Gators begin a new era with Friday’s spring game against Jefferson County

Published 2:30 pm Thursday, May 9, 2024

Some people might look at Vicksburg High’s 2024 football roster and see a rebuilding team. Head coach Chris Lacey prefers to view it as an exciting new era.

A number of three- and four-year starters who helped the Gators to three consecutive winning seasons are moving on, and a new group is stepping into their roles to carry the program forward. The first phase of that process concludes Friday night, when the Gators play Jefferson County in their spring game. The game begins at 6:30 p.m. at Memorial Stadium.

“You lose (Tyler Henderson), you lose Ronnie (Alexander), you lose Malik (Montgomery), a lot of guys who have been playing since their freshman year of high school. That’s a lot of ball that they’ve played, and been important up until that last tick on the clock,” Lacey said. “It’s exciting to see the new kids getting an opportunity to show themselves and cement whatever legacy they’re going to leave at Vicksburg.”

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Having so many new faces, Lacey said, takes some mental adjustment for he and his coaching staff. Last year’s seniors knew the playbook and everyone’s tendencies inside and out. Now, a new group is going through the same process those players had long ago mastered.

“You’ve got to, not necessarily recreate philosophies or things of that nature, but it’s room for me to coach more,” Lacey said. “There was no point in coaching (Henderson). He knew the system, he knew what he was doing, and it was easy to be around a guy like that. Now you have to go back and help develop these guys and that’s the reason you want to coach is to help develop players. It’s exciting.”

Perhaps the biggest roster change heading into the 2024 season is at quarterback. Ronnie Alexander, a four-year starter, graduated and his presumed successor Michael Johnson transferred to Germantown.

That moves junior Jamikal Maxey into the starting role. Maxey was the starter for Vicksburg’s ninth-grade and junior varsity teams the past two seasons, but has yet to throw a pass in a varsity game. Lacey was confident in his ability to fill some big shoes once he gets some game reps under his belt.

“He’s been diving into it well. It’s just the mental part of it he’s having to reprogram,” Lacey said. “He probably thought he was going to go into the season being the No. 2. Now he’s the man. That’s a whole different mental battle you have to face, so we’re just trying to coach him and develop him through that.”

Lacey said there are some pieces in place to take pressure off of Maxey. Four of the five starting offensive linemen are returning, as are running backs Decorey Knight Jr. (818 yards and four touchdowns in 2023) and Cedrick Blackmore (439 yards, three TDs).

The Gators will also lean on a defense that has plenty of players with game experience.

“We’re going to play about 30 kids total on defense throughout the season. Those kids are really developing. We’ve got guys who have been over there and played a lot of football who are going to bring the other guys along,” Lacey said.

Friday’s spring game will feature two 10-minute quarters with the varsity, followed by 10 plays with each team’s junior varsity offense against the other’s JV defense. There are no kickoffs or punts. Punts will be walked off 35 yards, and other drives will start at the 25-yard line.

The Gators are hoping to break a recent, disappointing trend with their spring games. The last two have been cut short because of early-evening thunderstorms. They got in a little more than a quarter of work in last year’s Green and White scrimmage, and in 2022 they played half a quarter against Terry.

A line of thunderstorms was forecast to move across Mississippi Thursday night, but the weather looks clear for Friday.

“I guess it’s just the timing of the year and the part of the world that we’re in,” Lacey said. “We’re in Mississippi so it’s kind of unpredictable. It’s just one of those things. Hopefully God or Mother Nature sees fit that Friday we’ll have what we need to get out there and do what we’ve got to do.”

• Football spring game
• Friday, 6:30 p.m., at VHS
• The game will have two quarters of the varsity, followed by two 10-play junior varsity series

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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