News 25’s 25 Teams in 25 Days: Vancleave Bulldogs
The Vancleave football team can put up points with the best of them. The Bulldogs are up next on News 25’s 25 Teams in 25 days, serving as stop number 11, which you could multiply by three and still be under their points per game average in 2020.
Perhaps cranking up the intensity will get them over the hump in 2021.
Head Coach Kevin Fant said, “Just like anything else, business or family, somebody’s missing. Somebody’s got to step up into that role. I heard something the other day about Navy Seals. You stick your hand in the water, you pull it out, the water goes back because there’s not a hole. Somebody has got to fill the gap, and that’s what some of these seniors are trying to do.”
About 15 players ready to embark on their final voyage, intensity being the name of the game for Vancleave’s class of 2022. “Right now, intensity. Just trying to get in here, be as loud as we can, as big as we can.”
Tight end/ Wide Receiver Oscar Lee Hampton said, “Intensity, get better. Don’t let no other team be tougher than us.”
Running back/ corner back Dayan Bilbo said, “We changed the way we played football. We just play with a lot of heart and intensity and stuff, and that’s what we’re trying to do this year. Just play with a lot of intensity and go out there and give it everything we’ve got.”
One of five Vancleave dog soldiers in 2021, Dayan Bilbo certainly has a lot more to give if last year’s 1,400-yard season is any indication. No player from the six coastal counties rushed for more and his 163 yards per game was seventh in the entire state. Now would be a good time to mention his 23 total touchdowns, also accounted for nearly half of his team’s 47 trips to the endzone. Offensive/ Defensive lineman Caleb Bang said, “I mean Dayan, he’s just crazy. He’s got the speed.”
“When he gets the ball, you don’t know what’s going to happen. He’ll go up the middle and make a hole, or he’ll cut to the outside, and you don’t want him to go to the outside cause when he gets to the outside, he’s gone.”
“That’s what I love about him. He’s a great kid. I love to put my arm around him and just hang out and talk, and then you put him on the football field, he can turn into an animal, and so he’s what a football coach wants to coach.”
The offense goes as Bilbo goes, so lighting up the scoreboard isn’t an issue. The Bulldogs led region 8 class 4A with more than 35 points per game, but there’s a catch. They also led the league in points allowed, which helps explain their overall record of 3-6 and their district mark of 1-3, all three of those loses coming in one possession games. “We’ve got to make every possession count.”
“You look at the little things on the film, the little things, it’s the smallest things you mess up on aggravate you the most.”
“What it boils down to is winning football games. It doesn’t matter if it’s 2-0 or 35-0 or 35-30, so we’ve got to find a way to finish. I think five of the games last year went down to the last minute or two, so we’ve got to find a way to finish.”
Vancleave still made it to the playoffs for the third year in a row, but now, the post-season takes on a whole new meaning for a team that returns half its starters, having returned to the depths of region 4 class 5A for the first time since 2010. “For me, it was a bit of a scary thought because we got kind of comfortable in 4A because we’ve been there for a while. But moving up, I feel like we can put up a good fight against everybody and just play the best we can.”
“They’re going by the same rules we are. We attack them, they attack us. And that’s why I love this game, it doesn’t matter 5A or 4A, when you line up against each other, you’re still playing football.”
Perhaps the biggest difference, playing Pascagoula River Bowl rival East Central in the last game of the season as opposed to the first.
Regardless, Vancleave’s junkyard dog mentality as it pertains to legacy is here to stay.
“We always talk about leaving a mark.”
“Leaving our mark.”
“Leave a mark. It’s just like you’re living in this world. You can’t change the world. It’s hard to change the world with one man. But you can change one man at a time and you can make your mark on this world before you leave it. And that’s what I preach to them about this team. Before you leave here, make your mark on Vancleave football.”
Vancleave kicks things off on August 27th at home against Greene County.