Locals take in all-star game

Published 12:01am Sunday, December 23, 2012

GULFPORT — The State of Mississippi had a civil war of sorts Saturday afternoon, and this time it was the South that was victorious.

It was especially sweet for Natchez High School defensive back Derrian Johnson, one of several Miss-Lou athletes to represent the South in the Bernard Blackwell North vs. South All-Star game in Gulfport. Johnson said he and his teammates wanted to win really badly after enduring some taunting.

“The North was talking a lot of trash before the game, and we had to come out and show them we could beat them,” Johnson said. “A couple of our players talked back, but we made up our minds that we’d show them we were better.”

The South would go on to win 34-13.

Johnson joined Franklin County High School offensive lineman Spencer Touchstone, Jefferson County High School strong safety O’lajoawon O’Neal and Jefferson County linebacker Cody Gilchrist on the South squad. Cathedral High School head coach Ron Rushing was the South’s offensive coordinator, and Jefferson County head coach James Herrington was an offensive assistant.

Johnson finished with two tackles and a fumble recovery, and he said playing only defense instead of both ways was a new experience for him.

“I’m not used to it,” Johnson said. “It’s not really uncomfortable, it just gives everyone else a chance to play.”

Rushing said he was worn out after coaching in the game, but he thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

“It couldn’t have been any better,” Rushing said. “They were some good young men. None of them were disrespectful, and all of them carried themselves well. They wanted to win, so we had a good week.”

Herrington called the experience humbling, and it was nice being able to coach so many talented players.

“It will definitely spoil you,” Herrington said. “It was a coach’s dream.”

Johnson compared the experience to what he’s expecting to see once he goes to college.

“You get to meet a lot of different people from different places,” Johnson said. “It’s kind of like what college and college football will be like.”

Rushing said having so many players to choose from made it difficult to distribute the ball to all of them.

“We could sit there and get into the pro-I (formation) and run, run, run, but that’s not what the all-star game is about,” Rushing said. “We had it schemed to get everyone the ball, but it didn’t happen all the time.”

Herrington said O’Neal finished with at least six tackles and two pass deflections. Gilchrist, meanwhile, was tabbed as defensive MVP, tallying at least 13 tackles, a pass deflection and a forced fumble, Herrington said.

“They represented our school and our region to the highest level,” Herrington said. “I can’t say enough about how proud of them I am and how they conducted themselves.”

With the experience over, Herrington said he would like to coach in the game again someday.

“Every coach should get the opportunity to have that experience before they finish coaching,” Herrington said.

Johnson said he was just happy to help put NHS on the radar.

“Sometimes we get overlooked, but we have some of the best players in the state,” Johnson said.