PERKINSTON — Jack Wright's first season as head coach at Mississippi Gulf Coast kicks off this week, and he's spent the first eight months on campus instilling a specific way of life.
"We want the kids to play extremely hard," he said. "We want to be known as an effort team. We want to be known as a team that holds players to a high standard on the field, off the field. Ultimately, at Mississippi Gulf Coast, you have to win football games."
The Bulldogs play Mississippi Delta on Thursday. Play starts at 7 p.m. at A.L. May Memorial Stadium. Wright hopes Bulldogs fans see that culture which requires the players, not just the coaches, demand that effort from each other.
He's also in charge of the offense, which got a boost late in fall camp with the arrival of quarterback Lowell Narcisse (Fr., St. James/St. James La.), an LSU transfer. He's a threat passing and running, having compiled more than 4,500 yards in his sophomore season before injuries derailed his last two seasons in high school. Now, he's learning a new offense on the fly.
"He's picked up things surprisingly quick," Wright said. "You can tell there's a communications gap, but if you look at today's college football, many teams carry a lot of the same concepts. It's a matter of him learning the terminology. He's practiced the same plays before; he's just got different words for it."
Backup Chance Lovertich (Fr., Jackson Prep/Brandon) is also expected to see action as Narcisse learns the rope.
They'll have the nation's 18th-leading rusher from last year behind them in Terrion Avery (So., Stone/Wiggins), who piled up more than 800 yards as the No. 2 back
Omni Wells (Fr., Moss Point/Moss Point), Austin Bolton (Fr., Poplarville/Poplarville) and Shaun Anderson (Fr., Picayune/Picayune) will be key contributors, as well.
Gulf Coast expects to have the bodies up front to get the offense started, with South Alabama-commit Jacob Shoemaker (Fr, Harrison Central/Gulfport) and hulking guard Sidney Wells (Fr, Clinton/Clinton). The Bulldogs also have another South Alabama offensive line commit, Conner Estes (Fr., East Central/Hurley).
"We've got some size and experience there," Wright said. "They're very physical and they get after it. They've been a strength since I got here on campus."
A young group of wide receivers includes returnees Nick Brown (So., Stone/Wiggins) and Sedevyn Gray (So., Puckett/Puckett). Freshmen Marquise Bridges (Fr., Petal/Brookhaven), Mystikal McGhee (Fr., Booker T. Washington/Pensacola), Terrance Newell (Fr., Clinton/Clinton) and Denzel Carter (Fr., Lakewood/St. Petersburg, Fla) will need to provide production, too.
"We want to be known as a team that throws the ball," Wright said. "We want to create a passing culture, which is a change from the last 14 years. We want to run the football, but we want to be able to throw it when we want to."
On the defensive side of the ball, the secondary should be the strength. Chandler Phillips (So., Hattiesburg/Hattiesburg), R'Tarriun Johnson (So., Stone/Wiggins) and Derrick Beckom (So., Columbus/Columbus) return. Johnson led Gulf Coast with 59 total tackles and also had an interception, while Beckom had 46 tackles and 2 fumble recoveries.
"They're bringing a lot of savvy and experience," Wright said. "They can adjust on the run because they've seen a lot of stuff before. We've added a really good out of state corner with Jackie Mathews."
Mathews is from Pinson, Ala., and three players will see action at nickle: Dayreke Snow (So., Newton/Newton), James Washup (So., Clarksdale/Clarksdale) and Tim Steward (Fr., Hazlehurst/Hazelhurst).
The Bulldogs have had some injuries at linebacker during the summer and fall camps, but they are getting healthy right on time. Darius Townsend (So., Laurel/Laurel) and Jacobi Hearn (So., Clinton/Clinton) started last year, and newcomers Corey Proctor (So., Brandon/Brandon) and Karlos Dillard (Fr., Gulfport/Gulfport) are in the mix.
The defensive line is the biggest question mark for the Gulf Coast. Lucky Davis (So., McComb/McComb) and Davion May (Fr., Hammond/Hammond, La.), who combined for 48 tackles last year, are the only returners. The Bulldogs expect to play as many as 10 defensive linemen, meaning there are a lot of unknowns. Out-of-staters Tre Lawson (Fr., North Augusta/North Augusta S.C.), Omar Davis (Fr., Apopka/Apopka Fla.) and Demonde Harris (Fr., Edna Karr/New Orleans) are leaders among the group of players trying to crack the rotation. Lawson recently transferred from Florida State.
The Bulldogs return a tested veteran at kicker and punter. Mason Hunt (Fr., Stone/Wiggins) made 8 of 12 field goals with a long of 40 yards, and he averaged 37.0 punts with 14 inside the 20. Richard Landry (Fr., D'Iberville/Biloxi) is the long snapper.
When you ask Wright what the MACJC has in store for his club, he gives a pretty straightforward answer.
"I have no idea," he said, laughing. "I think there's a lot of unknowns this year. You have to give East and Northwest a nod just because they have played for it so many years in a row. They're kind of known as the top of the league right now. Outside them, it's a lot of unknowns. We're a bit of an unknown, but there's been a lot of changes at coordinators, a lot of changes at quarterback."
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