Help Wanted: Wide Receivers Apply Within

Great high school wide receivers always seem to come at a premium in the state of Mississippi. The state has it's share of quality athletes, but for some reason that athleticism has not transfered over to the college level for one reason or another for the state's wide outs.

One of the questions many Mississippi State fans have asked over and over is, "Why can't we attract big name receivers?"

The question is one that has been discussed on message boards and debated around water coolers the past few years.

No good solutions have surfaced to date.

One of the big issues is the lack of in state talent at WR.

For the 2004 and 2005 signing classes combined the state of Mississippi produced just one wide receiver that BCS conference schools elected to sign on a national signing day.

Noxubee County's Brandon Tate inked with West Virginia in 2004 and he ended up playing tight end for the Mountaineers.

The 2005 signing class produced zero wide receivers that signed with a BCS school. Three others signed with Air Force, Rice and Southern Miss respectively.

The 2006 signing class at WR has proven to be a bust for the most part so far. Some very talented athletes were part of this group, but by and large the instaters have made little to no impression on the college level.

Anthony Summers signed with Mississippi State and was moved to safety. He has since transferred to Central Arkansas in an effort to get more playing time.

Anthony's brother Markeith is having a hard time getting on the field at Ole Miss.

Terry Levy recently enrolled at West Alabama after a stint in community college.

Mike McCoy has done pretty well at Alabama in a back up role. After not catching a ball as a freshman, Mike had 23 catches for 207 yards and a touchdown this year.

Shay Hodge has proven to be a formidable weapon at Ole Miss, and looks to be the pick of the 2006 litter.

The 2007 signing class was loaded with great WRs, but in the end almost all of them went to junior college because they were unable to gain admission to a division one school.

Only two wide outs in state signed with a BCS conference school, O'Neil Wilder and Taiwan Easterling.

Wilder sat out the fall and gained his freshman eligibility and has enrolled at Mississippi State this spring.

Easterling signed with Florida State after spurning Southern Miss on signing day. Taiwan redshirted this season.

The 2008 class is pretty much void of any instate WRs with the size, skill and academics to get in school. There are currently four instate WRs committed to division one programs and two of them are in great shape when it comes to qualifying. One of those, Delmon Robinson, is going to State. The other, Bruce Wilbourn, is headed to USM.

The 2009 class looks better at the position and from what I hear the grades are better. Pat Patterson, Kevin Norwood, Chad Bumphis and Dennis Thames all have a good chance of qualifying. Those prospects ability to qualify are essential to both the signing classes at Mississippi State and Ole Miss.

With the instate well running dry the past few years the Bulldogs have had to search for greener pastures beyond the Mississippi high school ranks.

After not signing a wide receiver in the 2004 signing class, the Bulldogs reeled in three in 2005 from other states. The results have been mixed at best.

Pritchard, Alabama's Aubrey Bell is the only WR signee from that class still on the Bulldog roster as a receiver. Aubrey has snagged 24 passes in his career with one of them resulting in a touchdown.

Gilmer, Texas native Tay Bowser made the move over to the defensive side of the ball where he tallied 13 tackles and an interception this past season as a second team corner back.

Corey Gardhigh was dimissed from the team for a violation of team rules.

The lone true high school receiver of the 2006 signing class, Keith Mills of Alexandria, Louisiana, was also dimissed from the team. Mills landed at Southern Miss.

With the in state high school ranks producing such limited numbers, the Bulldog staff had mined a few names from the fertile Mississippi junior college ranks.

Tony Burks, Ryan Mason and Co-Eric Riley were all expected to provide some instant offense for the Maroon and White, but outside of Burks the production has been rather thin.

Burks led the Southeastern Conference in yards per catch his junior season, but his senior season's numbers were hurt due to more limited opportunities.

Over the past two seasons, Tony has led the team with a combined 68 passes caught for 1,294 and eight touchdowns. All of those numbers are team highs for the two years combined.

Ryan Mason has struggled with injuries throughout his time in Starkville and is still awaiting his first recorded pass reception.

Co-Eric Riley recorded eight catches in 2007, but is expected to work his way higher up the rotation at receiver in 2008.

The Bulldogs are averaging three wide receivers per class over the past four classes including the upcoming 2008 class that will sign on Wednesday.

With the emergence of the spread offense among the high school ranks in Mississippi, the development of wide receivers should improve. It certainly needs to.

Perhaps the largest area that needs improvement is academics. Many of the state's top football talents never see a division one football field except on television. A select few will get brought in for junior days or are allowed to attend a game or two on prospect tickets.

What is occurring with far too great a frequency is that high school prospects are not making sufficient academic progress.

Come the first day of fall practice fans of colleges across the country the lament the loss of a promising prospect because he does not met the necessary entrance requirements.

When it comes to the state of Mississippi, the in state schools are often forced to sign a "project" at wide receiver and hope to develop them because the competition is often too fierce for the more talented out of state targets.

There are no easy solutions from the college coaching level. They can continue to sign athletes with the hopes of coaching them up all the while supplementing their roster with a junior college transfer as the need arises. In the end playmakers must emerge from somewhere. They certainly need to.

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