News 25’s 25 Teams in 25 Days: Gautier Gators
When it comes to offensive star power, the Gautier football program has just as much, if not more, as any other team on the Gulf Coast.
But the Gators are far from a two-man show in 2021 as they try to make stop number 19 a stop to remember.
Quarterback Kaden Irving said, “We just have a winner’s mentality around here now. I mean Gautier hadn’t really had that in anything in a long time. But right now, we’re having a whole lot of confidence, so once we get rolling, it should be a fun thing to watch.”
It all starts under center for an upstart Gautier football team led by junior quarterback and Ole Miss baseball commit Kaden Irving. Free safety Zay Handford said, “He brings everything. A quarterback we need because without him, it’d be a totally different show.”
Last season, Irving was eighth in the state with just under 2,400 yards passing, but he actually led all Mississippi QB’s by a landslide with more than 342 yards per game in just seven games played as a part of an air-raid offense simply unlike any other on the Coast. “Probably close to 1,000 passes per day, every single day.”
Head Coach Marcus High said, “I don’t know if there’s another program that puts as much on the quarterback as we do because it all goes through him, and he understands that. And he’s up here on Sunday’s meeting, going through film study and all that, so he’s a guy that we definitely put a lot on, but we know he can deal with it and he’s got a lot of good pieces around him.”
Protecting his blindside is senior left tackle Bryson Hurst, checking in at 6’6”, 350 pounds. “Pretty much protect Kaden with my life. Defense wins games, but the offense puts the points on the board.”
“I have never seen somebody that big move the way he does. He’s just a natural born athlete. (And I mean is he done growing?) I honestly don’t think so.”
A dandy dozen four-star recruit according to 24/7 Sports, Hurst has 15 division I offers and could end up in Oxford a year before Irving currently sitting on a top seven of Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Auburn, Kentucky, Florida State, Oregon, and UCF. “Best thing with Bryson, when he’s gone on some of these trips, he’s taking some kids with him, so he’s a very humble young man and it’s nice to see him doing that.”
“Kind of stressful having to keep up with all the text messages, all the talking and things. But I kind of overcame it and I’m kind of just used to it now. I would say it’s a huge accomplishment for me because it’s what I’ve always wanted.”
As the dynamic duo continues to grow into stardom, so does the rest of the program, coming off its best region 4 class 5A showing since its last post-season appearance in 2014.
Going 5-4 overall and 4-3 in district play still left the Gators on the outside looking in of a four-way tie for first place that took up all four playoff spots. “It was very disappointing, but as soon as it happened, it was like, it’s time to work some more, man.”
“We set some school records for passing and all that and had some really good games. We were 13 points away from going to the playoffs. Going into the final week, we were looking at being 2, 3 or 4 and ended up being 5, so it was just one of those years, one of those crazy things. The kids come in, they’re still hungry because they were like coach, we should’ve still been playing. I was like yeah, we all felt like we should’ve been, but the Good Lord didn’t see it that way.”
To be fair, the Gators were only four points away from making the playoffs, or six, or another four, all-in-all losing three district games by a mere combined 14 points.
Gautier even beat region champion Pascagoula by 22 and yet it was the Panthers making a run all the way to South State. “Three of the games we lost were within under a minute left.”
“We’ve got to finish in close games. I mean every game we lost last year, other than maybe one, it was all one possession that changed the whole game.”
“That’s our main thing this year, finishing games. We lost a lot of close games last year, and that kind of brought us down. But this year, it’s a new team. We’re staying up, and we’re staying positive.”
This season, Gautier brings back 12 starters and 16 seniors on a quest to win the program’s first playoff game in 16 years and beyond. “It would mean everything to me. I’ve been working hard at it since my freshman year, and my goal is to win it all.”
“We just talk about kind of doing well enough to retire our jerseys.”
“State Championship. That’s been our only focus so far because we have one of the most talented teams in the state by far. This is definitely the most talk that I’ve heard about a Gautier High School football team in a long time.”
The Gators have a familiar motto this season known as GATE which stands for Grades, Attitude, Toughness, Effort.
Greene County went virtual so no jamboree for Gautier which means the Gators open up the regular season on August 27th at home against Provine.