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Warren Central makes rare southern road trip for spring game

Warren Central’s football program is entering a new era in 2021.

Gone from the schedule are familiar names like Clinton and Madison Central. Replacing them are strangers from a strange land called the Pine Belt, such as Oak Grove and Petal, as Warren Central shifts from the North half of MHSAA Class 6A to the South for the first time in 25 years.

The bridge between old and new is almost a literal one — the I-20 bridge over the Pearl River in Jackson — and the Vikings will cross it for the first time Friday night when they go to Hattiesburg and Southern Miss’ M.M. Roberts Stadium to play Laurel in their spring game.

It’s the first time Warren Central has played a game south of the I-20 corridor since going to Natchez in September 2013.

“I don’t know if we’ve ever gone to I-20 and took a right,” Warren Central head coach Josh Morgan said with a laugh. “The more you do something, the more comfortable you get at it. I think that’s another hidden bonus in this trip, is we get used to that area and what that trip looks and feels like, and what to expect. That was not one of the main reasons we wanted to do this, but it just kind of worked out. If we can use it to an advantage, we will.”

The game between Warren Central and Laurel is one of 14 that will be played at Southern Miss this weekend. The three-day football festival kicked off with four spring games Thursday, and will conclude with five on Saturday. Warren Central vs. Laurel is the last of four scheduled for Friday and will begin at 6:30 p.m.

Morgan said the teams will have a 90-minute window to play. He’s hoping to get two full quarters in during that time, with some junior varsity snaps between quarters, and added that they’ll keep going for as long as time allows if things are running ahead of schedule.

“We’ll try to run it as close to a game as we can,” Morgan said. “We’re trying to get as many good reps in as we can. We’re going to get an hour and a half. However long they let us go, we’re prepared and organized to get as much as we can in.”

The trip to Southern Miss is another break in tradition for Warren Central. In recent years the team has played a full game either home or away against a specific opponent, or an intrasquad scrimmage. Last season, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, there was no spring game at all.

Early this year, when the chance arose to play in a Division I college stadium, Morgan said it was too good to pass up.

“As a player, I know I would enjoy that. I was thinking of our guys. We ask them to work and to be accountable, and we wanted to have a big bang at the end of it. I felt that this was a way to do that,” he said. “It’ll probably be one of the best atmospheres a lot of them will ever get to see and play in. It’s a reward for them. It puts them in a really cool situation, it puts them in front of college coaches against a good opponent, and they also know they’ve been working toward something. It’s nothing but good, and I hope they enjoy it.”

The spring game will end one phase of Warren Central’s offseason program and lead into the summer workouts that begin in June. It’s still a little early to project starters, but Morgan said there were a few obvious holes in the lineup that he and his staff will pay attention to.

On defense, the Vikings lost most of their defensive line and secondary to graduation. On offense, they’ll need to replace their starting center and quarterback.

“Like everybody, we’ve got new faces. So a lot of reps and a big-time atmosphere, and also with our developmental players, we’re just looking at an opportunity to get better and play a really good opponent,” Morgan said. “We’re very excited about watching them go. Everything we’ve worked on for four weeks, we get to see them in a different atmosphere and put them in a unique situation and see how we do.”

Friday’s game will also finish off an extended spring practice period for Warren Central. It shifted to a different format this year, with eighth- and ninth-graders working for three weeks and the high school team for a month after that. Coaches from both staffs worked together for most of the time.

Morgan said he feels the fresh approach has been a grind, but has helped the entire program.

“We had our eighth- and ninth-graders come over three weeks before we started. So this is our seventh week. But it’s been good for our program, for the junior high and high school coaching staffs getting to work together, getting to see all of our kids and show off our facilities and getting to install,” Morgan said. “We’ve had a really good spring. This might be one of the best springs I’ve ever been a part of. I’m proud of the direction our program is heading in.”

WARREN CENTRAL SPRING GAME
• Warren Central vs. Laurel
• Friday, 6:30 p.m., at Southern Miss
• Tickets: $7 at the gate

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 sports reporters in the paper's 137-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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