There is Always More to the Story

The recruiting process is always filled with rumor and innuendo and the majority of it involves something negative. Most of that chatter turns out to be void of anything substantial. Everybody wants the dirt and sometimes they get it, but now that the dust has begun to settle for the class of 2011 let me share a few instances about when things went well and in some cases extremely well.

One of the best things about scouting high school games in person is getting to see how the players handle the ups and downs of competition, but from time to time you get to learn more about the prospect from the people who know him best.

Such was the case when I went to see Darion Arrington and Stone High school take on McComb in the season finale for both teams in 2009.

Before the game began, another gentleman who was taping the game introduced himself and asked who I was there to see.

Once I told him, "Dee Arrington", he proceeded to tell me that he was Dee's 9th grade math teacher and he went on and on about what a fine young man Dee was.

It is not uncommon to hear these sort of things, but what happened next is unlike anything I have ever experienced at a high school game.

In the second half, I changed sides of the field to get some photos from the visiting sideline.

A young lady in a band uniform called me over and asked, "You here to see Dee?"

I told her I was and then she replied, "He is everybody's friend and he really deserves the chance to play in college."

Word soon spread through the crowd that was there to see Dee and the Stone High folks were going to be sure I knew his story.

Before the night was over, I met no less than twenty parents, teachers, students and fans who all wanted to share some good words about Arrington and how he was the "best kid" on the team.

Late in the game, Dee snagged a Clint Hatten pass and sped down the near sideline for the game winning score. The future four star flipped the ball to the ref and ran back to his sideline.

He is a keeper.

Wilkinson County traveled to Natchez to take on the Bulldogs in the season opener for the Wildcats this past season.

Before the game began Devin Fosselman asked me. "You ready to see the show?"

While Natchez got the better of WCHS that night, Devin did put on a show. Fosselman had over 10 catches and he made every kind of catch possible.

He fought off double coverage most of the night, caught balls in traffic and when he had room he made people miss.

A cousin of Natchez safety Brian Isaac's stood near me in the fourth quarter and it was pretty clear Fosselman had earned his respect.

"This is embarrassing," he said. "There ain't no way you can let a man go off like that."

Bear in mind Natchez was up about 30 points, but the fan would hear none of it.

"I don't care what you have to do, but in 6A football you don't let a man have that kind of night."

I think when it was all said and done I saw Joe Morrow in action eight times in three seasons.

The first time was in 2008 when I went to tape Travis Dickson, Allen Howze, Sam Noblin and Wade Wells in action against Hancock and Chris Bermond.

I turned to a friend from Ocean Springs and asked him why Coach Todd Mangum didn't mention #15.

"Oh, Joe," questioned my friend. "He's just a sophomore."

That sort of knowledge gets you excited because you know you are seeing a prospect for the first time that everybody is going to be talking about in two years.

I included Joe in the scouting report from that game and within about an hour of the story going live I received an e-mail from an Ocean Springs fan who was happy to see Joe mentioned.

The writer was hoping that Morrow got the chance to play college ball someday and that his dream was to play big time college football.

The fan? Joe's father.

As I told Mr. Morrow then, Joe had a bright future in front of him as long as he continued to work hard. Two years and close to ten offers later, those words still ring true.

Justin Malone was another interesting story.

The e-mails started coming in about him the week after he played against Jackson Prep this past season.

Just who was this big tackle from MRA?

I saw Justin in person leaving the Alcorn State game and then eventually made the drive over to MRA to meet with Coach Mack Norwood to learn more about him.

After seeing Malone on film, it was clear he had the size and athleticism to play college football.

He was intriguing to say the least.

After making plans to attend the MRA state title game against JA, I was invited to tailgate with the MRA folks prior to the game.

Justin's parents stopped by to say hello and it was clear there would be no second guessing from the Malone family.

Justin's father is a big Derek Sherrod fan and he talked about how well coached Derek was.

"When he gets back in his stance, it's like he's boxing," said Malone. "He has such good hands and feet. He's something else."

The Malones are without question some of the nicest parents I met this year and certainly big believers in Justin going to MSU.

Coach Chris Chambless of West Point is batting 1.000 with me.

Coach has never told me about a true prospect that failed to sign D1. Coaches always want folks to believe the best about their players, but I credit Chambless for being dead on in his assessments including those of his own players.

Back in May, Chris talked with me about Justin Cox. He told me what a good kid Justin was and how he hoped the combine would help get him started when it came to recruiting.

Before the day was over Justin had run the fastest 40 and won the fastest man competition edging out Joe Price at the line.

Cox improved on his Tupelo time when he camped at Mississippi State and an offer was soon on the way.

Everybody knew Justin was fast, but could he play corner?

The two time state champion answered any questions about his coverage skills in the week of practice for the Mississippi/Alabama All-Star game with a resounding yes.

Cox started opposite LSU signee Jalen Collins on game day.

Speaking of the Mississippi/Alabama All-Star game, it took about a quarter before the text messages started coming in from people I know who wanted to know, "Where is Taveze Calhoun going?"

"He's amazing!", "He is a ball hawking hitter.", "Who has offered him?" were some of the comments and questions people had.

The All-Star event was my second time to see Taveze in action, but like so many other players he had his share of fans.

Around this time last year Terrance Taylor's mother, e-mailed me to tell me about Taveze and how I needed to keep an eye on him.

Terrance, signed with Delta State, and was a prospect MSU recruited for most of the process for the class of 2010.

The sentiments about Taveze by the Taylor family were echoed throughout the Morton community.

I had the chance to see Morton play Choctaw Central on a Thursday night this past and the PA announcer for the Panthers told me before the game that I was going to miss seeing their best senior play.

"You need to look at #12 when you can," said the gentleman. "He hurt his arm last week, but he can play.

"He's a real good kid, so anything you can do to help us with him would be appreciated."

At halftime Calhoun dressed and then reeled in a long touchdown pass to blow the game open.

The night I was watching Calhoun and Morton knock off Choctaw Central, Benardrick McKinney committed to State.

His name was new in some respects, but we had learned about him the year before when we visited Rosa Fort to learn more about offensive lineman Donald Hawkins.

The staff there told us all about Hawkins, but there was a young player they were really excited about and that turned out to be the player we would later come to know as "B Mac".

I had the chance to talk with Coach McKinley Scott and a couple of his assistants on the sidelines of the Bernard Blackwell All-Star game in Ocean Springs.

McKinley went on and on about what a coachable player McKinney was and how he was only going to get better in college when he could focus on playing one position rather than having to learn both sides of the ball.

Talking with opposing coaches, they shared the same thoughts about B Mac. Two coaches agreed, "He's the best prospect we saw all year."

Former Tupelo QB Chris Garrett told me a couple of years ago to watch out for P.J. Jones.

"He's the man," said Chris.

Last January I got a text message from Scout's Miller Safritt who wanted to know "What do you know about P.J. Jones?"

According to Miller, P.J. really looked the part and had a nice showing in San Antonio that day.

The talk about Jones continued and as it turned out just about everyone in Tupelo was a P.J. Jones fan.

P.J. himself was not a big fan of interviews or the hype that often goes along with recruiting.

In fact, he expressed some of that frustration to me especially late in the process when rumors about his recruitment began after he made his commitment.

"Let them think what they want," texted P.J. "They'll find out when I don't show up. I know where my heart is."

In the end, the only official visit Jones took was to Mississippi State.

P.J. was not the only target of unfounded rumors. Private messages and message board posters "in the know" suggested that there may be some issues with James Maiden and his recruitment late in the process.

On the very day these rumors began spreading, Maiden posted pictures on facebook of his signing day outfit complete with a sweater with MSU colors.

Even the soft spoken reserved Dee Arrington was not immune from the misinformation. Dee and his coach, Brian Oakes, received several inquiries about Dee's visit plans for the final weekend after reports surfaced Arrington was softening his commitment.

It turned out to be news to the coach and his talented player because neither had committed to take a visit anywhere.

When it was all said and done there were 22 great stories to tell, but there is only so much you can learn from watching a highlight reel.

It is never about just 40 times or stats.

It is never about just what coaches or fans say.

It is about so much more than things that can be measured with a stop watch or by a statistician.

Players can get stronger and faster and in most cases bigger, but college coaches cannot teach or coach heart.

They can instill confidence and teach theory and scheme, but they cannot replace cowardice with character.

Fortunately for Coach Dan Mullen and his staff with this group they won't have to.

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