The season can’t get here fast enough for Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College.
The Bulldogs return a number of playmakers from last year’s MACJC South State Championship squad and have reloaded with an impact signing class in the hopes of making another deep run in 2016.
Expectations are high and each of the Bulldogs — new or veteran — understand what’s on the line.
“We have a chance. We have some really good talent. I’ve been here for 14 years and we’ve maybe had some better players overall at certain positions, but overall, total talent, this team has a chance if they’ll stay humble, hungry and desperate,” said head coach Chad Huff, who is entering his third season as MGCCC’s head coach. “The expectation here at Mississippi Gulf Coast is nothing but playing for a south state championship and state championship and playing for a national championship.
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“This football team has the pieces of the puzzle. I’m excited about the potential of this football team.”
The Bulldogs have a number of “headliners” this season, none bigger than defensive end Isaiah Buggs.
The Ruston, Louisiana, native is ranked by 247 Sports as the second-best junior college player in the nation and has the offers to back it up. As a freshman, Buggs registered 59 tackles, four sacks and eight tackles for loss.
Buggs will have plenty of help along the line with former Hancock standout Carson Jordan back. MGCCC also added Louisville signee Mike Boykin during the summer.
“Carson is having a heckuva year. He’s a big-time football player. He’s a Division I guy,” MGCCC defensive coordinator Steve Davis said. “If somebody doesn’t take him, they’re going to miss out. He’s big, he’s strong, he plays hard and he’s smart. He’s the whole package.”
The linebacker corp will be led by sophomores Reggio Dean, who registered 86 tackles and 8.5 tackles for loss, and Justin Stewart, who made 52 tackles a year ago. Former Stone High and Oak Grove linebacker Tavarus Fairley is expected to see significant playing time as well.
MGCCC’s staff believes the secondary has a chance to be special. Former Gulfport Admiral Jay Jay Smith returns at cornerback after recording 18 tackles and four pass breakups as a freshman. Vaughnte Dorsey and former South Carolina signee Octavis Johnson are also back to anchor the secondary. Freshmen Deon Cole (Gulfport), Tyler Glass (Greenwood) and Aretavious Hendrix (Starkville) should make an immediate impact as well.
“If these kids learn what to do and how to play the game like we want them to play the game like we do at Mississippi Gulf Coast, we have a chance to be pretty good,” Davis said.
The Bulldogs look to have a diverse offensive attack once again this season.
MGCCC returns the bulk of its 2015 offensive line, anchored by Rishard Cook, D’Marcus Hayes, Randan Knight and Kevin Haas. Jackson State signee Adrian Tate (Murrah), Trayvion Shannon (Clarksdale), Carter Wood (Starkville Academy) and Stephon Cooper (Gulfport) will add playable depth as freshmen. The contrast from 2015 is a positive one for the Bulldogs, who had to rely on true freshmen to lead the offensive line. This year, Gulf Coast can count on sophomores and add freshmen to the mix when needed.
“I’m really encouraged by both sides of the ball up front,” Huff said. “They’re very veteran groups with experience.”
Former Western Carolina quarterback Jalen Whitlow will lead the offense, with Resurrection’s Larry Sisson providing reliable depth. Former Tulsa quarterback Jabe Burgess went through spring camp at Gulf Coast but transferred to Delta State prior to the season.
Whitlow, a former Dothan, Alabama, product, is a dual-threat passer who amassed more than 2,500 yards and 25 touchdowns as a senior at Northview High.
“He picked up the offense really fast and brings a spark to the team,” Huff said.
He’ll have a couple reliable pass catchers in Gulfport’s Jonathan Nance, a former Southern Miss signee who is currently committed to Arkansas, and LSU signee Brandon Martin, who committed to Auburn during the spring before re-opening his recruitment. Sophomore Lester Wells is also back for MGCCC.
Huff is also high on freshmen tight ends Brandon Walley (George County) and Jake McDonald (New Albany) and believes they can factor into the offense quickly.
One of the fastest players on the team is running back TRod Daniels, a Southern Miss commit. As a freshman, the Bassfield product rushed for 450 yards and four touchdowns. His 7.3 yards per carry led the Bulldogs.
“TRod is TRod. He has tremendous speed,” Huff said. “If he’ll stay focused and stay on cue with what he’s supposed to do he has a chance to be a really explosive kid.”
Sophomore Ge’Vonte Jones (563 yards, five touchdowns in 2015) and freshman Melvin Stephenson (Clarksdale) are pushing Daniels for playing time.
Punter Tyler Flathau (38.7 yards per punt) and kicker All-American kicker Joshua Rowland, who converted 16 of 19 field goal opportunities, will solidify MGCCC’s special teams.
The Bulldogs open the season Sept. 1 at Itawamba and will return home to host rival East Mississippi on Sept. 8.
Mississippi Gulf Coast C.C.
Conference: MACJC South Division
2015 record: 8-3, 5-1
Postseason: MACJC South State champs
Coach: Chad Huff (third season)
Sept. 1 At Itawamba
Sept. 8 EAST MISSISSIPPI
Sept. 15 COPIAH-LINCOLN
Sept. 22 At East Central
Sept. 29 HINDS
Oct. 6 at Mississippi Delta
Oct. 13 At Southwest Mississippi
Oct. 22 PEARL RIVER
Oct. 27 At Jones County