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Patience is key for young Vidalia team

Vidalia High School’s football program certainly has seen better days.

In the final two home games of the Vikings’ season, Vidalia lost both games in blowout fashion, first to Marksville High School 68-7 Oct. 14 and to Avoyelles High School 56-20 this past Friday.

The Vikings currently sit at 0-8 on the season, and after finishing 2-8 last season, fans are understandably frustrated. Much criticism has been directed at second-year head coach Gary Parnham Jr., who took over the program after long-time coach Dee Faircloth announced his retirement following the 2009 season.

Some have said Parnham isn’t fit to be head coach, others have said there simply isn’t any talent on the squad. I disagree with both assessments.

Certainly, coaches are fair game for criticism, and Parnham is no exception to that, which I’m sure he would tell you. I also think there’s plenty of size and speed on the team as it’s currently constructed to be able to compete. I believe quarterback Michael Whitley, in particular, has pretty good upside as a high school quarterback. With all that said, the question remains, why aren’t the Vikings competing?

It’s simple: There simply isn’t enough experience on the roster. And I’m not talking about varsity football experience — I’m talking football experience, period.

According to assistant coach Damus Smith, 28 of the team’s 38 total players are playing football for either their first or second year. When you look at the Vikings’ starting offensive and defensive players, the numbers are even more staggering. Of the team’s 22 starters, 16 of them are playing football for their first or second year.

Smith didn’t offer this as an excuse. I simply called him up and asked him to go down his roster and count how many players total and how many starters were playing football for their first or second year. He obliged.

Last week when I spoke to Parnham to preview his team’s matchup with Avoyelles, I offered to let him discuss this aspect of his squad. He insisted I keep the questions related to the game with Avoyelles.

I know things are frustrating for Viking fans right now, especially those who are used to the team winning consistently like it did in Faircloth’s heyday. But fans are going to have to show the players and coaches some patience.

Locally, much of the game’s fundamentals are taught at a young age through various youth football leagues. In other words, the fundamentals these first- and second-year football players are learning now they would normally be learning at a much younger age.

Let me stress that again: These first- and second-year high school players are learning fundamentals that are usually learned at the elementary-level age. Against much more experienced teams, this puts the Vikings at a major competitive disadvantage.

Patience must be shown by the Vidalia faithful, and it also must be shown by the players and coaches, all the way up to Parnham. We’re about to find out if the players and coaches have enough patience to stick it out until better days are here, but if they do, they’ll deserve to reap the rewards.

And there may be a light at the end of the tunnel. The Vidalia Junior High School football team, led by approximately 22 eighth graders, recently went undefeated and captured a Tri-Parish League Championship. Those 22 or so eighth graders will be freshmen at Vidalia next fall.

Here’s hoping they, along with the players the Vikings will be returning next season, will transition the team from frustration to turnaround.

MICHAEL KEREKES is the sports editor for The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3633 or at michael.kerekes@natchezdemocrat.com.