25 Teams in 25 Days

Experienced Gulfport takes aim on another Region 4-6A title

The 2016 Gulfport Admiral football team.
The 2016 Gulfport Admiral football team. ttisbell@sunherald.com

Every high school experiences heavy roster turnover annually. Whether it's through graduation or transfer, it's just the nature of the beast in prep athletics. It gets so bad at some schools where they practically need to wear “Hello, My Name Is” stickers.

That's not the case with Gulfport entering the 2016 season. Not at all.

Yes, the Admirals lost extremely productive players like Deon Cole and Alton Conerly to graduation, but they return a who's who list of players throughout the rest of their roster. In total, seven offensive starters and nine defensive starters are back from last year's Region 4-6A champs.

“That makes a big difference,” GHS coach Eddie Pierce said of the team's returners. “Going into last season, everybody was young. We've played a lot of young guys who are going to be veterans. I'm anxious to see how we come out of the chute.”

So how do you replace a player like Cole who not only rushed for more than 1,600 yards and 14 touchdowns, but also registered 27 tackles, three sacks, three interceptions and two pick-sixes? The short answer is with an experienced committee.

The Admirals will open up the offense more with quarterback Cleveland Ford back in 2016. Cole's running mate, Larozzo Shugart, is also back and will be complemented by the addition of former Long Beach quarterback T.Q. Newsome.

“A lot of the load is going to transfer to those guys,” Pierce said. “We'll see how it all shakes out.”

Ford completed 47.1 percent of his passes as a junior for nearly 1,000 yards and seven touchdowns. With a year under his belt, Pierce said Ford is ready for more responsibility.

“This year, especially in the passing game, he's making quicker decisions and getting the ball out quick. He had a great summer throwing the ball,” Pierce said. “The ball is just kind of jumping out. It's a big step up from last year, when he was a little hesitant and would take off running.”

The 5-foot-9 Shugart and 6-foot-1 Newsome are a dynamic pair of backs for Gulfport. Shugart is one of the more explosive running backs on the Coast, as he showcased in Friday's 42-0 win over Long Beach when he rushed for 114 yards and two touchdowns.

“When he gets out into space is when he can do the most damage,” Pierce said. “When we run that buck sweep, he sticks it in the ground and goes. He's so small that sometimes he's hidden and all of a sudden he pops out on the other side.”

Newsome's strength is running between the tackles. Friday, the former Bearcat finished with 40 yards and two touchdowns against his former squad.

Stingy defense

Admiral fans got a glimpse Friday of what might once again be one of South Mississippi's top defenses.

Gulfport blanked a potentially dangerous Bearcat offense, while forcing several interceptions and fumbles.

Junior linebacker Karlos Dillard provided several highlight plays Friday, blocking a punt and pulling in an interception. Not a bad start to the season after leading GHS as a sophomore with 84 tackles.

“Dillard really stepped it up (last season),” Pierce said. “He didn't really start until the St. Martin game. Boy, did he have a great year as only a sophomore. He's big.”

Peyton Williams, Princeton Fells and Keenan Magee also return after being among Gulfport's leading tacklers in 2015. Pierce also pointed to nose guard D.J. Stevenson as the anchor of a strong defensive front.

Strong schedule

It was actually following a loss last season that Pierce sensed his team might have what it takes to make some noise in Region 4-6A. The Admirals traveled to perennial Alabama power Prattville for the second game of the season. Although Gulfport returned to the Coast with a 21-16 loss, he felt the game paved the way for the Admirals' undefeated region record.

“We just kind of got on a roll last year. Where we got our confidence last year was at Prattville,” he said. “We had a chance if we get the onside kick we're close. We didn't win the game but we came away with a victory, if that makes sense.

“Our kids felt when we left that game that we could go and do this.”

Gulfport once again plays a challenging non-region slate that Pierce believes will pay off later in the season.

Petal is up next for the Admirals Friday, followed by a home game Sept. 2 against De La Salle out of New Orleans. GHS closes the non-region schedule by traveling to Picayune on Sept. 9 before hosting George County on Sept. 23.

Playing for Pierce

The offseason wasn't easy for the Admiral family as Pierce's wife, Sherry, lost her inspiring battle with cancer in April and the coach later suffered a heart attack. The Admirals understand what their coach went through during the offseason and hope to be an uplifting and positive presence moving forward.

“We have a good family here,” Ford said. “By Coach staying committed to his word and committed to us, it shows us a lot.

“We have to come out and play hard for him each and every game.”

Patrick Ochs: 228-896-2321, @PatrickOchs

At a glance

2015 record: 9-3

Region: 4-6A

Head coach: Eddie Pierce

Assistant coaches: Bo Bradberry, Micky D’Angelo, Keating Helms, Kevin Helms, Jeff Bush, Ron Brewer, Karlos Dillard, Jess Brantley, Chauncey Davis

Offense: Spread

Defense: 3-4

Gulfport 2016 schedule

Aug. 19 Long Beach*

Aug. 26 PETAL

Sept. 2 DE LA SALLE (La.)

Sept. 9 At Picayune

Sept. 16 Bye

Sept. 23 At St. Martin

Sept. 30 GEORGE COUNTY

Oct. 7 At Hancock

Oct. 14 At Harrison Central

Oct. 21 D’IBERVILLE

Oct. 28 At Ocean Springs

Nov. 4 BILOXI

*-Denotes Shrimp Bowl at Biloxi

Gulfport 2016 roster

1 Cleveland Ford

2 Jalen Knight

3 Chad Crenshaw

4 Dillon Brown

5 Larozzo Shugart

6 Sean Daniels

7 Princeton Fells

8 Tim Brown

9 Trey Scott

10 Jarell Bennett

11 Orlando Brown

12 Patrick Nelms

13 Keenan Magee

14 Rhodes Walker

15 Ta’Quoris Newsome

16 Lucious Tyson

17 Zae Crain

18 Bryson Brewer

19 Derrick Hall

20 Justin Simon

21 Trey Cook

22 Antonio Sandifer

23 Jaidon Magee

24 Jaylan Bradford

25 Jaquan Foster

27 Karlos Dillard

28 Carlos Thomas

29 Logan Lando

30 Eddie Preston

31 Marshall Porter

32 Tamarcus Garrett

33 Davante Osby

34 Kenneth Walker

35 Bricen Rivers

36 Bryan Lewis

37 Phillip Ramsey

38 Cain Sudduth

39 Max Smith

40 Javier Young

41 Lasavon Mangum

42 Luke Dimitriades

43 Kenson Barnes

44 Dennis Stevenson

45 Jomarcus Redmon

46 Antonio Green

47 Ginarious Johnson

49 Peyton Williams

50 Aubrey Christian

51 Malcolm Bell

53 Randy Parnell

54 Christian Dedeaux

55 Connor Hobby

58 Zach Hartson

59 Christian Whitehead

60 Fred Bass

62 Jack Allen

66 Alex Mouring

68 Cameron Garriga

73 Bailey Halliday

74 Tyree Catlin

75 Derric Gillum

77 Nicholas Dunomes

78 Emmanuel Ferrill

79 Brandon Anderson

82 Gus Holmes

83 Chance Curry

84 Elijah Zavala

87 Tyler Loposser

88 Tamarcus Garrett

90 Jeremiah Braziel

93 Jim Cooper

96 Markell Purnell

99 Raynard Willis

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