To paraphrase Mississippi Gulf Coast’s motto for the 2016 season, if the Bulldogs are successful this season, it certainly won’t be “out of the blue.”
Coach Chad Huff’s squad has adopted the slogan “In The Blue” this year to encompass everything positive about a program, like hard work, dedication, staying hungry and being humble.
The No. 4 Bulldogs enter Thursday’s opener against familiar foe Itawamba with a roster saturated with Division I ties, whether players who signed with FBS programs out of high school, players who transferred from major programs or even a handful of the players who are already committed to play at the next level.
Defensive end Isaiah Buggs is considered one of the top junior college recruits in the nation and recently narrowed his recruitment down to LSU, Alabama, Ole Miss and Auburn. The defense is also aided by Louisville signee Mike Boykin along the defensive line and former South Carolina signee Octavis Johnson and Ole Miss signee Jay Jay Smith at cornerback.
Offensively, the Bulldogs’ attack is bolstered by Southern Miss commit TRod Daniels at running back and Arkansas pledge Jonathan Nance at receiver. Former LSU signee Brandon Martin should play a big role in the offense as well. Up front, lineman D’Marcus Hayes has drawn offers from Louisville, Arkansas, Auburn and others. Gulf Coast also boasts former Charlotte receiver Alex Barrow at receiver and Jackson State signee Adrian Tate at offensive line.
The Bulldogs are one of five Mississippi schools ranked in the NJCAA Top 20, joining No. 1 East Mississippi, No. 7 Copiah Lincoln, No 10 Northwest Mississippi and No. 19 Hinds. Gulf Coast plays East Mississippi, Co-Lin and Hinds all in the first five weeks of the season.
Thursday’s 7 p.m. matchup at talented Itawamba is an interesting one. The game will mark the third time in four games that the two teams have faced off. Gulf Coast won the ’15 regular season finale 38-7 and then eliminated ICC in the first round of the playoffs with a 49-17 victory, marking the Bulldogs’ ninth straight victory in the series.
Adding to the familiarity is the fact ICC coach Sean Cannon and Huff, who were college roommates at Delta State, squared off in the MACJC All-Star Game in Biloxi. Huff’s South squad edged out the North 21-10.
The ICC backfield is potentially dangerous for MGCCC as the Indians feature Auburn commit Octavious Matthews at running back and Washington State transfer Peyton Bender at quarterback.
“They have a great football team,” Huff said. “I don’t know that we’ll see a better running back all season.”
As a freshman, Matthews rushed for 808 yards, averaging 8.6 yards per carry, and four touchdowns.
As a freshman and WSU, Bender completed 53 of 91 passes for 498 yards and three touchdowns.
The ICC defense will be anchored by Mississippi State commit Lee Autry at tackle and Arkansas State commit Kenney Wooten at defensive end.
The Bulldogs will also be breaking in a transfer quarterback in Kalen Whitlow.
The Alabama prep product transferred to MGCCC during the summer from Western Carolina and should add a new dimension to the Bulldogs’ offensive backfield.
“He has come in here and really taken on a leadership role,” Huff said. “He’s got a lot of energy and adds a spark.
Gulf Coast’s roster boasts 16 South Mississippi prep standouts: DE Carson Jordan (Hancock), Nance (Gulfport), QB Larry Sisson (Resurrection), RB Mario Clark (Long Beach), Smith (Gulfport), DB Ty Peters (D’Iberville), DB Deon Cole (Gulfport), TE Dylan Davis (East Central), snapper Paul Blackwell (Resurrection), DE Matthew Wells (Gautier), OL Stephon Cooper (Gulfport), OL Josh Ladner (Hancock), OL Kevin Haas (St. Stanislaus), TE Brandon Walley (George County), athlete Tavarus Breland (Stone) and LB Tavarus Fairley (Stone).
ICC does not have any Coast products.
Who: No. 4 Gulf Coast at Itawamba
When: 7 p.m., Thursday
Radio: 103.1 FM