Playoff spots are an accomplishment in their own right, but the expectations are a bit higher than that at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College. This is a program that has just reached the playoffs for the sixth straight season, claimed six South Division championships in the last eight years and grabbed a share of the 2007 national championship, after all.
So it was a welcome sight to see the Bulldogs trounce East Central Community College, 41-0, last week and recapture the postseason, and it's certainly encouraging that Gulf Coast has won five straight with all of those coming by 33 points or more. But it's a young squad Bulldogs coach Steve Campbell is taking into the playoffs this fall.
"We are a young football team -- we've got about 39 freshmen and 15 sophomores," Campbell said. "This is the youngest football team we've had here since my first year here nine years ago."
That youth has impressed since the Bulldogs' lone setback of the year -- 35-28 to Jones Junior College on Sept. 22. It wasn't the first setback for Gulf Coast, which dealt with the effects of Hurricane Isaac back at the season's start in August.
"The thing I like is this group has gotten better and improved every week since we got beat by Jones," Campbell said. "The guys have kind of been on a mission ... and I like their resiliency and the way they've fought back."
Anyone watching the Bulldogs this season is sure to notice freshman wideout Dhaquille Williams, the Laplace, La., native who is lighting up the scoreboard in his first season with Gulf Coast. Williams has hauled in 54 receptions for 999 yards and 14 touchdowns through nine games, earning him a top-four ranking in the National Junior College Athletic Association in all three stat categories.
"He's made a lot of big plays. If you put the ball around him, he's going to go get it," Campbell said. "He's definitely been a weapon for us ... You get eight out-of-state football players, and those guys need to be difference makers. Dhaquille definitely is."
Campbell, who has seen talents like Southern Miss all-conference receiver Kelvin Bolden, Mississippi State standout Tony Burks and former Hawaii star C.J. Hawthorne come through the program at receiver, said Williams is with the best he's worked with. The 6-foot-3, 190-pound freshman listed LSU and Texas A&M as his top suitors coming out of high school in 2011, and Campbell said that list is sure to grow.
"Dhaquille is right there at the top of the list. He's doing a tremendous job," he said. "Vick Ballard played here, Terrence Cody played here ... And I don't want to speculate, I just know he's doing great and he can keep going. I'm really proud of the season he's having."
Williams and quarterback Clint Hatten will look to put up their customary numbers this week against Northwest Mississippi Community College in the opening round of the playoffs. Campbell said his offense needs to limit the turnovers, while the Bulldogs' defense must keep pace.
"We've got to stop the explosive plays. They're very dangerous on offense -- they've got a lot of speed and an athletic quarterback," he said. "We have to protect the football and limit their explosive plays."