The Gautier Gators football team heard specific types of noise at practice Thursday.
Coaches could be heard giving directions. Players' cleats sounded like suction cups slashing through the damp mud on the practice field. Dragon flies buzzed through the air close enough to cause a distraction.
Which one of those things does not belong?
"Today was the first day it happened," senior Dante Tubbs said. "We really didn't pay attention to [the dragon flies]. Once you're in the zone, you're in the zone."
There were a lot of those winged insects, but Tubbs' focus away from the unusual noise is one reason why head coach Chris Peterson decided to add onto the senior's workload. Not only is Tubbs playing his usual linebacker position, but he'll be a running back in the multiple option offense.
"He's an amazing defensive player," junior quarterback Le'Charles Pringle said. "Now that he's a running back, I'm ready to see what he can do."
Tubbs has played running back before but he spent all of last season playing exclusively on the defensive side of the ball. He was the runaway team leader in tackles with 117, which is 35 more than the second-leading tackler (Denzel Packnett, 82).
The offensive and defensive threat will be in a backfield with a duo of quarterbacks that will share time under center. Pringle will chip in about half the time and is mainly a threat to pick up yards on the ground, while junior Josh Penton, who is also Gautier's kicker, will also be a signal caller for head coach Chris Peterson.
The Gators won six times in 12 games overall last season, which was ended with a 58-7 loss to the Wayne County War Eagles in the first round of the playoffs. Gautier snagged the fourth and final playoff spot in a challenging region 4-5A.
"Competition always makes you step your game up and ground yourself," Tubbs said. "Once you're grounded, there's nothing to do but go forward."
"I wouldn't say we're the best team in 5A but we're pretty good," Pringle said. "I think we'll be alright, though. We might run into some trouble with Pascagoula, George County and teams like that."
"It's a 'beat you up' type of region," Peterson said. "I think it's the SEC West of 5A football but we like that because we get battle tested week in and week out. Whoever is left standing at the end of the season, they'll be playoff ready."
Gautier returns eight starters on both sides of the ball, including four of the five on the offensive line. Breelyn Alexander, Demetrius Bivins, Colton Kinsey and Keyon Lawler are all seniors who will open up holes for the multiple option offense that the Gators portray.
"It all starts up front, winning or losing," Peterson said. "We've got a very cohesive group up front. To have that unit solidified coming forward from last year to this year is huge. They know each other, they know what to expect and they know how to play together. It makes a big difference."
Gautier begins the season with three straight road games -- August 22 at D'Iberville, August 29 at Moss Point and Sept. 12 at Ocean Springs. The Gators' first home game is Sept. 19 against the Vancleave Bulldogs.