A special high school football season should be in store for the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
With at least 24 players with Division I scholarship offers taking the field for 2016 in the state's southernmost six counties, several Coast squads have a shot at being competitive on a state-wide level. The teams that reach the postseason this year should be battle tested at the very least.
With the Shrimp Bowl at Biloxi and the “Battle of the Cats” in Pascagoula, the first Friday night of the season should be a good one.
Whether you're in the stands or sitting at home, I encourage you to go to SunHerald.com or download the Sun Herald app on your phone for live game updates from across the Coast. From Bay High-West Harrison to Pascagoula-Moss Point, we'll have you covered.
It's time to get to the first Patrick's Picks of 2016:
George County 28, Gautier 17: This will be Matt Caldwell's first game as the head coach at George County, which is a hot pick to be the breakout team this year. The Rebels return much of their talent on offense, including senior quarterback LaRaymond Spivery, senior receiver Tyrese Fryfogle and senior receiver Dwan Williams. Gautier will likely have one of the best offensive lines on the Coast with Paul Gainer and Justin Scott leading the way and a good running back in Deandre Torrey, but it will be tough to keep up with a potent Rebel offense in Lucedale.
St. Martin 35, Poplarville 31: The Yellow Jackets and Hornets may provide the most exciting game Friday night. The Hornets have a great running back duo in Austin Bolton and Jesse Pernell. St. Martin is again loaded on offense with a pair of seniors, quarterback Wayne Overman and receiver Kalem Reddix, leading the way. Poplarville should be strong this season, but St. Martin has the home field advantage.
Brandon 30, Ocean Springs 14: Brandon is widely considered the No. 1 team in the state and returns the vast majority of its offensive production from a year ago. Ocean Springs is on the opposite end of the spectrum with plenty of starters lost from last year's 8-4 team. The Greyhounds nearly took down Brandon in a 27-24 loss a year ago, but it's difficult to see them keeping it tight this season at Greyhound Stadium.
Pass Christian 17, Hancock 13: It was close a year ago with Hancock winning 14-13 and I'm confident that will again be the case Friday. The Pirates were one of the most improved teams on the Coast with a 5-5 mark a year ago and I expect them to take another step forward with senior running back V.J. Swanier setting the pace.
East Central 42, St. Luke's (Ala.) 24: The Hornets host an out-of-state squad to start the season in St. Luke's Episcopal, which went 2-7 a year ago. East Central should put up plenty of yards on the ground against a team that struggled defensively in 2015.
Gulfport 35, Long Beach 17: I expect Long Beach to show improvement this year following a 3-9 season in 2016, but Gulfport is a tall task to start the season in the 5 p.m. game of the Shrimp Bowl. The Admirals will be loaded on defense with nine starters back and seven return on offense, including starting quarterback Cleveland Ford.
Vancleave 20, Stone 19: This should be another tight game, but Vancleave will be playing on its home field. This contest will be the first of seven road games for Stone High, which won't play a home game in Perkinston until Sept. 23 against Pearl River Central. Vancleave has one of the better two-way players on the Coast in senior linebacker/running back David Capers. Vancleave won last year's game 28-20 in Perkinston.
St. Stanislaus 35, Biloxi 24: The Indians have a defense that should put up a fight against St. Stanislaus senior quarterback Myles Brennan and his vaunted offense, but the Rockachaws should still do enough to pick up the win in the night cap of the Shrimp Bowl. Biloxi is still breaking in a new starting quarterback in junior Tucker Thomas.
Resurrection 35, St. Patrick 10: It's year No. 2 for Jim Bloomfield as head coach at St. Patrick and the rebuilding effort continues. Resurrection topped the Irish 56-7 a year ago. RCS returns a bunch of talent from last year's team that played for a Class 1A state title, including powerful senior running back Patrick Watts. It will be tough for St. Patrick to keep pace with the Eagles in the week's only Saturday game at War Memorial Stadium in Pascagoula.
Pascagoula 28, Moss Point 14: There shouldn't be a lot of airing it out in this game. Pascagoula is loaded at running back with Reginald Hunter and Javarous Walker. Moss Point will keep it on the ground with Omni Wells getting most of the carries. The Tigers are due a nice season, but the Panthers features more talent overall and the game is at War Memorial Stadium.
Bay High 21, West Harrison 13: Bay High ran away with a 45-22 win over West Harrison in the opener a year ago. Both programs feature new head coaches with Benji Foreman at Bay High and Tracy Rogers at West Harrison. Both coaches were staff members at their respective schools a year ago.
Christian Collegiate 38, Tensas 7: CCA will travel to St. Joseph, La., to begin its eight-man football season. The Bulldogs won 45-0 at Tensas a year ago so it's hard to see a different outcome on Friday.