by Michael Bradshaw, recruit757
Two weeks into his first season, Southampton Indian coach Willie Gillus is still very optimistic about his season. After two shutout losses (to Poquoson and Smithfield), Gillus believes this season still has promise. The renewing of the old rivalries with VHSL reclassification brings a positive influence to his schedule.
Gillus states “the Franklin-Southampton and Southampton-Surry match ups excite me. I worked at Surry, I’ll get to see old faces and make new friends while getting my program on track.”
The much ballyhooed hiring of Gillus from Elizabeth City State University to rebuild the once proud program is a breath of fresh air in Western Tidewater. There are people in the Southampton County area that have high expectations and some naysayers waiting for him to fail. Given enough time, there should be a remarkable difference from the results of the past couple of years. Academics are foremost with Gillus and his staff and they are holding their athletes to a pretty high standard.
“The biggest thing we’re trying to accomplish is the academic process. We’re pushing the honor roll, being great citizens and great people.”
He notes that one of his linebackers, Chris Lawrence, has a 3.8 GPA and is being recruited by Ivy League schools. His staff is also being very proactive in getting exposure for their athletes working with recruit757 and other media outlets to bring attention the vast group of talent available in Western Tidewater.
“As much as we’re pushing touchdowns, we’re stressing academics. That’s what’s going to make our program great is having kids with good grades and making them recruitable to colleges,” said Gillus as he continued gushing about his students.
Talking about other games ahead on his schedule, Gillus brought up games farther west and outside our beloved 757 area code. “Along the 58 corridor, we play a good schedule, going to South Hill (Park View), Greenville and Lawrenceville.” Greenville is Gillus’ hometown and looks to be a sure win for the Indians. Gillus knows the coaches well at these three schools and admits he is sure about their tendencies. He believes he can set his game plan to outmatch those tendencies.
“I know their players too. I recruited some of them for ECSU before being hired to come here. That’s another plus for us. Down the road you’re going to look up and see a great football team.”
The roster is impressive as Southampton has versatile athletes flowing from all corners of the school. The starting QB is perhaps one of the best punters and placekickers in the 757. Russell Balance was tremendous as a freshman place kicker, nailing over 95% of his attempts. His sophomore season ended early with an injury. Now he has grown into a superb punter and quarterback.
“Russell really understands what we’re trying to do on offense and our many sets” said Gillus as he spoke on Ballance. Russell also gives the Indians an added threat. Many teams won’t know for sure in punting and kicking situations what he’s going to do.
Coby Williams is another versatile athlete. He’s tough and extremely smart. He’s played a lot of football and he’s ready to get to the next level. “We’re going to line Coby up at free safety and cornerback and invite teams to pass the ball. You might even see Coby in the offensive backfield at tailback. On special teams you’ll see Coby share time at kick returner with another player.”
Talking further, Gillus brought up Devine Fenner, a wide receiver who is just bursting onto the recruiting scene. Fenner attended a JMU satellite camp at CNU and posted one of the fastest 40 times of the afternoon. Coach Gillus smiles when he talks about Fenner, calling him “the fastest player in this part of the state.” Fenner’s time in the 40 is NFL caliber at 4.3, according to Coach Gillus.
On the other side of the ball, he has Jaquan Myrick who is known around school as the speediest player on the squad. Fenner has faster straight line speed, but there just aren’t many runners like Myrick. He cuts and changes directions like Barry Sanders did in his prime, and he’s as tough as nails. Myrick had given up football prior to the hiring of Gillus, but is back now and more determined than ever.
The other part of his team that he beams over is his offensive line. “It all starts up front and our offensive line is anchored by a very good football player, David Howell, who will play at tackle and center.” The Indian coach says his O-line also has experience when he talks about guard and center Matt Francis. “He’s a kid that’s played a bunch of football games and knows his job.”
On defense, he talks about “stacking the box” with 8 players and leaving his corners and safeties on a proverbial island. “All they got to do is stay back and don’t let the ball get over the top” Gillus remarked as he chuckled about that strategy. “In the Tri-Rivers you’ve got to stop the run. We’re going to count on our linebackers to do that.” Gillus believes his linebacking corps of Xvarien Shearin, Chris Lawrence, Daniel Agunzo, and Delontae Boone are more than capable in preventing big gains. “You’re going to have some long nights if you can’t stop the run. We know that. We’re a work in progress but we’re still ready.”
In closing, Coach Gillus went on to say “We’ve got a plan in place. We’re going to stick with it and down the road we’ll reach our goal.”
The fervor and buzz around the students and players is all positive and by playoff time this group should have had time to meld together. That could lead to Southampton High school and its students and parents getting what they have been hungry for, the return of pride in the school and its football program. Gillus is dedicated to achieving those expectations and the athletes are lining up to learn from him. This may be a season of highs and lows, but soon enough we may see the return of The Big Red Machine. The team’s next game is September 20 as they come off a bye week to host Spotsylvania. If you’re coming in from points east, Southampton is the school on Route 58, past Franklin on the way to Emporia. There are good things happening again at SHS.
– Michael Bradshaw