Monthly Archives: July 2008

Hawks and Jackets

I only got one football coach on the phone today: Holly Springs’ Clifford Brown. He’s entering his fourth year at the helm.

The Hawks have been on the brink of a breakthrough season, and this could be it. They were 4-6 last year and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2002. Their first six games were played on the road while a new stadium was being completed, and Brown was breaking in a new quarterback, Demetri Oliver.

Holly Springs has seven starters back on offense, including Oliver, a junior. Eight are back on defense.

“We hope it’s our time to compete a little better,” Brown said.

The Hawks play in Division 3-3A with the likes of Byhalia, Independence, North Panola and Senatobia. They’d never made the playoffs until 2003 and have one playoff win.

Gene Phelps spoke with Starkville’s Bill Lee today. Coach Lee is not one to give away too much, but this year will be another challenging one for the Yellowjackets. Only two starters return on offense, five on defense. Lee’s looking at four guys to fill the quarterback spot.

Starkville’s offensive line is “real light,” Lee said – not a good thing in 5A ball.

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Senior Legion: Schedule Change

Tupelo 49ers coach Kirk Presley just called me and said two teams have dropped out of the Senior Legion State Tournament, which starts today in Pontotoc. Both Mississippi Prospects teams backed out this morning. There will be no 1 p.m. game. Here’s the revised schedule:

Thursday’s Games
4:30 p.m. – Game 1, Hattiesburg vs. Booneville
8:00 – Game 2, Tupelo vs. Amory
Friday’s Games
1 p.m. – Game 3, Pontotoc vs. Game 1 winner
4:30 – Game 4, Game 1 loser vs. Game 2 loser
8:00 – Game 5, Game 2 winner vs. Game 3 winner
Saturday’s Games
Semifinals:

10 a.m. – Game 6, Game 3 loser vs. Game 4 winner
4:30 p.m. – Game 7, Game 5 loser vs. Game 6 winner
Championship:
8:00 – Game 8, Game 5 winner vs. Game 7 winner
Note: Game 9, if necessary, to be played Sunday.

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Warriors and Wildcats

Photo by Thomas Wells

I spoke with Calhoun City coach Mike Ray and Corinth coach Jimmy Mitchell today about their respective football teams. Both squads harbor high expectations for 2008, and here are three reasons to think both teams can go far.

Calhoun City Wildcats (Division 1-1A)

• The Wildcats return Brandon Lawrence (above), who made the 2007 Daily Journal All-Area first team in the Iron Man category. He had 1,315 total yards of offense, evenly split between rushing and receiving. He also made 49 tackles and four interceptions as a cornerback. He’ll do it all again this year, plus a little quarterback duty.

• QB J.R. Jennings, a sophomore, has a year under his belt and gives Ray no cause for concern. Good arm strength, knows how to avoid pressure.

• Ray has 26 freshmen and sophomores to just nine juniors and seniors. But he calls the ninth-grade class “the best we’ve ever had.” Several freshmen will start, including three on the defensive front. Most of the defense’s experience is in the secondary, which will help with more 1A teams going to the pass.

Corinth Warriors (Division 1-3A)

• RB Hubert Crawford is healthy. After rushing for 460 yards in four games last year, he missed the rest of the season with a back injury. He’s 5-foot-9, 198 pounds, but Mitchell said Crawford is “faster than folks think.”

• Corinth has three wide receivers with starting experience, and plenty of depth there. All three ball-catchers – Shauncey Cager, Diante Curlee and Cadman Williams – have great hands.

• The defense, which yielded 21.7 points per game, isn’t much bigger than last year’s unit, but it’s faster. That’s especially true at the defensive end spots.

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Freelon: Is He Invisible?

Photo by C. Todd Sherman

I don’t claim to be an expert in the recruiting game. I’m not the best at analyzing talent and determining if a player is Division I material. But I’m not dumb, either.

I would have no reservations asking a college recruiter about Bruce running back Richard Freelon. The question would be: What’s wrong with you?

Freelon, the reigning Daily Journal Offensive Player of the Year, has exactly one scholarship offer on the table, from D-II Alcorn State. It’s a mystery to his coach, James Ray, why the big boys haven’t yet come calling.

“I wish I knew,” he said Tuesday. “He works extremely hard, is qualified, has a 3.6 GPA, his ACT is where it needs to be. I don’t know what the holdup is. I think if he played for South Panola, Tupelo or Oxford, he’d have 10 offers right now.”

Bruce is a Class 2A school, and Ray admitted the small-school stigma might be part of the problem. I understand that the level of competition Freelon faces isn’t what it would be in 4A or 5A, but I also don’t buy the notion that his numbers aren’t legit. He rushed for 2,536 yards and 33 touchdowns last year.

Consider Alex Carpenter and Montario Patterson. Both were recent standouts at Biggersville, a 1A school with a struggling program. Both were great players and signed with Mississippi State, but I’d say Freelon is better than both of those guys. So I wonder what Sylvester Croom is thinking – that he has enough running backs already? Perhaps.

Ole Miss gets a pass for now because of the coaching change. I don’t know how closely Ed Orgeron was looking at Freelon, if at all, but Houston Nutt needs to look soon. As for the rest of the D-I schools around here, it’s a mystery to me as to why they’re not all over Freelon. I don’t think he’s invisible. He’s 6-foot, 210 pounds, strong as an ox, runs consistent 4.5s in the 40 – what’s not to like? He’s added about 25 pounds to his frame since last year.

“To put on that kind of weight and not lose any speed shows you what kind of athlete he is,” Ray said.

I haven’t talked with Freelon yet – I will soon – but Ray said the lack of attention has been disappointing for the senior. It’s only motivated him more to have a great season and carry Bruce to Jackson. Maybe then folks will wise up.

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Grand Slam: A New Legacy

If you want to find something good in the Grand Slam’s leaving Tupelo – as I report in the Tuesday Journal, it’s likely headed to Jackson – it’s that the state’s basketball overall championship has a solid foundation on which to build a new legacy.

“That’s been to me the highlight of my young career so far, was getting that off the ground and getting that started,” said Neal McCoy, director of sports development for the Tupelo Convention and Visitors Bureau. “It was never about me or about Tupelo, it was about reviving the Grand Slam and doing it for the kids.”

Now it’s up to Jackson to continue building the new legacy. To say the least, my faith in those folks is shaky.

For starters, all they’ve got to work with is the outdated Mississippi Coliseum. Sorry, but sentiment cannot cover all the scars and shortcomings of that place. Secondly, the state championships have never felt like state championships to me. The Coliseum and the MHSAA have taken a minimalist approach to hosting the event. Very little glamor, and only in the finals, when the crowds swell, do you get the sense that this is more than just some midseason invitational.

Tupelo made the Grand Slam more than a tournament. Everyone I’ve asked about it has admitted that. The small touches, the extraordinary hospitality, the organization – it all made for a big-time environment. The one thing missing: fans. You can blame the location, or you can blame fan apathy. I blame both, and without more time, neither issue can be properly addressed. I guess the MHSAA thought the money situation was too urgent to grant that extra time. Fair enough.

Dr. Ennis Proctor, the MHSAA executive director, says that the Grand Slam needs to stay alive. He thinks moving it to Jackson will resolve both the location and money questions. Let’s hope he backs up those words by helping the event reach its full potential and create a lasting legacy.

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Back In The Saddle

I hate clichés like that, but I’m in a rush. Got plenty of work to do now that I’m back in town. I’m going to start talking with coaches for my football tab previews, and I’ll drop a few notes on here after talking with each coach.

I’ll have a notebook for Wednesday’s paper, and we’ll be all over the Senior Legion state tournament this weekend. As for tomorrow, I do have a bit of news to report, but you’ll just have to pick up a paper to find out.

A question to ponder while I try to dig up some more blog-worthy material: Which NeMiss football team will make the biggest turnaround this year, and why?

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Home from New York

What an awesome trip. I will write a column on it soon, I’m sure, but for immediate reaction, visit my personal blog, Deep South Thoughts. Thanks to my boy Brandon Speck for putting this trip together, and to my wife for coming along. Happy 10th, babe.

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