News 25’s 25 Teams in 25 Days: Vancleave Bulldogs
Don’t mind the giant water slide at stop number 10 on News 25’s 25 Teams in 25 Days where Vancleave is celebrating the end of summer and the beginning of football summer.
Bad timing on the part of Mother Nature, so no video of the team actually using the slide, but plenty of video of the Bulldogs putting in work, perhaps ready to slide up the standings this season.
“(Lineman going to get in there and mix it up?) “Oh yeah, we were talking about it, everybody on there. But we don’t want it to collapse on us.”
Just as the Bulldogs eventually found their moment to hit the water slide on Team Cookout Day albeit a couple hours later than expected they’ve been seizing their moment all off-season. Head Coach Kevin Fant said, “Kind of like old Coach Green said, we’re going to be like that woodpecker in that petrified forest. We’re going to keep working and looking for opportunities.”
Hours upon hours of hard work culminating with Vancleave announcing its five, actually six, dog soldiers based on weight class, those being Brady Dowdy, a two-way tie between John Peterson and Aiden Hood, Tommy Olivier, Hunter Waltman, and Ethan Davis.
Five of the six, workaholic seniors who were part of the first class of freshman under fourth-year Head Coach Kevin Fant. “Might be a small group, but your first year you come in as freshman, you’ve got a little bond with them guys because that was the first group coming in as high school freshman, and even though they’re small, they’re a tight-knit group and they’re very fun to coach.”
Running back/ defensive back/ outside linebacker John Peterson said, “Well, we don’t want to look back and say, if we did all of that during the off-season, we could’ve won that game. Or all of the little things we need to work during the summer could’ve gotten us the win and be in the playoffs. It’s kind of like last year.”
2021 was an up and down year for the Bulldogs who finished with an overall mark of 5-7 and 3-4 in Region 4 Class 5A.
Those four district losses all came at the hands of playoff teams, but therein lies the problem, there was no more room for Vancleave, following its 42-35 loss to rival East Central in the final week of the regular season, snapping the program’s three-year run of seeing the first round. Offensive tackle/ Defensive tackle Alan Grimme said, “Oh man, we reflect on it. It hits us hard. Like oh man, we could’ve done this. The little things. Just this one step, this one block, just get a hand on this guy, could’ve really made the game.”
“Teams that went to the playoffs, we were right there with them. Like Picayune, we were right there with Picayune and they won a state championship, so we have the talent. We’ve just got to put it all together.”
Running behind quarterback Hunter Parker in the Pro-I offense, Peterson has big shoes to fill as the successor to Dayan Bilbo, now at MGCCC, who snapped off more than 2,600 total yards and 41 total touchdowns as a senior including the other-worldly video game run against George County that checked in as the number seven play on Sportscenter’s top 10. “I’m not going to sit here and say they’ll rush like Bilbo because it’s hard to replace a guy like that, but try to reload the next year. You can’t harp on what you’ve lost.”
“Dayan was something special. He really made it easy for the offensive line, and I think it’s big shoes to fill. But I think John Peterson can do it.”
“He was an all-around player. Fast, quick, shifty, catch a ball out of the backfield, so he was all what you needed. And I feel like I could fill his shoes just fine.”
Overall, Vancleave returning about a dozen seniors and about a dozen starters with the aforementioned Davis anchoring the defense. Also, good to see former longtime Vancleave Head Coach Lavon Capers back in his old stomping grounds as an assistant from Resurrection Catholic. Safe to say he would agree with Coach Fant in terms of what it’s all worth. “No matter how the season falls, if we put our heart into it and go as hard as we can, then that’s all that really matters.”
“We don’t want to regret when we’re long gone out, done playing the game, we don’t want to regret not playing the game. If we make a mistake, we don’t want to regret that. Make sure we give it our all.”
“I don’t get into mottos a whole lot, but the one thing I did tell them earlier and I kind of wrote it down is pay the price, just like I said earlier. The price is high for success. You’ve got to be willing to put in the work. Like I heard an old coach say before, regret, that’s a higher price. So put in the work early and build for success. Don’t pay that high price of regret.”
Coach Fant also stressing perfect attendance as a major point of emphasis during his off-season program.
Vancleave opens up the 2022 season on August 26th at Greene County.
Here’s some quick picks with Coach Fant, torn between two go-to meal spots in Vancleave, BJ’s Café and Georgia’s Corner Market.
As for his favorite play in a football game, it’s the tone-setter.
Favorite championship moment, as a player with Moss Point, winning two of the program’s five state championships during his time on varsity.