News 25’s 25 Teams in 25 Days: Gulfport Admirals

The Gulfport football program is batting .500 when it comes to winning a district title over the last decade, but the Admirals are not interested in leaving anything to a coin flip this season now two years removed from being on top at stop number 21 on News 25’s 25 Teams in 25 Days.

Head Coach John Archie said, “Senior class, they were freshmen the last time we won the district championship. This team has been through a lot, dealing with COVID for two years. This is the first year back with no restrictions, and they want to leave their legacy of bringing a district championship back home to Gulfport this year.”

They say sharing is caring, but not when it comes to the Gulfport football program and celebrating Region 4 Class 6A titles most recently from 2017 through 19 as a part of what was once a 23-game district winning streak. Free Safety Kristian Dillard said, “I was at those games watching them. I saw how they held themselves, and I was at these practices watching them every day. My brother was on those teams. I want to be there, too. I want to be better than him. I want to have a team better than them, and we’ve got to prove something.”

After a forgettable one-win COVID-impacted 2020 season, Gulfport getting back to Gulfport football in 2021 winning its first four district games capped of by a wild one-point win at rival Harrison Central.

But then two straight losses to D’Iberville and Ocean Springs and all of a sudden, the Admirals hitting the road in the first round of the playoffs which turned out to be the end of the road by way of a 33-7 loss at Oak Grove. “It was very emotional seeing the seniors leaving. It was bad. And I went to the state championship game. I knew I wanted to be there this year.”

Quarterback Jacob Palazzo said, “I’m not going to take it for granted. I think it helped us out a lot. And it wasn’t the outcome we wanted, but I think it’ll help us out a lot this year.”

“We want to get passed that. The year before that, before COVID hit, we had gotten over the hump. COVID hit. But we want to get back some momentum. We feel like we can play with anybody in the state and that’s what we’re trying to do this year.”

Make that 12 non-losing seasons in the last 13 years for the Admirals who posted an overall record of 7-5 and a district mark of 5-2.

This year’s team hungry to finish what they started, 13 of those starters coming back to go along with 17 seniors including Quarterback Jacob Palazzo, Wide Receiver Tavaris Henshaw, and Running back Emmanuel Bentley, which could make for one of the most explosive offenses on the Coast once you factor in a game-breaker like junior standout Gavin Brown. “Gavin Brown, oh. Look, when he catches that ball, if he catches that ball, he’s making some plays. Tavaris, they’ll always get open. They’ll be open.”

“It makes my life easy a lot of the time, turning a flat route into a touchdown. It’s awesome to have.”

Junior safety Kristian Dillard also giving a lot of praise to a defensive line that he calls crazy, but perhaps the X-factor to the entire operation in 2022 coming from the sidelines. “This is the first time in four years that we’ve had the same staff coming back two years in a row. These guys know each other. They know expectations. The players, they’re starting to know expectations. Everybody just flows and works well together.”

Yet another reason for high expectations this season is Gulfport’s brand-new turf practice field.

If nothing else, history appears to be on the side of the Admirals who haven’t gone three years without winning a district title since 2011. Based on that math, they’re due. “We’ve got to finish what we started. We came back and won some ball games, but we want to get back in the conversation of winning a district championship and making a run in the playoffs or state championship.”

“I’d be lying if I said we hadn’t been talking about this for a while. Really, since ninth grade, we’ve all been saying that playing in Hattiesburg for a state championship is the goal our senior year, and we’ve got a chance to do it now.”

Late start for Gulfport to kick off the season as the nightcap to the Port City Bowl doubleheader against George County on August 26th.

How about some coaches picks from John Archie. Favorite meal, how can you pick just one? Patio 44, Sully’s Gulfport, Captain Al’s Steak and Seafood, Felix’s, Murky Waters, the list goes on. His favorite all-time coach is Bill Cower, no nonsense but his players loved him. Favorite championship moment coming as a player on the 1999 Madison Central team who won the 5A title.

Categories: 25 in 25