GAUTIER, Miss. (WLOX) - If there’s one simple word that describes the mindset of the Gautier Gators, they’re in agreement on what it would be.
“Hungry. They’re hungry,” second-year head coach Mark High told WLOX.
“Oh we’re real hungry. We’re real hungry,” senior running back Kolby Packnett said. “Come to the games and you’ll see – we’re going to put on a show.”
That hunger has persisted through an offseason of limited football activity for the better half of a year. After a 35-0 victory in Friday’s jamboree game, the Gators are ready to ride the months-long wave of momentum into week one.
“The kids have done a tremendous job working. We were able to get a jamboree game in last week, and that’s the first football anybody has really had in seven months,” Coach High said. “I saw a lot of good things, I saw a lot of things we have to work on, but the kids have been working hard and I could not be prouder of them.”
Despite losing a Swiss Army Knife player in Jordan Irving, the Gators return a handful of playmakers – enough to be comfortable in spreading the workload among players that fit their scheme particularly well.
“Right now we’re going to lead by committee,” High said. “We’re not going to put it on one guy, we’re going to let everybody know their own role, and do their own job, and push each other.”
“Our biggest strength is speed, and getting around the outside since we run spread,” Packnett said.
Fresh off that Jamboree shutout, the defensive side of the ball is ready for the next step, led by returning stars D’Edrick McClendon, Kaleb Beavers and Xavion Handford.
“Our defense, they come in clutch when we need them to,” Packnett said. “They play big boy ball when it comes down to that point.”
“The strength of this defense is going to be our defensive line for sure – our line and outside linebackers,” junior linebacker Xavion Handford told WLOX. “We’re going to get the job done. We stop the run and make them earn the pass.”
Despite a 3-8 record last year, the Gators aren’t far removed from a near postseason berth that came down to the final game of the year in 2018. This year’s team is ready to bounce back, and more than confident in the work they’ve put in.
“We’re coming hard this year. It’s our year,” Packnett said. “We’re going to stay positive and hope for the best.”
“They’re going to expect something big. A lot of people don’t really look at us like that, but we’ve been working,” Handford said. “We’re ready.”
The Gators open up the season on September 4th at home against Hancock as they’re hungry for the program’s first playoff appearance since 2014.