GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - If you look at the 2011 high school football calendar, two dates stand out. August 19th and September 10th. The 19th is when the season kicks off - and the Shrimp Bowl returns to Milner Stadium. And September 10th is when high school powerhouse South Panola comes to south Mississippi. The Shrimp Bowl and the South Panola game have three words in common - the Gulfport Admirals.
Mike Justice arrived in Gulfport with one immediate goal - change the mindset on the Admirals practice field. "It was tough going," Justice remembers . "Lost a lot of desire. A lot of little things went away. And the little things have to matter."
Now in his fourth year at the helm, Justice seems to have the Admirals buying into his no-nonsense approach. "We have fun. Our guys, we laugh, talk, have a good time, eat pizza," the coach said. "But once we go on the field now, it's a very serious matter. And we look at it just that way."
On the practice field, they look bigger, faster and more aggressive than previous Gulfport squads. And for the first time since before Katrina, the roster is loaded with players who tasted the playoffs the season before.
Jamie Edwards is a senior cornerback. "Oh yea. You know we'll be there," he says.
When the seniors were freshmen, they had an undefeated season. They built on that success as sophomores, getting playing time with the varsity, Now, they're being talked about around the state as a team to watch in 2011. "We're working hard, getting better, and we're looking to go farther this year," said wide receiver Travon Travis.
Edwards has heard the talk. "You've got a lot of people out there, especially in the neighborhood and in the city saying you've got to win state. Are you going to be able to beat South Panola, Meridian, Oak Grove," he said.
Defending champ South Panola is on the schedule in week three. Meridian and Oak Grove would be playoff victories.
With the talent on the roster this year, Coach Justice says winning big games is possible. "We scored 58 touchdowns and 54 of them are back on this team this year. So we feel like we can play," he noted.
Gulfport opens the 2011 season on August 19th against Picayune.