Playmakers preview: Tallulah Academy sets the standard in 8-man football

Published 11:51 am Thursday, August 17, 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.

Ever since they entered the MAIS’ eight-man football division in 2014, Tallulah Academy has made its blue-and-gold the gold standard.

The Trojans have played in six state championship games in the past nine years and won three of them. The last was in 2018, however, which is starting to create an itch within the program.

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“It’s like bad luck. We’re rolling, we get there, and the breaks don’t go our way. It’s just crazy. We’ve beat ourselves the last three state championships,” Tallulah coach Bart Wood said. “We’ve had a better season than every team but one.”

As the 2023 season dawns, the Trojans are once again expected to contend for a championship despite being in a position they haven’t been in for a couple of years. Ten seniors, many of them multiple-year starters, were lost to graduation. Only three offensive and one defensive starter are back.

The roster overturn might be a crisis for some teams, but senior tight end Cade Morgan said the Trojans are handling it well.

“We’ve got a lot of new kids this year and they’re still learning. The seniors that have been there for a while are teaching them plays and how we run stuff,” said Morgan, who is entering his fifth season as a starter.

Helping ease the worry is a tremendous amount of depth. Wood said 24 players are on the roster, which accounts for nearly every boy attending the high school. He credited the program’s long-term success for generating interest within the student body.

“Kids want to be a part of it. We have every kid in the high school playing football but three,” Wood said. “It’s just tradition. They buy into it, they want to do it.”

The starting lineup was expected to be in a state of flux until the District 2-1A opener Sept. 1 at Briarfield, but some positions are locked down.

Morgan at tight end, junior center Eli Labauve and Porter’s Chapel Academy transfer Matt Malone will anchor the line. Junior running back Brayson Morson, who had 996 yards and 18 touchdowns in 2022, will carry the load in the running game.

And senior Hayes Hopkins will move from wide receiver to quarterback to try and fill the big shoes of Dee Morgan. Morgan was a three-year starter and an All-MAIS selection who signed with Copiah-Lincoln Community College to play baseball. He had 1,100 rushing yards and 1,052 passing yards last season, and 31 total touchdowns.

Wood said Hopkins is not as good a passer as Morgan — few at that level were — but that he’s shown an ability to manage the team and the offense.

“I think he’s going to be fine. Can he spin it like Dee? No. But he’s such a smart player and he can run the offense,” Wood said. “We threw it more with Dee more than we’ve ever thrown it, just because he could spin it. (Hayes) can run the offense, and we’ve got a lot of good backs, so we’re going to go back to what we used to do.”

The Trojans are hoping that includes winning championships. They’re eager to add a fourth trophy to the ones from 2015, 2016 and 2018 that are starting to look a little lonely in their case.

“Hopefully we can not fall off — and I don’t think we are. I think we’re going to have a real good year,” Wood said.

2023 Tallulah Academy schedule
All games begin at 7 p.m.
Aug. 11 — Tallulah Academy 66, Tensas Academy 20
Aug. 18 — at Riverdale
Aug. 25 — Franklin Academy
Sept. 1 — *at Briarfield
Sept. 8 — *Union Christian
Sept. 15 — at Wilkinson Christian
Sept. 22 — at Prairie View
Sept. 29 — *Sharkey-Issaquena
Oct. 6 — at Prentiss Christian
Oct. 13 — *at River Oaks
Oct. 20 — *Claiborne Academy
*MAIS District 2-1A 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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