Spring football offers a glimpse to 2013 season for area squads
By Joseph W. Gex, II
May 28, 2013, 23:13
The last three weeks has eased some of the hunger pains of the gridiron crazies around the area, myself included. Spring football at Bay High, Hancock, Pass Christian and St. Stanislaus gave many of us our first glimpse into what the 2013 season may or may not hold for the area.
We got our first looks at possible new alignments and schemes on both the offensive and defensive sides of the football. We got to lay our eyes upon the possible stars of the area on the gridiron each Friday night. And, we got our first look at who is stepping into the shoes of our favorite departed players.
Last year, the Bay High Tigers had an inspiring run in the Class 4A state playoffs as they came within two victories of a berth in the state title game. The Tigers narrowly lost to the Greene County Wildcats at home in the Class 4A South State semi-finals that closed out the greatest season in their storied gridiron history.
The Hancock Hawks won two games last year but the change in approach and mindset was evident with the wily and stalwart Rocky Gaudin prowling the sidelines again. The Hawks are getting back to the fundamentals that made them the turf-chewing machine that they once were. The Hawks will sport the Wing-T offense again and they will have a defense that simply steps on the field to punish the opponent.
The Pass Christian Pirates also won once last season but often were outdone by teams with larger numbers on the roster. That may be a thing of the past for the Pirates, however. This year they are sporting their largest roster under head coach Casey Wittmann which should help to provide some depth at the end of games.
The St. Stanislaus Rock-a-chaws were winless in 2012 for the first time since the 1993 season. The Rocks had chances in a few games for the win last year but depth concerns and injuries plagued SSC throughout the year. For the second straight year, a devastating injury took out the Rocks’ playmaker. With game experience coming back at each position, the Rocks are looking to cash in for some wins in 2013.
While the area has had some legendary players and seasons, titles have been elusive for the Tigers, Hawks, Pirates and Rocks. The area sports the greatest quarterback in history at any level, statistically, in Hancock’s Brett Favre, the state’s only Heisman Trophy winner in SSC’s Doc Blanchard, former LSU All-American and NFL All-Pro in Pass Christian’s Gene Lang and Stanford University’s first-ever first team All-American defensive back in Bay High’s Tank Williams.
The only state title on the gridiron for the area came in 2009 when SSC went 14-1 and sported three high school All-Americans on its roster en route to the Class 4A state championship. That season also marked the last division title for the area in football, as well. Bay High and Pass Christian have not won a division title under the current format and the last division title for Hancock came in 1990. What does the 2013 football season hold for the area teams? Let’s take a glimpse:
Bay High Tigers
The Tigers are coming off their greatest season in school history. Bay High advanced the third round of the Class 4A state playoffs and were just three points and a couple of minutes away from playing for in their first-ever South State title game. Now, they have several holes to fill including All-South RB Justus Williams and Mississippi All-Star DT Phalen Booker.
Bay High head coach Jeff Hopgood commented, “What we miss most right now is game experience. You can’t coach that in practice. We lost 21 starters from last year – 11 on defense and 10 on offense. We spent the majority of spring training getting back to fundamentals and just teaching the game of football. The kids picked up everything well. We have a good group of players with several that will get the chance to play early as 10th graders.”
Several players who saw action last year had a solid spring heading into summer workouts for Hopgood and his staff. Some of those players are RB Larnell Lewis, OL Dusty Breckley, MLB Nick Proulx, DB Colin Byrd, DE Corey Tomasiche and QB Bennett Favre.
With Hopgood and the Tiger staff tirelessly looking for game experience, the Tigers played the St. Martin Yellow Jackets on May 16th to close out the spring drills. Hopgood stated, “We played well and got some game experience for the younger guys heading into summer workouts. Now, we get to focus on getting stronger and faster heading into the season. We always hold our expectations high for the season and that will not change.”
The Tigers sport a 55-member roster for 10th though 12th graders and a 32-member ninth grade roster for the 2013 season.
The Hancock Hawks were 2-9 in 2012 under first-year head coach Rocky Gaudin back for his second tour of duty at the helm in Kiln. Gaudin and the Hawk staff have revamped the offensive scheme for Hancock for the 2013 season going back to the Wing-T system that Gaudin has mastered in his almost three decades on the sidelines.
Gaudin commented, “This has been the best off-season I have had in the last 20 years. The players put forth tremendous effort on both sides of the ball. We installed new systems on offense and defense, so there was a lot of teaching. I am proud of what the players accomplished this spring.”
Last year, the Hawks started 15 sophomores which is a big jump in the world of Class 6A football. Gaudin added, “We had to get better at blocking and tackling this spring. I felt like we did that. There was not one kid that stood out among any other. They were all working hard to get better each day. We were physical each day and we stressed that throughout spring. All of the players caught my eye this spring. They all performed well.”
The Hawks took part in a controlled jamboree with the Picayune Maroon Tide and the Moss Point Tigers in Picayune on Friday, May 17th. Gaudin continued, “We played hard against both of those quality teams. We had the opportunity to play a lot of kids as we actually doubled up on the amount of plays we were allowed to run. We gave up some big plays on defense but in situations we expected that. We made some mistakes on offense but this is an entirely new system to them and you only get better with game experience. This may be one of the better passing teams I have had in the Wing-T system.”
The Hawks sport an 87-member roster for 10th through 12th graders and a 36-member 9th grade roster. Chase Fagan returns at quarterback for the Hawks while WR Logan Perniciaro, RB Austin Whavers and LB Geb Fricke also return. Gaudin ended, “We just need to continue to work hard throughout the summer and get better on execution of assignments. We stress that hard work brings the reward and these kids are working hard.”
Pass Christian Pirates
The Pirates managed won one game last year but were in most games until the final quarter when their roster size and depth were worn down by the opponent. However, that may be a thing of the past for this year’s Pirates. The roster for the Pirates in 2013 will be the largest one under Casey Wittmann.
Wittmann commented, “This season we will have the largest roster we have had since I have been here. It is a good mixture of youth and experience throughout the roster. We had a very talented junior high group last year and they are moving up this year. Some of them will have the opportunity to contribute next year.”
The Pirates did not participate in a spring game but instead chose to have an intersquad scrimmage to end their spring drills.
The Pirates return several playmakers from last year with QB Ethan Necaise, WR/DB Blake Keel, RB/LB Devon Swanier, RB/LB Ethan Thomas, RB/DB Prescott Williams and WR/LB Tyler Ladner.
This year the Pirates move back up to Class 4A as part of the reclassification by the Mississippi High School Activities Association that occurs every two years.
The Pirates will play in Division 8-4A along with Bay High, Vancleave, Poplarville, St. Stanislaus and Moss Point.
Wittmann added, “We are looking forward to moving back into Division 8-4A. For one thing, it will mean less travel for not only football but for our other sports, as well. And, we are back in a division that we are familiar with the opponents.”
The Rocks were winless in 2012 for the first time since 1993 when SSC was mired in an 0-27 streak. However, despite the losses that mounted, the Rocks produced some points last season including setting a national high school record for total offense in a game. SSC had some key injuries and youth in certain positions that limited the Rocks.
However, with game experience tides usually begin to change. The Rocks return a bevy of starters on both sides of the ball. Now, the glaring aspect for the Rocks to increase on will be execution of the little things that make teams better. That has been the mantra of the staff this spring.
Third-year head coach Gabe Fertitta commented, “We have a solid group of starters returning next season. What we needed to focus on in the spring was getting better at the little things that will us better as a team. We feel that we accomplished that and I was very pleased with our spring drills.”
The Rocks return QB Tyler Allen, C Field Nicaud, WR Brennan Bradley, WR Chase Zimmermann, OL, Ryan Gibson. OL Jordan Bradford, DL Zach Ladner, S Johnny Longo and OL Trey Asher among others all of whom Fertitta said had a solid spring. Several players returned for just a few days following the Rocks’ deep baseball run in the playoffs. Returning starters LB Joe Guillot and WR Chase Rhodes fall into that group. One player that had spot duty last year but had a very strong spring was DL Kevin Haas.
Fertitta added, “With the end of spring drills, we can now focus on our summer program which is aimed at developing powerful players. We want to focus on explosion. We will also participate in 7-on-7 competitions and camp work for the linemen.”
Fertitta ended, “The coaching staff of OC Bill Conides, DC Deuce Harrison, running backs coach Sean Logan and linebacker coach Nate Encrapara all worked hard teaching throughout camp. We are extremely blessed to have these men coaching on our staff.”
The Rocks also did not participate in a spring game but hosted an intersquad scrimmage. SSC sports a roster of 55 players heading into summer workouts.
The four area teams now begin their summer workouts where speed, power and execution are honed prior to the school year beginning. For the gridiron observers in the area, it is a wait-and-see time. A time where we ponder thoughts of which team will or can make a run toward a division title or beyond. It is an anxious time to see how much stronger the linemen on our particular team of interest become or how much faster our game-breaker can hit the hole with the pigskin. Well, we have approximately 82 days until kickoff for the 2013 season. Who knows what will happen in 2013 but that is why we play the game. See you in the fall!