Playmakers preview: Flashes look forward to a fresh start

Published 12:00 pm Wednesday, August 16, 2023

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story appears in “Playmakers,” The Vicksburg Post’s annual football preview magazine. The 2023 edition will be available with The Post’s weekend print edition on Aug. 19. You can also get a copy by visiting our office at 1106 Washington St., or by calling 601-636-4545.

St. Aloysius head coach Bubba Nettles describes himself as an optimist who always tries to find the good in the worst situations.

Perhaps that’s why he’s so excited about this year’s team.

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The Flashes are coming off a 1-9 season that unraveled amidst a rash of injuries and a brutally tough schedule. Nettles turned to a number of up-and-coming players to get through it, which was difficult but gave them some hands-on experience that they’re hoping pays dividends in 2023.

“I’m extremely excited,” Nettles said. “Anybody that knows me knows that I’m an eternal optimist. The way these kids work, they’re hungry. They want to win football games. That is enough motivation for me to keep going, to keep coaching these kids, keep teaching them our system and the right way to play football.”

There are only four seniors on this year’s roster — Caleb Tucker, Damien Reeves, Brady Harrell and Land Oglesby — and a large group of promising sophomores and juniors. Several of the underclassmen saw significant playing time in 2022, including starting quarterback Carson Smith, running back Thompson Fortenberry and receiver/linebacker Robert Lee.

Smith threw for 800 yards and five touchdowns, and Fortenberry led the team with 657 rushing yards and five TDs. Lee caught 21 passes for 305 yards.

Pierson Smith and Sadler Lambiotte, both sophomores this season, became starters in the defensive secondary by the end of last season. In all, there are nine offensive and seven defensive starters returning.

“All three of those (Lee, Pierson Smith and Lambiotte) got mega reps last year as freshmen. They’ll be ready to roll, and all three of them have probably packed on 10 or 15 pounds of muscle, too. That’s always a good thing,” Nettles said.

Nettles said the Flashes have plenty of depth at the skill positions, which could also stand as a euphemism for skinny fast guys.

“We’ve got a lot of guys that can play wide receiver and cornerback pretty well,” Reeves said with a laugh.

The offensive and defensive lines are a bit thin by comparison, even though everyone who was a starter by the end of the season is returning.

The senior Oglesby and juniors Mason Penley and Taylor Zadrozny will anchor both sides of the line.

“Where we’re struggling right now with a depth issue is in the trenches. Last year that was not a problem, but we lost a bunch to graduation. We are very thin there, so we are making sure we say our prayers and do our tithing that we can make it through unscathed,” Nettles said.

Depth was one of St. Al’s biggest problems in 2022. Although seven of their nine consecutive losses to finish the season were by 28 points or more, they often competed well for the first quarter or half. One loss to Adams County Christian School was scoreless midway through the second quarter, and in another to Greenville-St. Joe they only trailed 12-7 at that point in the game.

“We competed with the teams last year,” Reeves said. “It was just we didn’t have enough kids to keep us up and healthy. We would get too injured or too tired by the third quarter and that’s when everybody put the gas pedal down on us.”

Nettles is hopeful the Flashes can push through the mistakes, fatigue and injuries that caused those games — and the season — to spiral out of control.

“These kids know they can play. We’re just running out of gas. I’m hoping that we can get beyond that,” Nettles said.
Based on what he’s seen through the spring and summer, Nettles feels like the Flashes are doing just that.

“The biggest thing is that the kids who are returning did not lose faith or interest, or love for the game facing what they faced last year,” he said.

St. Al faced one of the most difficult schedules in MAIS Class 5A last season. Six of their 10 opponents reached the semifinals in their respective classifications.

This year’s slate is no cakewalk. Early-season matchups with ACCS, Riverfield and Tri-County will test the Flashes early. If they can come through that gauntlet in good shape, Nettles said, it would be a huge morale boost and might propel them to bigger and better things sooner rather than later.

“Getting (ACCS) and Tri-County behind us early is a big deal. Our first four games are crucial. I would like to go a minimum of 2-3 in that stretch, would be wonderful,” Nettles said. “I keep telling our kids, let’s get through the first four because you’ve got two manageable football games between two MAIS powerhouses. If we can get through those four and to the remaining six, let’s go get ‘em.”

2023 St. Aloysius schedule
All games start at 7 p.m.
Aug. 18 — Adams County Christian
Aug. 25 — at Cathedral
Sept. 1 — East Rankin
Sept. 8 — *at Tri-County
Sept. 15 — *Clinton Christian
Sept. 22 — *at Central Hinds
Sept. 29 — Riverfield
Oct. 6 — at Columbia Academy
Oct. 13 — at Manchester
Oct. 20 — *Winston Academy
*MAIS District 2-4A games

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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