Fields guided St. Al’s turnaround from 0-4 to the playoffs, Coach of the Year award

Published 8:00 am Wednesday, December 26, 2018

In mid-September, St. Aloysius’ season was hanging by a thread.

The Flashes had been outscored 138-45 in their first four games, all losses, and the roster was ravaged by injuries.

Through it all, head coach Michael Fields remained unflappable and unfailingly optimistic. Seeing the potential of his players and realizing the toughest games were mostly in the first part of the schedule, he never lost faith that the Flashes could rally.

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It was faith that was rewarded.

St. Al won five of its last six regular-season games, qualified for the MAIS Class AAA playoffs, flipped one of its early losses to a victory thanks to an MAIS ruling, and finished with its first winning record since 2014.

For guiding St. Al’s ship through its remarkable turnaround, Fields is the 2018 Vicksburg Post Coach of the Year.

“You make your luck, but luck plays a part in everything. Everything came together and we had a nice little run,” said Fields, who is 9-12 in his two seasons as St. Al’s coach and won 79 games at Raymond and Hinds AHS from 2000 to 2013. “We preached that, because we knew those first four games were tough. We knew the middle part of the season was going to be weaker, and if we could stay healthy and keep them together we had a chance.”

Those first four games were rough indeed. The Flashes weren’t just beaten, they were beaten up and left for dead. A 40-0 loss to Adams Christian, later reversed to a forfeit victory because ACCS used an ineligible player, was the program’s first shutout loss since 2015.

Injuries to starting quarterback Phillip Upshaw, receiver Preston McGowan and running back Alvin Brown — who also played key roles on defense — crushed an already thin depth chart.

“He stressed focus, and I agree with him that we really weren’t focused a whole lot in the beginning part of the season,” said senior wide receiver Ryan Theriot, who along with Tyler Breithaupt was one of two Flashes selected for the MAIS All-Star Game. “We were kind of successful in the jamboree games and let it get to our head a little bit. We dropped some games to some tough opponents. He stressed focus to us, and it sunk in with everybody. We came together and won the games we knew we could win and had that mindset that we wanted to win.”

After those first four losses, St. Al headed into a matchup with crosstown rival Porter’s Chapel Academy. The Flashes scored touchdowns on their first three offensive snaps, only punted once, and rolled to a 48-6 victory. The win not only kept the season alive, it showed what the team was capable of and sparked a second-half renaissance.

Over the last six regular-season games, with a shot of confidence and its key players healthy again, the Flashes did a complete 180-degree turn. They outscored their opponents 239-61 and held four of them to six points or less.

The surge ended with a disappointing 48-7 loss to Leake Academy in the first round of the Class AAA playoffs — Leake had also won when the teams played in the season opener — but still gave St. Al its best record since joining the MAIS in 2015.

St. Al was also the only Warren County team to have a winning record this season. Fields hopes all of it leads to more success in the future by being the first brick in a foundation of success.

“It makes the window dressing a lot better,” Fields said. “You become a team people respect. You become a team kids that watch on Friday night want to come play for, and that helps with your depth. Depth was a big problem for us all year.”

Fields is also hopeful that this year’s success isn’t a one-shot deal. Brown and Upshaw will both return next season, as will linebacker Michael Robinson and linemen Carrington Busari and Coleman Verhine.

Brown rushed for 1,037 yards and eight touchdowns this season, while Upshaw threw for 1,077 yards and 12 touchdowns. Robinson led Warren County with 96 tackles, and Verhine had four sacks while playing both offense and defense.

The 2008-09 seasons, as well as the 2013-14 teams that reached the MHSAA Class 1A semifinals two years in a row, are the only times St. Al has had back-to-back winning seasons in the last 15 years.

“Any time you’ve got a good player coming back it makes the rest of them better and breeds confidence,” Fields said. “I think we’ve got a good group coming back. We’ve got a lot of kids coming in to take the place of the guys that left. As long as our junior group can be great leaders, that’s going to help us be even better next year.”

Vicksburg Post Coaches of the Year
2018 – Michael Fields, St. Aloysius
2017 – Josh Morgan, Warren Central
2016 – Josh Morgan, Warren Central
2015 – Josh Morgan, Warren Central
2014 – BJ Smithhart, St. Aloysius
2013 – Tavares Johnson, Vicksburg
2012 – Josh Morgan, Warren Central
2011 – Alonzo Stevens, Vicksburg
2010 – Todd Montgomery, Central Hinds
2009 – Curtis Brewer, Warren Central
2008 – BJ Smithhart, St. Aloysius
2007 – Randy Wright, Porters Chapel
2006 – Jim Taylor, St. Aloysius
2005 – Randy Wright, Porters Chapel
2004 – Randy Wright, Porters Chapel
2003 – Robert Morgan, Warren Central
2002 – Jim Taylor, St. Aloysius
2001 – Robert Morgan, Warren Central
2000 – Robert Morgan, Warren Central
1999 – Robert Morgan, Warren Central
1998 – J.J. Plummer, Porters Chapel
1997 – Robert Morgan, Warren Central
1996 – Bubba Booth, St. Aloysius
1995 – Robert Morgan, Warren Central
1994 – Robert Morgan, Warren Central
1993 – Robert Morgan, Warren Central
1992 – Bubba Booth, St. Aloysius
1991 – Robert Morgan, Warren Central
1990 – James Knox, Vicksburg
1989 – James Knox, Vicksburg
1988 – Robert Morgan, Warren Central
1987 – Joe Edwards, St. Aloysius

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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