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Youth football team adjusting to new players, head coach

Ben Hillyer / The Natchez Democrat — Vidalia Bulldog player Brad Dean reaches for the catch while be defended by Jacob Hawkins during the youth football team’s practice Monday evening. Dean’s father, also named Brad Dean, coaches the team.
Ben Hillyer / The Natchez Democrat — Vidalia Bulldog player Brad Dean reaches for the catch while be defended by Jacob Hawkins during the youth football team’s practice Monday evening. Dean’s father, also named Brad Dean, coaches the team.

VIDALIA — Thirteen-year-old Blake Irvin is the newest member of the Vidalia Bulldogs 13-and-under travel football team.

Irvin, who competed in the Miss-Lou Youth Football league before the Bulldogs began playing, said he’s enjoying his time getting a few extra games in.

“It gives me more playing time and more experience,” Irvin said. “I already knew a couple of (my teammates) coming in.”

The Bulldogs have been practicing since the beginning of November, and head coach Brad Dean said the players who have chosen to play beyond their typical youth ball season are gaining valuable experience.

“The biggest thing is the experience level of the other teams that we play, who travel year round,” Dean said. “We’re playing against players who may be on LSU’s football team at some point.

“These kids really enjoy playing the game. They may practice from 5:30 (p.m.) to 7:30, and at 7:30, they’re still not ready to go. On Sundays, they’ll play until the lights turn out.”

Though the Bulldogs were formed last year, most of the players on this year’s squad are new, Dean said, and this is Dean’s first year to coach.

“It’s lovely,” Dean said. “We have a good group we’re working with, and anytime you can work with kids, it’s a fun experience.”

One of those children is Dean’s son, also named Brad Dean. The younger Dean said he’s enjoying playing football for his father.

“I’m getting a chance to work with more guys and get to know people,” the younger Dean said. “It’s fun and it’s interesting. My dad is the coach, and I’ve always wanted to play for him.”

The older Dean said he estimates only five players from last year’s squad are returning players.

“It’s truly a first-year team,” Dean said. “We’re learning on the fly, but I’m pleased with what I see now. I feel like they’ve progressed a whole lot. They’re asking questions and wanting to get better.”

Jacob Hawkins, 11, said everyone is learning to play together.

“We’re still learning, but it’s not hard, because we all get along,” Hawkins said.

For players like Hawkins, the team offers the chance to get a few more licks in — which is what he wants, he said.

“I like the sport,” Hawkins said. “I like to hit people. We’re learning how to run plays and learning the sport of football.”

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