It’s finally go time.
After weeks of hitting players in the same uniform over and over — and over — the 2016 high school football season is finally upon us.
The annual Shrimp Bowl, hosted at Biloxi this year, will jump-start action in South Mississippi on Friday.
Both St. Stanislaus (11-4 in 2015), ranked No. 1 in the Sun Herald’s preseason poll, and No. 2 Gulfport (9-3) are looking to build on successful ’15 campaigns, while Long Beach (3-9) and Biloxi (3-8) are hoping to take another step toward statewide relevance in the football landscape.
The Class 6A Admirals and 5A Bearcats begin action at 5 p.m. The 6A Indians and 4A Rockachaws are scheduled for an 8 p.m. kickoff.
No. 2 Gulfport vs. Long Beach, 5 p.m.: One might think Long Beach would be the nervous team heading into Friday’s action. However, the thought of facing the Bearcats’ wide-open offense actually has GHS coach Eddie Pierce feeling uneasy about the matchup.
Although LBHS used five different quarterbacks a year ago, they still completed 50.3 percent of their passes for 2,418 yards and 20 touchdowns.
“I know Coach (Forrest) Williams has a great offensive mind. They throw the ball all over the place,” Pierce said. “We have to be ready for everything.
“I’m a little nervous. I’ll be honest.”
Long Beach is in the midst of a competitive quarterback battle that will likely last into the season. T.Q. Newsome, who opened the 2015 season at quarterback, is now in a running back cooperative — but at Gulfport. Williams said freshman Cade Crosby and junior Jaidon Evans, who previously attended GHS, have had a close battle through camp.
“They have competed very well. Just the guys you want competing for snaps on Friday night,” Williams said. “I think those guys give us a chance to open it up more.”
Coming off a three-win campaign, Williams said a strong showing Friday will go a long way toward getting the Bearcats over the hump.
“This is a very stiff test for us straight out of the gate,” he said. “We’re still trying to build ourselves into a competitive program year in and year out. I feel like we’re making strides. This would be a monstrous win for our program. Just to be able to play with a team that will contend for a district championship in 6A would be big.”
The Admirals have had a strong preseason camp.
“Our kids have been up to it,” Pierce said. “We’re excited to kick off the season. We’re tired of beating on one another.”
Pierce is eager to see how his running back duo of Newsome and Larozzo Shugart meld together after the graduation of All-Coast back Deon Cole.
“Larozzo is quick, extremely fast,” Pierce said. “T.Q. is a bigger kid who can really ram it up in there.
“He came in and is just one of the guys.”
No. 1 St. Stanislaus vs. Biloxi: Friday’s nightcap could feature two of the more entertaining offenses on the Coast in 2016.
The Rockachaws are back with the majority of their firepower ready for another run through 4A.
The Indians, with second-year coach Bobby Hall, should have a new look on offense with former D’Iberville backup Tucker Thomas at quarterback and running back Nick Ross back from injury. The tandem of Thomas and Tim Jones put on a show in last week’s jamboree against Poplarville. Hall is hoping that connection shows up again Friday.
“For us to have a chance (this season), we need to make some explosive plays,” Hall said. “I think we have the people who can do that.”
Although the Indians fell to Poplarville 24-21, Hall came away pleased.
“I’m glad we were able to get our two quarters in. We needed to play,” he said “We’re a very inexperienced team and the more we play the better it’ll be for us.”
After playing mostly receiver and defensive back for D’Iberville a year ago, Thomas put together a solid half against Poplarville in his Red-and-White debut, completing 6 of 9 passes for 145 yards with two touchdowns and an interception.
“I thought he played well for his first game,” Hall said. “A little inconsistent with our passing but really made some really good throws from time to time. I think he has a chance to be really good.”
The Shrimp Bowl and successive games against St. Paul’s of Mobile, Brother Martin of New Orleans, Long Beach and D’Iberville continue an ideology at SSC that the Rockachaws must “play up.”
“We want to play the best competition possible. No. 1 — we have to,” SSC coach Bill Conides said before fall camp. “There aren’t a whole lot of people nowadays who want to play us. I think more importantly it’s really good for our guys to play against the highest level of competition.
“I think there are a lot of life lessons that can be learned from playing teams like that; what it means to work hard and reap the the benefits of it; what it means to look adversity dead in the eyes and say ‘we overcame’; and just playing football.”
The Rockachaws return as much offensive firepower as anybody, perhaps in the state, with quarterback Myles Brennan, tight ends Chase Rogers and Darius Pittman and receivers Corbin Blanchard and Harrison Brewer all back.
The aforementioned group tormented defenses to the tune of 3,579 yards and 35 touchdowns in 2015.
Running backs Cahill Marlowe and Andrew Trapani are also back, as is the majority of the offensive line.
5 p.m. Long Beach vs. Gulfport
8 p.m. Biloxi vs. St. Stanislaus
Games are at Biloxi