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Gulfport football optimistic as it unleashes new option attack on opponents

Eddie Pierce is set to enter his 36th season in coaching and fifth as Gulfport’s full-time football coach. In all that time he has never built his offense around the option.

That changes in 2017.

For the first time under Pierce’s guidance, the Admirals will unleash the flexbone offense on its opponents.

“I kept watching Army; I kept watching Navy; I kept watching Georgia Tech. I kept seeing those guys beat people they weren’t supposed to beat,” Pierce said. “We even watched some Division II schools. I spent a lot of time before I pulled the trigger on it. ... I think we’re in an offense that gives us the best chance to win.”

Coaching in South Mississippi, Pierce is no stranger in attempting to disrupt option attacks. But operating them? The Admirals hit the road to better understand what makes them tick, visiting Archbishop Rummel in Metairie, La., Holmes Community College and then Georgia Tech, which is arguably the option’s biggest torchbearer at the Division I level.

New offensive coordinator — and former Southern Miss quarterback — Micky D’Angelo has been tasked with marrying the three distinctive brands of the option while also adding uniquely Gulfport wrinkles.

Both Pierce and D’Angelo are optimistic about the finished product.

“We’ll have three (running backs) in the backfield but we’ll still have the ability to go to the spread look and still run our concept. We’re going to try and get into multiple formations. We’re not just going to try and run one formation and that’s it,” D’Angelo said. “We’ll move receivers around, wings around, we’ll motion and change it up the best I can.

“In a perfect world, and I hope we get to where we’re good at it, I want a 15-, 16-year-old kid on the field having to think by himself without a coach in his ear. We’re changing a lot of stuff, so that’s a lot for him to have to think about. He’s only thinking option, option, option and now all of a sudden we play action, he has to know all those things at once.”

Former running back T.Q. Newsome has stepped into the quarterback role this season. While he played quarterback as a freshman at Long Beach, being under center will take some getting used to.

Usually you're five yards off and now you have the defense breathing right in front of your face,” said Newsome, who completed 4 of 7 passes as a sophomore for 46 yards and rushed for another 443 with a team-high seven touchdowns.

Newsome has Gulfport’s leading receiver from a year ago in Jalen Knight (38 receptions, 867 yards, five touchdowns) back at his disposal. Speedster Larozzo Shugart, along with receivers Derek Hall and Chad Crenshaw, will also be expected to make plays. Fullbacks Raynard Willis and Jordan Lee will also get into the mix.

The big question on offense, however, will be who leads the line? The Admirals graduated all five starters from last year and could have as many as two sophomores starting — a scary thought for any coach.

“That offensive line development is one key to the season,” Pierce said.

Defense

The unquestioned leader of Gulfport’s defense is linebacker Karlos Dillard, who will also get reps at running back this season.

Dillard has popped up by several Coast coaches as a possible 4-6A Defensive MVP after recording 146 tackles with 23 for loss a year ago. He also picked off two passes, defended three more and blocked two punts.

“Karlos can do most anything he wants to when he puts his mind to it,” Pierce said.

As a whole, the Admirals’ front seven in its 3-4 defense returns largely intact.

“We're going to depend on those guys. Jeremiah Braziel and Ginarious Johnson and Karlos Dillard and Lasavon Mangum are going to really need to be strong leaders,” Pierce said. “Our kids believe in what we're doing. We have a great group of coaches over there. Coach (Karlos) Dillard and (Ron) Brewer co-coordinate that thing and do a great job.

“They run to the ball well and take a lot of pride in how they play.”

Mangum and Johnson tied for second on the team in 2016 with 80 tackles apiece. Braziel added 61 to round out Gulfport’s top four returning tackles.

Gulfport’s secondary will have a new look after graduating the bulk of its starters, but the Admirals do return Chad Crenshaw, who picked off three passes a year ago.

Special teams

Like the offensive line, the kicking game will be another area to watch leading up to the season. Shugart will handle rugby style punts, but the jobs of kicker and regular punter are still up for grabs.

In addition to Shugart, Gulfport has four other kickers on the roster with Teddy Madsen, Max Smith, Sam Lee and Joshua Poirrier.

“Every time they kick (in practice) we're all standing there looking at them,” Pierce said.

First look

The Admirals will host a jamboree double-header Aug. 11 with Harrison Central playing Forrest County AHS at 5:30, followed by a GHS-St. Stanislaus showdown at 7 p.m.

Milner Stadium will then play host to the first Port City Bowl on Aug. 18, with HCHS playing Jefferson Davis County at 5:30 p.m. The Admirals and George County will square off about 8:15 p.m.

Patrick Ochs: 228-896-2321, @PatrickOchs

Gulfport schedule

Aug. 18: George County*

Aug. 25: At Petal

Sept. 2: At Archbishop Rummel (Metairie La.)

Sept. 8: Picayune

Sept. 22: St. Martin

Sept. 29 At Pascagoula

Oct. 6: Hancock (HC)

Oct. 13: At Harrison Central

Oct. 20: At D’Iberville

Oct. 27: Ocean Springs

Nov. 3: At Biloxi

*-Denotes 8:15 p.m. start

Gulfport roster

1 Chad Crenshaw

2 Jalen Knight

3 T.Q. Newsome

4 Kedarius Jordan

5 Larozzo Shugart

6 Ja’Quan Foster

7 Carlos Thomas

8 Cameron Sparkman

9 Derick Hall

10 Jarrell Bennett

11 Cyler Williams

12 Jeremiah Braziel

13 Eddie Preston

14 Michael Esters

15 Dawson Malley

16 Kyrese Bryant

17 Zae Crain

18 Durron Myers

19 Kyle Dean

20 Jamison Lindsey

21 Luke Dimitriades

22 Antonio Sandifer

23 Kadarren Colten

24 Jalen Bradford

25 Teddy Madsen

26 Kenson Barnes

27 Karlos Dillard

28 Aaron Thomas

29 Marshall Porter

30 Raynard Willis

31 Trei Smith

32 James Bridges

33 Chris Grace

34 Adam King

35 Jordan Lee

36 Bryan Lewis

37 Buddy Handy

38 Joshua Poirrier

39 Max Smith

40 Emerson Hutson

41 Lasavon Mangum

42 Sam Lee

48 Ginarious Johnson

50 Dadrien Harper

51 Gary Alexander

52 Lucious Hamilton

54 Christian Dedeaux

55 Jim Cooper

57 Jon-Thomas Zakkak

58 Zach Hartson

59 Christian Whitehead

60 Fred Bass

65 Bobby Jackson

66 Alex Mouring

73 Bailey Halliday

75 Noah Robinson

77 Christian Domio

78 Emanual Ferrill

79 Russell Bellipanni

80 Gus Holmes

81 Khalil Davison

84 Tim Brown

96 Markell Purnell

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