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Prep recruiting has suffered in East Mississippi

By Staff
Jan. 24, 2002
If it's fair to judge the quality of football played in the various college conferences by the number of their players the NFL drafts each year, then it's reasonable to judge the quality of high school football played in various sections of the state by the number of their players offered scholarships by Division I schools.
On that basis East Mississippi high school football is like the Old Gray Mare of song and story. It ain't what it used to be.
There was a time when Meridian, Hattiesburg, Laurel, Columbus, Tupelo and the other larger cities in this part of the state were happy hunting grounds for college recruiters. Even as recently as 1996 Meridian had four kids who signed Division I football scholarships.
But if the class of 2001 is any example, Ole Miss, Mississippi State Southern Mississippi or Alabama are not going to get much help from this side of the state.
On the list of "10 Most Wanted," compiled from conversations with coaches, officials, writers and others, not one single player calls East Mississippi home. Clarksdale, Madison Central, South Panola, Hernando, Columbia, New Albany, Taylorsville, Forest Hill and two from Brandon, yes. Meridian, Laurel, Hattiesburg, and the others, no.
The next 15, called "Best of the Rest" shows Tee Milons of Starkville and Willie Evans of Wayne County and that's it. There are kids from the coast, from Northwest Mississippi, from Jackson but no one else from this neck of the woods.
Even when you go down to the final 15, called laconically "The Rest," you'll find two names from this area, Travis Cooley, also from Wayne County, and Jared Parten of West Lauderdale. There's a youngster from Noxubee County named Vincent Dancy but Noxubee is not listed among East Mississippi's major high schools.
If you've been counting on your fingers, you have tabulated that of the 40 high school players considered to be the best seniors in our state only five are from our area and none from any of the major cities.
It's a trend that has been developing in recent years. The Southeastern Conference media guide at the start of the past season showed 97 players on the Ole Miss roster, scholarship and walk-on. Only seven are from East Mississippi, two from Meridian, two from Laurel, one from Hattiesburg and two from Starkville.
Mississippi State showed 96 players on their squad at the start of the past season. They have eight, two from Hattiesburg, one from Columbus, three from Tupelo and two from Starkville. Meridian and Laurel struck out.
As for Alabama which used to find this area their happy hunting grounds (can you say Kenny Smith, Carlos Stennis, George Ranager, David Bailey, etc.) there are but two kids from Starkville who are calling Tuscaloosa their football home. Meridian, Hattiesburg, Laurel, Columbus and Tupelo are all zip.
I can't account for the University of Southern Mississippi since they failed to send me a media guide and I failed to ask. But I think they must have a few from hometown Hattiesburg and/or Laurel and probably one or two from Meridian.
As for the Lauderdale County schools, they have never been a factor. They seldom win when they play someone other than each other and have not sent many football players to any but small colleges.
Mac Barnes, who coached high school football in Meridian for 20 years suggest one of the reasons this area is not producing Division I football players is there is too much to do in these cities. In addition to football, the kids have basketball, baseball and soccer among other outlets for their youthful energy. That may account for the high quality of kid baseball and soccer in Meridian.
Barnes believes football programs start when kids are below junior high school age, say in the fourth or fifth grade when they are nine or 10 years old. But why should we believe such programs exist in the Delta or Jackson or some of the smaller cities in the state? And if they don't, how are they turning out players with major college potential when this part of the state is not?
There was a time when the Jackson schools would tremble when a Meridian, Laurel or Hattiesburg came to town. Now they merely smile and say glad to see you