Optimism abounds across South Mississippi.
With the opening kickoff to the 2016 high school season now days away, most teams across the Coast are feeling positive — and rightfully so. This year could be an all-timer with the amount of Division I talent that’s filled the Coast’s 25 teams.
Last year’s opening weekend proved to be an eye opener, with the No. 1 team, St. Stanislaus, falling at Gulfport. The Admirals took advantage of the early momentum and plugged away to earn the Region 4-6A championship. The Rockachaws, who played one of the more difficult non-region schedules in the state, took their lumps early but ended up making a second consecutive run at the Class 4A title.
Both teams are back and loaded in 2016 — and top the Sun Herald’s preseason poll. The No. 1 Rockachaws (11-4 in 2015) have three seniors (QB Myles Brennan, LSU; TE Chase Rogers, Tennessee; TE Darius Pittman, Western Kentucky) who are already committed to FBS programs with a fourth standout (WR Corbin Blanchard) likely to end up playing football at the Division I level as well. SSC was nearly a unanimous No. 1 selection for a second straight season.
As for the No. 2 Admirals (9-3), quarterback Cleveland Ford is drawing collegiate interest and will lead a potentially explosive offense along with running back Larozzo Shugart. Junior linebacker Karlos Dillard has been projected by several opposing coaches as the favorite to win the Region 4-8A Defensive MVP honors. He’s one of nine — yes, nine — returning starters on a defense that limited the opposition to just 230 points. It’s hard to sleep on the Admirals with that kind of leadership returning.
No. 3 St. Martin (9-3) came within a few seconds of making the Class 6A playoffs last season. The Yellow Jackets are back and loaded with firepower to once again put up video game-like numbers in 2016. The pass-catching duo of QB Wayne Overman III and Kalem Reddix may be one of the best in the state.
No. 4 Pascagoula (9-4) and No. 5 George County (6-5) round out the Sun Herald’s preseason top five. The Panthers will be led by tough running back Reginald Hunter and George County should have a dangerous offense once again with new coach Matt Caldwell calling the plays.
The bottom half of the Top 10 features another South State champion in Class 1A’s Resurrection (13-1). No. 7 RCS returns seven starters from last year’s stout defense. Offensively, the Eagles return 12 players who have starting experience, including quarterback Blake Porter and running backs Justice Sharp and Patrick Watts.
No. 6 Ocean Springs (8-4), No. 8 Poplarville (7-5), No. 9 Harrison Central (6-7) and No. 10 Pearl River Central (11-2) round out the Top 10. Each of the programs will need to address concerns early in the season. How will OSHS replace quarterback Drew Windham? Can the Hornets’ running back duo of Austin Bolton and Jesse Pernell lead a deep post-season run? Who will step up and replace the production HCHS lost defensively? And can PRC duplicate last season’s success with new coach Larry Dolan leading the Blue Devils? We’ll find out Thursday with PRC visiting Forrest County AHS on Thursday night to kick the weekend off.
Five more schools received votes in the preseason poll: Moss Point (7-6), D’Iberville (6-7), Picayune (5-7), East Central (7-5) and Biloxi (3-8).
Sun Herald Preseason Top 10
1. St. Stanislaus (11-4 2015) 29 points
2. Gulfport (9-3) 28
3. St. Martin (9-3) 24
4. Pascagoula (9-4) 20
5. George County (6-5) 19
6. Ocean Springs (8-4) 14
7. Resurrection (13-1) 7
8. Poplarville (7-5) 6
9. Harrison Central (6-7) 4
10. Pearl River Central (11-2) 4
Receiving votes: Moss Point (7-6; 3), D’Iberville (6-7; 2), Picayune (5-7; 2), East Central (7-5; 1), Biloxi (3-8; 1)