Patrick Ochs

Gulf Coast’s preparing for national stage with Mississippi Bowl

East Mississippi defensive lineman D. J. Jones battles Iowa Western's Zac Gillis during first half at Mississippi Bowl, Sunday, Dec. 7, 2014. EMCC is back in the Mississippi Bowl this season. The Lions will face Arizona Western on Sunday at A.L. May Memorial Stadium on the campus of Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College.
East Mississippi defensive lineman D. J. Jones battles Iowa Western's Zac Gillis during first half at Mississippi Bowl, Sunday, Dec. 7, 2014. EMCC is back in the Mississippi Bowl this season. The Lions will face Arizona Western on Sunday at A.L. May Memorial Stadium on the campus of Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College. Sun Herald file

Final preparations are underway in Perkinston for Mississippi Bowl X, which will once again serve as the NJCAA National Championship Game when No. 1 East Mississippi and No. 2 Arizona Western clash at 2 p.m. Sunday.

This will mark the fourth time in five years the junior college champion is crowned on the Coast.

“We take pride in — I’ll go ahead and say it — having the best bowl game in junior college,” new Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College athletic director Steven Campbell Jr. said. “That’s something when we set out 10 years ago, we said lets do it right and be at the forefront.”

In years past the game has been played at Biloxi High, but A.L. May Memorial Stadium will play host to the biggest game on the JUCO calendar for the second year in a row.

MGCCC views the game as an opportunity to show off its campus to a much larger audience than a typical Thursday during the season.

“It allows a lot of people who may not regularly come here to see us,” Campbell said. “They’ll get to see what else we offer here at Gulf Coast because it’s not just football or athletics. We have top-notch facilities and a great institution all the way around.”

A lot goes into hosting the event — much more than simply playing a football game. In addition to preparing the venue, there’s coordinating community events — EMCC is visiting the Dream Program this year, while Arizona Western will head to the Armed Forces Retirement Home — hosting a banquet, coordinating hotels, making sure the players are fed plus the game day staff.

“There’s a lot of cost that goes into hosting something like this,” Campbell said, adding that the players will get watches this year similar bowl gifts FBS players receive.

So what’s the sales pitch for Sunday’s contest? Why should folks in the surrounding areas travel to Perkinston?

“The state of Mississippi has the best junior college football in the whole country,” Campbell said. “We’ve won a ton of national championships over the last 10 years, so it has been a very strong league and it has continued to get stronger. The draw there is people are getting a chance to see Division I athletes and potentially NFL athletes where they started. ‘Wow, this guy plays for the 49ers and he started off playing in little ole East Mississippi in Scooba.’

“There’s just something really neat to that. I think that’s what draws people here.”

Tickets are $10 for adults and $7 for students. Chairback tickets are being sold for $20 and can be purchased at MississippiBowl.com.

Getting acclimated

Campbell was hired in late July and was quickly thrust into duty without a lot of time to acclimate to the new gig. The son of former Bulldog coach Steven Campbell, who’s now coaching Central Arkansas and has seen his name connected to several FBS coaching vacancies, the Gulf Coast AD originally followed in his father’s footsteps. He coached at UCA and later Virginia Tech before deciding to change fields.

“I always had a deep love of football but I wanted to see the other side of it,” Campbell said. “Getting into administration was something I wanted to do for a long time and what better opportunity than to go home and go to the school you played at and were raised at. I had to do this and I’m very glad.”

With MGCCC vice president Ladd Taylor and president Mary Graham, Campbell said he’s felt at home back in Perkinston.

“I have been blessed to be a part of a great family here at Gulf Coast,” he said. “A lot of people I’m working with and for I’ve known for a really long time. I’ve known these are really great folks – I knew that when I was coming here. With the help of Dr. Graham and Dr. Taylor have both been phenomenal mentors to ease the transition.?”

In addition to a lot of the administrative work, sideline etiquette may have been Campbell’s biggest adjustment this year.

“You can obviously cheer on the sidelines but you definitely need to dial it back about 10 notches from being a coach,” Campbell said with a laugh. “You look around and notice the rest of the administration isn’t jumping around so maybe I don’t need to either. There’s a bit of self awareness there.”

Coaching search

The Bulldogs are tasked with a big decision ahead after parting ways with long-time coach Chad Huff last month. Campbell was vague on the details but said he’s optimistic the Bulldogs will land the right coach to lead the football program.

“I can’t give you a timetable or anything. I think we have some great applicants and I’m excited to see which way we’re going here in the future,” Campbell said. “I want somebody who has attained a level of winning in the past and a self-driven individual.”

Huff was 26-14 in four years as head coach. He previously served 10 years as offensive coordinator for Steve Campbell Sr.

Patrick Ochs: 228-896-2321, @PatrickOchs

Mississippi Bowl

Who: Arizona Western vs. East Mississippi

When: 2 p.m. Sunday

Where: A.L. May Memorial Stadium, Perkinston

Tickets: $10 for adults, $7 for students, $20 for chairbacks

Website: MississippiBowl.com

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