The first week of fall camp is crucial for both players and coaches.
Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College’s players had a lot thrown at them Monday as the Bulldogs began preparation for the 2017 season. The new players must master the playbook while also having a solid grasp of checks and audibles. And then there’s the South Mississippi heat — or more accurately, the humidity — to which they must become acclimated.
As for the coaching staff, the Bulldog coaches are learning quite a bit from their new crop of players, which is dominated by freshmen and transfers.
“(The players) have to learn what to do and learn both schemes on both sides of the football. We’re trying to see who we can count on to step up and make plays. You’re figuring your football team out the first week of practice,” said MGCCC coach Chad Huff, who is entering his fourth year at the helm of the program. “When the going gets tough, who’s going to pick it up? Who is able to learn what to do? Who is able to eliminate mistakes? We’re looking for this team to come together and leaders to continue to rise up and separate themselves.”
As Huff puts it, the coaches are “throwing a lot of fastballs” at their 2017 Bulldogs.
“We have a long way to go but today was a good start,” he said. “I like where we’re at right now. I thought I saw some guys really step up and make some plays on both sides of the football, more so than on a normal first day.”
Gulf Coast rotated four quarterbacks in shotgun, led by the duo of Larry Sisson, a former Resurrection standout, and Ohio State/Cincinnati transfer Torrance Gibson.
Sisson opened last season as the backup but worked his way into the starting role around the middle of the season. Gibson is a former prep All-American who was moved to receiver at OSU before sitting out last season.
“I thought both made some good decisions, checked out of some stuff and put us into the right plays,” Huff said.
Defensively, Huff listed off former Starkville cornerback Aretavious Hendrix, Auburn signee Daquan Newkirk among the players who caught his attention. Huff continued to praise the offensive line’s play as well as former Stone kicker Mason Hunt.
LSU transfers Saivion Smith and Isaiah Washington also stood out, with Smith providing plenty of personality in the secondary.
Among Gulf Coast’s transfers on the field Monday was one-time Auburn tight end Landon Rice.
While at Auburn, Rice was accused of rape stemming from an alleged incident in April 2016. Although a grand jury declined to indict Rice on charges in April, AL.com reported in May that an Auburn University Title IX investigation banned him from Auburn’s campus until the fall of 2024.
Asked about Rice, who went through spring practice at Gulf Coast, Huff said the program did its own research before recruiting Rice to Perkinston.
“We did a thorough investigation of all the details involved with the mom, dad, all the attorneys at hand and their staffs and it was good,” Huff said, adding he also consulted Auburn coach Gus Malzahn. “He has been awesome this offseason. He has been a leader who stepped up and nothing but positive and good for this football team.
“I’m hoping we can continue to count on him and see this thing on through,” Huff said.
Rice was a go-to target of the quarterbacks Monday, making several grabs both down the sideline and over the middle. He’s expected to be a versatile part of the team’s offense this season.
Gulf Coast schedule
Aug. 31 Itawamba, 7 p.m.
Sept. 7 At East Mississippi, 7 p.m.
Sept. 14 At Copiah-Lincoln, 7 p.m.
Sept. 21 East Central, 7 p.m.
Sept. 28 At Hinds, 6:30 p.m.
Oct. 5 Mississippi Delta, 7 p.m.
Oct. 12 Southwest Mississippi, 7 p.m.
Oct. 21 At Pearl River, 2 p.m.
Oct. 28 Jones County, 3:30 p.m.