach Bubba Nettles — were also previously on the staff, left for other jobs, and are back this season.

Most of the players, too, will be making their varsity debuts.

The Gators graduated 34 seniors from last year’s team, many of whom were two- and three-year starters. It left a lot of holes in the lineup that Hughes and his staff spent the offseason doing their best to fill. No matter how well they’ve done in practice, however, Hughes said Friday night will be an entirely different test.

“There’s going to be nerves. There’s going to be wigging out a little bit. That happens any time there’s somebody that’s new,” Hughes said. “Hopefully, the way that we’ve gone about presenting the information to them about the procedures they’re going through, they’ll be able to trust in the process and lean on that and not allow anything to get too big for them.”

The only live game action this year’s Gators have gotten was in their spring jamboree in mid-May. They didn’t play a preseason jamboree last week, instead opting for an intrasquad scrimmage.

The scrimmage was originally scheduled for last Friday, but bumped up two days because of concerns about the weather. Hughes called that a blessing in disguise, since it allowed the Gators to focus on other things later in the week that they had neglected up until that point.

“I got in what I wanted to get in,” Hughes said. “What it allowed us to do, was we had a real good day Friday on special teams. We dedicated a lot of the time to it, and it was very much needed time. I don’t know that I would have done that if we’d been prepping for a scrimmage.”

The Gators’ opponent this week, Clarksdale, did play a jamboree and beat Class 3A foe Madison Palmer 7-0 in a two-quarter game. The Wildcats finished 5-7 last season — their first losing record since 2012 — and are looking to return to the program’s glory years.

Since reaching the Class 4A championship game seven times from 1997-2006, Clarksdale has not been past the second round of the playoffs. Hughes, however, said the Wildcats have more than enough talent to be a threat.

“They are physical. They’re coached in a style that I like, which is they don’t waste any time. They get after you,” he said.

Whoever the opponent, Hughes said he’s just ready to play one. Between the constant questions from friends and family about his return, and the usual anticipation of approaching the season opener, it’s simply time to hit the field and put it all to rest.

“I want to play just as bad as they do. I want to get this game under us, just because I want to get one under our belt. I’ve got my family asking me, my friends asking me how you feel and where you at?” Hughes said. “I like what we’re doing. I don’t know that I could progress any further as far as that goes. But it’s unknown until we get to that first game.”

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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