Junior Colleges

‘They’re a unique blend of talent.’ Coast duo help power MGCCC to state title game.

For an undefeated Gulf Coast football squad that’s been helped by a strong team chemistry, no bond may be tighter than that of a pair of sophomore running backs from South Mississippi — Moss Point’s Omni Wells and Austin Bolton of Poplarville.

“That’s my brother,” Bolton said of Wells. “We didn’t know each other before we got here, but we played together last year. Me, him and (former MGCCC RB Terrion Avery) got close. Me and (Omni), everywhere you see him, he’s with me.”

Along with Picayune product Shaun Anderson and big-play back Deondre House, the two friends have given MGCCC a deep backfield that has worn down opposing defenses all season.

Bolton is Gulf Coast’s top rusher with 133 carries for 655 yards and a team-leading 10 touchdowns. House ranks second with 90 carries for 650 yards and three touchdowns. Wells checks in at 115 rushes for 504 yards and four scores. Anderson, another sophomore, has 58 carries for 265 yards and four touchdowns.

“We’ve got four guys that have gotten a significant number of touches,” second-year head coach Jack Wright said. “Who’s the best one is something we go round and round about as a coaching staff every single week. Last week, Omni started and Deshaun Anderson came on and gave us a burst. It’s been like that all year. You don’t know when one of the four is going to come and do something, but they’ve all done it.”

At 2 p.m. on Saturday in Senatobia, Wright will be relying on his running backs to give the team a boost in its bid for a MACJC state championship against an 8-2 Northwest Mississippi Community College team — the same program that Wright led to a national title in 2015.

Gulf Coast thumped defending national champion East Mississippi 31-7 last week to improve to 10-0 and set up Saturday’s state title contest. While Wright has described the season as a struggle each week, the Bulldogs have only had one game decided by less than 10 points — a 20-14 victory over Jones College on Sept. 19 in Perkinston. The second closest game was a 31-21 win at Hinds Community College to clinch the South Division on Oct. 24.

MGCCC has proven steady in all phases of the game, holding opponents to an average of 11.6 points a game on defense while putting up 35.1 points on offense.

Sophomore quarterback Chance Lovertich, who is 16-0 as a starter at Gulf Coast, has completed 65.7 percent of his passes for 2,458 yards, 22 touchdowns and seven interceptions, spreading the ball around to a solid batch of receivers.

On the ground, the Bulldogs have carried 448 times for 2,118 yards and 22 touchdowns — an average of 4.7 yards a rush.

‘Chip on my shoulder’

Wells and Bolton took different paths to MGCCC’s Perkinston campus. Bolton was a highly sought after running back who helped turn Poplarville into a championship contender in Class 4A. He ran for 4,046 yards and 51 touchdowns over his final two seasons with the Hornets.

Bolton picked MGCCC over the hometown Pearl River Wildcats and that decision still draws questions over why he chose the move to Perkinston rather than staying home in Poplarville.

“I told them, ‘I’m trying to make it out,’” Bolton said. “This was best for me.”

As for Wells, he was largely overlooked out of Moss Point High School despite being a do-it-all star for the Tigers. He landed at MGCCC as a walk-on and sat out the 2017 season to take a redshirt.

By the time Wright was hired ahead of the 2018 campaign, Wells had used his redshirt season to build himself into a 5-foot-10, 200-pound running with a mix of power and speed.

“He worked himself into a really, really good football player,” Wright said. “He was in the weight room every single day for two years. He’s a machine.”

Wells admits that his lack of recruitment out of high school has served as fuel over the last three years.

“I still have that chip on my shoulder,” Wells said. “That made me grind even harder.”

When Bolton arrived at MGCCC for the 2018 season, he watched and learned from Wells.

“I saw that he was a great running back and I wanted to learn from him off the field,” Bolton said. “He’s big, so I asked him what I could do to get bigger, stronger, faster. He showed me the ropes up here.”

Bolton checks in at 5-foot-9, 196 pounds and has proven every bit as good grinding out the tough inside yardage as he is at breaking big gainers as a runner and receiver.

“I’ve seen (Wells and Bolton) squat over 500 pounds in five reps,” Wright said. “They’re guys running 4.4, 4.3 (in the 40-yard dash). They’re a unique blend of talent. The reason we’re 10-0 is we have players like them.”

Eye on the prize

Many Gulf Coast players are hoping Saturday’s state title contest and a potential national championship game will lead the way to more scholarship offers. Sophomore offensive lineman Hayden Burton is already a South Alabama commit and cornerback Jackie Matthews has a long list of offers awaiting him.

Bolton, who has received interest from Massachusetts and South Alabama, is among those Bulldogs waiting for their first Division I scholarship offer and hoping a strong showing to close out the season will help them achieve their goal.

“It feels close. I want it real bad,” Bolton said. “I’ll do anything I can to get it, but I’ve got to put my team before me. I’ll do whatever it takes to get this ring, then focus on that.”

Since the season has started, Wells has received Div. II scholarship offers from Mississippi College and Harding in Arkansas. For a player who landed at MGCCC without a scholarship, the attention has been gratifying.

“It’s a blessing,” Wells said. “It lets you know that your hard work is starting to pay off.”

As for why Wells and Bolton have yet to receive offers on the FBS level, Wright doesn’t quite know the answer to that question.

“I think both are Division I running backs,” Wright said. “They have the size, speed and vision. You just watch the film. I’ve seen every running back in junior college at some point. They’re as good or better than just about anybody.”

Patrick Magee is a sports writer who has covered South Mississippi for much of the last two decades. From Southern Miss to high schools, he stays on top of it all.