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JOY RIDE... Southern Miss and Ole Miss tried to wait out a rain delay before their April 3 match up at Trustmark Park in Pearl. During the delay players on both teams entertained the crowd performing mini skits such as this crazy roller coaster ride, a bowling alley reenactment and a funky dance-off. - Photo Mississippi Sports Magazine MISSISSIPPI SPORTS MAGAZINE - 3


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Pictured (Left to Right): Jerry Host, CEO, Trustmark Bank, Dr. Paul Milner, GI Associates, Dr. Jay O’Mara, MS Sports Medicine, Dr. Jack Moriarity, NewSouth NeuroSpine, Dr. Clay Hays, Jackson Heart, and John Marovich Tournament Director. 4 - MISSISSIPPI SPORTS MAGAZINE


GOLF IS BACK... The PGA Tour’s Mississippi event, the True South Classic (formerly the Viking Classic), announced on April 3 that four of the states leading specialty medical practices, NewSouth NeuroSpine, MS Sports Medicine, Jackson Health Clinic, GI Associates, and Trustmark Bank have signed an agreement with Century Club Charities, Inc. to become consortium sponsors of the event to ensure the tournaments future. - Photo Mississippi Sports Magazine MISSISSIPPI SPORTS MAGAZINE - 5


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NEW DIRECTOR... The Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame announced on April 4, that long-time Clarion-Ledger columnist Rick Cleveland will become the hall of fame’s new executive director. Cleveland, 59, will replace Michael Rubenstein, who died Dec. 1. Rubenstein had been the museum’s executive director since the building opened on July 4, 1996. Cleveland is an award-winning columnist who has worked at The Clarion-Ledger and Jackson Daily News since 1979. He has filled a variety of roles, from college beat writer to sports editor for the Daily News and Clarion-Ledger. He has been the C-L’s primary sports columnist since 1991. - Photo Mississippi Sports Magazine 6 - MISSISSIPPI SPORTS MAGAZINE


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nfl panel... As part of the Grove Bowl festivities on April 21 in Oxford, local radio personality Richard Cross (third from the left) emceed a panel of current and former Rebel NFL players that included (from left to right) Tre Stallings, Stacy Andrews, Eli Manning and Ronnie Heard. Over 1,000 fans attended the hour long Q&A on the Grove stage to hear comments and stories of their playing days at Ole Miss as well the national Football League. Also pictured are (far left) associate athletic director Jamil Nortcutt and new athletic director Ross Bjork. - Photo Mississippi Sports Magazine 8 - MISSISSIPPI SPORTS MAGAZINE


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PUBLISHER’S NOTE Follow Mississippi Sports Magazine on Twitter® @MSSportsMag www.mssportsmagazine.com

Volume 4, Issue 6 2012 Spring Football Recap

Big changes coming to MSM

Published by Pevey Publishing, LLC Publishers

By Greg Pevey

Greg & Mendy Pevey

Publisher

Featured Columnists

I

t’s been a long time coming but Mississippi Sports Magazine (MSM) is finally breaking out of the Jackson/Metro area and going statewide beginning in July with our 2012 Football Preview. Over the past four years MSM has showcased the very best in Mississippi sports and outdoors like no other magazine in our state. Our goal has always been to inform and entertain our readers by giving them in-depth stories, features and profiles of Mississippi’s sports legends, past, present and future. The popularity of the magazine throughout our state has made us evaluate a few things including what seems to be the number one topic of discussion: distributing the magazine in more areas of Mississippi. We are currently working with retailers across the state to sell MSM in their stores and the response has been overwhelming. MSM will be available every two months for $4.99 in Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million and numerous other private retail outlets throughout Mississippi. When the July/ August issue is published we will list purchase locations in your area. However, the best way to make sure you receive your copy of MSM is to subscribe. For just $24 you can receive MSM for one year (six issues) and for $40 you will receive two years (12 issues) in the mail to your home or office. I would personally like to thank all of our writers and advertisers who have helped to

make MSM the best it can be over the past four years. We could not have done this without them. We are proud to have the best writers in Mississippi who are very knowledgeable of the school or topics they cover and are willing to put in the time and research on their features and/or columns to make sure their information is always current and accurate. We also want to thank the administrations of Mississippi’s colleges and universities that have gladly given us the access we have needed since day one. They have supported us in their own way whether through media credentials, photos and/or advertising in the publication. We look forward to continue to give the best coverage of your school we can in the future. MSM has always strived to showcase our state in a positive manner. Mississippi has a rich sports heritage and we look forward to presenting more of this history – and possibly help make it – for a long time to come. Sports is the universal language and truly bridges any gaps among us. We here at MSM feel that all of us are a big family when it comes to our sports (even if there are some serious sibling rivalries!) and that’s a huge part of Mississippi’s greatness. It’s been a privilege to be a locally-owned publication that promotes our many great athletes and we’re excited that even more people will now be able to read the inspiring and exciting stories we present each issue! Thank you. - MSM

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To subscribe by credit card you can visit our website at www.mssportsmagazine.com. Or mail ($24) check or money order to: Mississippi Sports Magazine, 405 Knights Cove West, Brandon, MS 39047 *Please include mailing address. Subscription begins with following issue.

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Jake Adams, Brian Hadad, Make It Rain Sports Contributing Writers Jake Adams, Jack Criss, Rick Jones, Paul Jones, Chuck Stinson Contributing Photographers Greg Pevey, James Pugh, Miss. State Sports Information, Ole Miss Sports Information, Rod Simmons Advertising Sales Greg Pevey publisher@mssportsmagazine.com

Mississippi Sports Magazine™ is published bimonthly by Pevey Publishing, LLC to promote Mississippi’s sportsmen and women, colleges, universities, high schools, communities and citizens in an informative and positive manner. We welcome contributions of articles and photos; however, they will be subject to editing and availability of space and subject matter. Photographs, comments, questions, subscription requests and ad placement inquiries are invited! Return envelopes and postage must accompany all labeled materials submitted if a return is requested. No portion of this publication may be reproduced without written permission of the publisher. The opinions expressed in Mississippi Sports Magazine are those of the authors or columnists and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher, nor do they constitute an endorsement of products or services herein. We reserve the right to refuse any advertisement. Pevey Publishing, LLC is not affiliated with any institution, college, university, or other academic or athletic organization. Subscriptions are $24 (1 year, 6 issues). Make checks payable to Pevey Publishing, LLC and mail to: 405 Knights Cove West, Brandon, MS 39047 or subscribe online at www.mssportsmagazine.com.

Pevey Publishing, LLC Mississippi Sports Magazine 405 Knights Cove West • Brandon, MS 39047 Phone: 601-503-7205 • Fax: 601-992-2885 email: publisher@mssportsmagazine.com www.mssportsmagazine.com


MSM - MAY/JUNE 2012

Contents...

Inside... 12 JAKE’S TAKE:

JAKE ADAMS

New hope for Ole Miss

13 THE DAWGHOUSE:

BRIAN HADAD Are we there yet?

14 SPORTS MEDICINE

Shoulder and elbow injuries in the young pitcher

26 EXPERIENCE IS

Gerald Glass coached the amanda elzy panthers to their first 4A state championship in basketball this season

THE KEY

MSU’S Vann Stuedeman and Ole Miss’ Windy Thees working hard to make softball relevant in Mississippi

30 A MESSAGE

FROM ROD

Rod Simmons and Rod’s Racers are getting Mississippians to move their feet

34 MS GOLF

SkyGolf of Ridgeland makes its mark on the scene with the world’s #1 Golf GPS system

40 SOUTHERN MISS Photo by Greg Pevey/ Mississippi Sports Magazine

16

MS LEGENDS

20

Commentary by Make It Rain Sports

What’s Next in MSM?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL

“WORLD CLASS” GLASS SPRING RECAPS Greenwood’s Gerald Glass is a legend in Mississippi. A record holder at Ole Miss, deemed an SEC Legend and a first round pick in the NBA, Glass has earned that legendary status.

FACES HARSH REALITY

Spring football fills that craving all fans get this time of year. Our beat writers give you an inside look at what to take from these practices as the teams gear up for summer workouts.

To Contact MSM > LETTERS, STORY IDEAS AND PHOTO SUBMISSIONS • Email MSM at publisher@mssportsmagazine.com or mail to Mississippi Sports Magazine, 405 Knights Cove West, Brandon, Mississippi 39047. Letters should include writer’s full name, address and home phone number and may be edited for clarity and space. MISSISSIPPI SPORTS MAGAZINE - 11


JAKE’S TAKE Follow Jake Adams on Twitter® @adamsjaken

New hope for Ole Miss By JAKE ADAMS

Featured Columnist

Y

ou may have seen new Ole Miss athletic director Ross Bjork in any number of places in his first two weeks on the job - Swayze Field (I spotted him there and there’s photographic evidence that he made his way to the outfield, too), Vaught-Hemingway Stadium (saw him there, too -- both on the field and on the jumbotron), and from Gulfport to Memphis to the Mississippi Delta and all the way over to Nashville. You may have even seen Bjork’s larger than life image on the side of a red and blue bus. Bjork’s been just about everywhere a cluster of Ole Miss fans can be found in his first few weeks. The one place where you probably couldn’t find Bjork was in his office. “You can’t do this job from behind a desk,” Bjork told just about anybody who will listen. And that’s a lot of people. In two weeks Bjork has spoken on dozens of radio shows, made television appearances and personally introduced himself to hundreds if not thousands of Ole Miss fans. Bjork’s just the newest face at Ole Miss not the only one. Hugh Freeze just finished his first spring practice and is enjoying those rare months where he’s still undefeated (0-0 to be precise) and the possibility still exists that he may never lose a game (slight, but it could happen). From the time he was introduced, Freeze was embraced for his youthful excitement, the joy he professed in landing his dream job at Ole Miss, the anticipation of a prolific offense (so we hear) and the hope that he can build a team that believes in itself again, or at least one that’s got some fight in it. It’s the honeymoon phase at Ole Miss, and if any school’s fanbase deserves a carefree celebratory honeymoon it’s the poor Rebel faithful. They’ve spent the last two years walking through the deepest, darkest valleys of Southeastern Conference woe.

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When Freeze was introduced on the Ole Miss campus last December he acknowledged he was taking over a team that was lost in the wilderness. The same could be said for the entire athletic program. The last couple years have truly been a winter in the history of Ole Miss sports, but with the hiring of Freeze and now Bjork the warmth of spring is finally starting to show its face. They’ve lived through losses to Jacksonville State, Louisiana Tech, Vanderbilt, 3rd string running backs with 150-yard games, 50-point losses and perhaps worst of all - the infamous LSU sympathy knee. They’ve seen three straight losses to a coach from Starkville who refuses to call Ole Miss by name and declares for all the World Wide Web to see that he’ll never lose to Ole Miss again, and what’s worse - he still hasn’t. Ole Miss fans even saw an entire school year go by and half of another without a win against Mississippi State in a major sport. It was enough to drive fans mad, and it actually did. Really mad. Full page ads were published in newspapers. The fanbase was divided. For a time last fall Ole Miss was a real spectacle. When Freeze was introduced on the Ole Miss campus last December he acknowledged he was taking over a team that was lost in the wilderness. The same could be said for the entire athletic program. The last couple of years have truly been a winter in the

history of Ole Miss sports, but with the hiring of Freeze and now Bjork the warmth of spring is finally starting to break through. So you’ll forgive Ole Miss fans if they enjoy their honeymoon with their brand new football coach and their even newer athletic director. It’s a new day at Ole Miss. One where the athletic director finds his way to the student section and where the football coach stands on the field right behind his offense and says things like “staying on schedule” and promises to field a team that will fight hard for 60 minutes. It’s a new day at Ole Miss where thousands of fans on twitter actually get to interact with the athletic director, enjoy inspirational morning messages from their football coach and get the cheap thrill of a “retweet” from @ coachhughfreeze every now and again. The biggest task set before any new athletic director or football coach at Ole Miss was to rally a beaten, fractured fanbase. From my seat it appears Bjork and Freeze have answered the call. They’ve worked tirelessly to inspire new hope, often doing it together, which is fitting because their fates are tied together. Bjork may not have hired Freeze, but his task of raising nearly $100 million gets much easier if Freeze is successful. They have a lot in common, Bjork and Freeze. Bjork is 39. Freeze, 42. They both had lightning quick success as leaders at smaller programs before being given their opportunities at Ole Miss. Freeze had one successful year as head coach of Arkansas State. Bjork was barely the head man at Western Kentucky for two years. They each took that success and rolled the dice on their careers - each thinking he can get the job done at Ole Miss even though you could probably find any number of people outside Rebel Nation who would say they’ve taken on an impossible task. Only one coach left Ole Miss on his own terms in the last 30 years (Tuberville), and everybody knows the expectation of success Bjork inherited. Those expectations might be realistic, or they might not be, but don’t tell Freeze or Bjork it can’t be done, and don’t tell Ole Miss fans either. For right now, anything and everything is possible. From new basketball arenas to expanded football stadiums to SEC Championships and undefeated seasons - it’s all possible. It’s just April. Freeze hasn’t had his first game and Bjork probably hasn’t heard his first gripe, but it’s spring. It’s the honeymoon. Ole Miss fans have earned the right to enjoy it. For right now at least, Bjork and Freeze are two pretty good reasons to feel good about the future of Ole Miss athletics again. - MSM


THE DAWGHOUSE Follow Brian Hadad on Twitter® @brianhadad

Are we there yet? By BRIAN HADAD

Featured Columnist

B

leacher Report’s lead SEC blogger Barrett Sallee recently listed three coaches he feels will enter the 2012 campaign on the proverbial hot seat.  The first two coaches are pretty easy to guess, Joker Phillips and Derek Dooley of Kentucky and Tennessee, respectively.  Dooley strikes me as the one most in trouble; losing seasons just don’t go over too well on Rocky Top and Phillips saw a five year bowl streak come to an end in 2011.  Both of these guys could be out of a job if they can’t turn it around. I don’t think anyone would question that.  It was the third guy who raised eyebrows, and that was Dan Mullen. Let me say this unequivocally: As a man who reads Mississippi State message boards religiously, follows every possible source for MSU news on Twitter and Facebook, and even hosts a radio show where MSU sports is the topic, I can say with confidence that Sallee could not be more wrong about this.  I have yet to encounter one Bulldog fan who has thought once that Mullen could be fired at the end of this season if he doesn’t achieve some arbitrary goal. He is in all actuality among the safest coaches in the SEC, right there with Saban and Spurrier. I would go so far as to say in my own opinion, Les Miles and Gene Chizik, two coaches with national title rings, could feel more heat by year’s end than Mullen could, barring some horrendous off the field incident or an NCAA investigation revealing widespread recruiting violations.  He is as safe as safe can be in the volatile world of college football. This entire argument stems from the idea that Sallee believes Mississippi State should hold its head coach to a higher standard than just winning more than he loses and making bowl games. I have to assume then, that Sallee was comatose through the Croom regime.  Put simply, Dan Mullen may have Mississippi State playing in a third consecutive bowl game

...I have yet to encounter one Bulldog fan who has thought once that Mullen could be fired at the end of this season if he doesn’t achieve some arbitrary goal. He is in all actuality among the safest coaches in the SEC, right there with Saban and Spurrier.  for the second time in its football history. He is undefeated against his instate rival.  His recruiting has improved year to year.  These are things that Mississippi State fans who weren’t alive during World War II have never seen.  This doesn’t even speak to the off the field achievements Mississippi State is accruing under Mullen. Attendance is at an all time high, sparking stadium expansion.  Construction is in full swing for an opulent footballonly facility. Our fan base is totally united in lock step behind Dan Mullen. Why on earth would we push him out the door?  Unlike some schools, Mississippi State fans, for the most part, accept that being a mid-tier SEC team is where we are, and that isn’t something we can expect to change in four years, especially after a decade spent underneath the basement of the Southeastern Conference.  Would I like to see MSU jump up to the top of the SEC West and play for a national title?  Of course I would, but I’m not on drugs.  That’s just not possible in 2012. I’ll get back to you in 2015 about it being possible at all. Now, with all that being said and with the understanding that Sallee’s original hypothesis is wrong, I will say this.  This is a year for Dan Mullen and Mississippi State to win and win big, at least by Mississippi State stan-

dards.  If he can’t, I think it’s reasonable to question if he ever will.  This season sets up to win eight games or more.  We will never have a schedule set up the way the 2012 one does.  It is not beyond the realm of possibility State could roll off seven straight wins to start the year. All of the first seven games are weak non-conference opponents, with three SEC games against the previously mentioned and still weak Tennessee, and Auburn, along with a road trip to Kentucky, also still weak.  The Auburn game is the key, a win there probably gets the ball rolling to being undefeated for a trip to Tuscaloosa. State has the advantage of playing at home, and will be the more experienced team. Auburn is also replacing both of it’s coordinators, and it’s possible they will still be working out the kinks. State gets to start its season with a laugher against Jackson State, Auburn will matchup in a primetime game against ACC champion Clemson.  I see that as a big advantage for MSU, as the Bulldogs offense will be different from the previous Mullen teams, with Tyler Russell managing a more balanced spread attack.  Playing JSU means Mullen can keep the gameplan ultravanilla, leaving Auburn with not much as far as scouting goes, whereas Auburn will in all probability have to open up the playbook to keep up with Clemson’s high scoring offense.  State can win that game, and can be 7-0 entering the home stretch.  Road trips to Alabama and LSU will kill any BCS aspirations the Bulldogs might be holding at that point, and the Arkansas game has historically been tougher than any for State, leaving a home tilt with Texas A&M and the Egg Bowl in Oxford as stumbling blocks to a nine win season and big time bowl berth. Both of those, on paper as of May 2012, are winnable games for State.  So no, Dan Mullen is not on the hot seat in 2012.  He could sputter and only win two games, he could get blown out in almost every contest, he could do the unthinkable and even lose to Ole Miss, and he’d still be on the sidelines come September of 2013. I have no doubt about that whatsoever.  What I want to know is can State take that next step they talked about all summer 2011 in their season ticket commercials. The table is set for State to have a big year, and if they can’t do it this year, then maybe, I might ques-

SEE HADAD on Page 39 MISSISSIPPI SPORTS MAGAZINE - 13


SPORTS HEALTH

Shoulder and Elbow Injuries in the Young Pitcher

A By LARRY D. FIELD, M.D.

ccording to USA Baseball, baseball is the safest sport for children to play, but is not without risk of injury. The pitcher is the most likely to develop injuries. Youth baseball pitchers are at risk for developing elbow problems due to the increased forces on these joints during the repetitive pitching motion aggravated by improper pitching mechanics, excessive pitch counts, and poor pitch selection. The injuries usually seen in major league players are now thought to be a result of cumulative microtrauma which began to develop while the child was playing little league.

Recommendations On the basis of some reports, recommendations have been Mississippi Sports Medicine and made to track pitch counts for all pitchers at all levels and that Orthopedic Center breaking pitches (i.e., curve balls, sliders, etc.) should not be thrown until skeletal maturity. It has also been suggested that baseball participation should be limited to no more than nine months per year and that pitching should be limited to one team per season. In addition, pitch count limits were suggested per game and per season for ages 9 through 14, with gradual increases in each limit with progressive age and level of play. The table below outlines pitch-count recommendations for various pertain to pitches in competition and do not include warm-up throws, throws from other positions and practice throwing. AGE Per Game Per Week Per Season Per Year 9-10 years........................ 50................................. 75...........................1000.............................2000 11-12 years...................... 75................................ 100..........................1000.............................3000 13-14 years...................... 75................................ 100..........................1000.............................3000 15-18 years..................... 100.............................. 150..........................1500.............................4000 *From USA Baseball Medical & Safety Advisory Committee: Position Statement on Youth Baseball Injuries Conclusions Numerous studies over the past 15 years all point to the same conclusion: too much throwing is dangerous to the health of growing and developing athletes. If the goal is to continue to compete and play at subsequent and higher levels, heeding this advice seems like common sense. Yet the number of injuries continues to rise, as do the number of travel teams, showcases and multi-season leagues. In order to achieve success in baseball at higher levels, participation as a youth is likely required. However, we as parents, teacher, coaches, and physicians must temper our desire to see our children succeed by keeping in mind that there are limits to what their bodies are capable of. Summary of Recommendations 1. Throwing should not be painful. Persistent pain with throwing should be evaluated. 2. Pitch counts per game and per season should be kept and adhered to for all levels of throwing. 3. Pitchers should only pitch for one team per season. 4. Multiple-season pitching is discouraged. 5. Showcases, travel teams and all-star programs should be limited. 6. Breaking pitches should be avoided until the cessation of growth (14 years old). 14 - MISSISSIPPI SPORTS MAGAZINE


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STATE WIDE

“World Class” Glass By Chuck Stinson Contributing Writer Photos by Ole Miss Sports Information and Mississippi Sports Magazine

Gerald Glass returns home to Greenwood to lead his hometown alma mater to its first ever 4A State Championship on the hardwood

G

reenwood’s Gerald Glass is a legend in Mississippi. A record holder at Ole Miss, deemed an SEC Legend and a first round pick in the NBA, Glass has earned that legendary status. Still, with all that he has accomplished during his basketball playing days the most important basketball accomplishment to him is his latest that happened in March. That is when he guided his alma mater, Amanda Elzy High School, to its first state title of any kind, the Mississippi High School Activities Association Boys 4A State title. “I can’t even describe it. I was living my dream of winning a state championship with these guys.” The 44 year old Glass was out of basketball for eight years and says his return to the game he loved was a welcome change. After retiring from professional basketball in 1999 where he spent nine years playing for various NBA , CBA and European teams, Glass had tried a number of different jobs that included

snack salesman, car salesman and working for a casino. He missed the game but he never got down about the path that life was taking him down. “I don’t ever get down. Of course I wanted to continue to play basketball but life goes on. You just have to make the best of what you are doing and what you have in front of you.” Glass took over the Elzy job in 2008, replacing Howard Brown the retiring coach that coached Glass during his playing days for the Panthers. The year before is when the wheels were set in motion for his return to the court. He and his wife, college sweetheart Jackie, were separated and Glass was given the opportunity to go back to Ole Miss by head coach Andy Kennedy to get his degree and join the Rebels coaching staff. Gerald jumped at the chance. “I owe AK (Kennedy) everything. They took care of me. I learned a lot. I got a lot of experience. It was fun. I learned a lot and got to travel with the team”. Kennedy, who had played with Glass on an

I was afraid of the challenge academically. I didn’t think I was prepared to do it but when you really want to get something done you can dig inside and get it done. That was one of the proudest moments of my life.” 16 - MISSISSIPPI SPORTS MAGAZINE


all star team that toured Europe during their college days, felt adding the Rebel legend to the staff and helping him get back into the game was a no brainer. “He expressed a desire to get back into coaching. He had a real passion for wanting to not only get his degree but that would enable him to pursue the next stage in his life which was coaching. I was just happy to provide the opportunity.” Still the best part of it for Glass was getting his degree. “I didn’t think I would ever get a degree. I was afraid of the challenge academically. I didn’t think I was prepared to do it but when you really want to get something done you can dig inside and get it done. That was one of the proudest moments of my life.” Glass grew up watching his uncle play basketball and that is where his passion for the game stems from. He was obsessed at an early age and grew up idolizing Philadelphia’s Julius Erving. “Growing up Dr. J was my hero. I watched every Sixers game I could. Every time I saw a Dr. J game it intensified my love for the game and I wanted to play.” As a prep player Glass had all the skills and talent but the knock on him was his 6’4” size. Division one coaches didn’t know what to do with him. “I was told by several college coaches I was a ‘tweener’. I was an in between size player. That is why a lot of the big division one schools overlooked me.” He ended up at Delta State under Ed Murphy. “I was either going to go there or Jackson State or Mississippi Valley or Alcorn. I ended up going to Delta State because they had a better team.” Murphy left after just one season with Glass to take over at Ole Miss. Glass, after leading DSU to the D2 Final Four in 1987, opted to rejoin his former coach for his junior and senior seasons in Oxford. He was finally going to play big time college basketball and it didn’t concern him one bit. “In my mind back in those days, I believed I could play with anybody. I wasn’t intimidated by anybody. I didn’t care if you were D1 or D2 or NBA I felt like I could play with you.” He adds with a laugh, “I should have been scared but I wasn’t intimidated. I had something to prove. That is how I approached it. I wanted to show everybody that they made a mistake from high school overlooking me and saying I was too small to play on a certain level.” His junior year, Glass was fourth in MISSISSIPPI SPORTS MAGAZINE - 17


the nation in scoring and earned the nickname “World Class”. What he is most famous for during his tenure with the Rebels was an overtime duel with LSU’s Chris Jackson where Jackson scored 55 and Glass posted 53 in a record setting Ole Miss 113-112 win in Oxford. It is a game people still remember and talk about but Glass remembers it for a different reason. “I look back and I had a great night and I was shooting the ball well. But I had a stretch during that game where I missed eight shots in a row. I could have probably scored 70 if I had been in better shape. I could have been in better shape and I would have been a better player in college and probably would have gotten drafted higher.” He couldn’t have been drafted much higher, his ability to score caught the eye of the NBA and Glass was taken with the 20th overall pick by the Minnesota Timberwolves in the 1990 draft. But Glass never really got settled with the T’wolves or any franchise and believes that his lack of playing for a consistent staff was the big contributor to his never really finding a spot in the NBA, playing with four different teams during his career. “Every coach I played for was fired at the end of the season. I never had any stability as far as coaching. Every coach I played for was on the way out.” He never let the lack of stability get him down. “I just kept working. I never complained. I was blessed to be making a living playing basketball. ” He also had him moments during his playing days. Scoring 32 against the Lakers off the bench as a rookie with Minnesota and starting for a stretch in Detroit with the likes of Isaiah Thomas, Joe Dumars, Bill Lambier and Dennis Rodman. “That was probably the highlight for me (in the NBA). That was really fun playing with those guys.” Now Glass is making a different kind of memories having taken his alma mater to new heights and by also getting to coach one of his two sons, 6’7” Gerald, Jr., who was a sophomore on the state championship team but missed playing for the title because he suffered an ACL injury early in the season. Eventually Glass would like to give college coaching a try but for now he is content. “It is about the school and the community. What better place to go than back home where you started.” The basketball life is once again good for Gerald “World Class” Glass. - MSM 18 - MISSISSIPPI SPORTS MAGAZINE


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B

Photo by Greg Pevey, Mississippi Sports Magazine

By Paul Jones Contributing Writer

I

n Year 3 under head coach Dan Mullen, Mississippi State encountered postseason success for the second straight season. Since arriving on campus, Mullen has energized the Bulldogs’ fan base and has produced consecutive bowl wins, including last year’s win over Wake Forest in the Music City Bowl. But like any success at any level, that has also brought on higher expectations. Those same expectations are held by the MSU coaches and players, as well. “The main thing we accomplished was going to another bowl game and getting another bowl win,” said Mullen, whose team finished 7-6 last year. “But we were nowhere near satisfied and our goal is always to get to Atlanta (site of SEC Championship Game).” This spring, the Bulldogs featured a nice mix of veterans and up and coming youngsters on both sides of the ball. And that aspect, once again, has kept the MSU fans excited about Bulldog football this fall. OFFENSIVE BUZZ For the past two years, Mississippi State’s offense has centered around the running ability of quarterback Chris Relf. With Relf now graduated, junior Tyler Russell has stepped into that full-time spotlight and with that change, so should some things with the offensive attack. Known more for his arm, Russell enjoyed a solid spring showing in more ways than one. When given time to throw, Russell is dangerous in the throwing game. But he has also taken on a leadership role and taken on that responsibility with serious intent. As a part-time starter in 2011, Russell threw for 1,034 yards with eight touchdowns and four interceptions. “As the quarterback you have to get everybody going and keep them encouraged,” said Russell. “When things are not going our way, I have to keep my composure and make sure everyone else has their head in the game. You

20 - MISSISSIPPI SPORTS MAGAZINE

TIME TO SHINE... As a part-time starter in 2011, Russell threw for 1,034 yards with eight touchdowns and four interceptions. Can Russell maintain an offense that finished 6th in the SEC last year in total offense?

have to lead and it is my job to make sure it gets done.” But Russell does have good competition behind him with redshirt freshman Dak Prescott. Having now gone through two spring practices, Prescott is a better runner than Russell and will also see his share of reps this fall. Russell will have some weapons at his disposal and that was evident this spring. The Bulldogs feature a veteran receiving corps with the likes of seniors Chad Bumphis, Chris Smith, Arceto Clark and Brandon Heavens. The Bulldog wideouts have also added the likes of redshirt freshman Joe Morrow to the mix. His 6-foot-5 frame gives the offense something they’ve lacked of late and that is a deep threat down the field and a receiver that can use his size to his advantage. Also looking to play that role this year is redshirt sophomore Robert Johnson, who also had a solid spring showing. Late last year tight end Malcolm Johnson showed glimpses of his big-play ability and averaged nearly 20 yards a catch. This spring Johnson carried over that momentum and

was the team’s most reliable receiver in practice. There is also depth in the backfield behind Russell and Prescott but there is a lack of experience. Vick Ballard is now graduated and moving on to the NFL. That leaves junior LaDarius Perkins as the most experience tailback and he rushed for 422 yards and two scores in 2011. Sophomore Nick Griffin bounced back from last year’s ACL surgery and pushed Perkins for first-team snaps this spring. Also heavily involved in that tailback battle was a pair of redshirt freshman - Josh Robinson and Derrick Milton. Yet with all of those weapons, the offense had its ups and downs in the spring. That will be the point of emphasis when the fall arrives, said MSU offensive coordinator Les Koenning. “We’ve started off well in scrimmages but then failed to be consistent,” said Koenning. “That is a sign of an immature offense. You’ve got to sustain drives consistently and take advantage of opportunities. You can’t afford to leave points on the field in the SEC.”


Photo by Bobby McDuffie

Coach Dan Mullen will be under the gun to beat another SEC West opponent besides Ole Miss in 2012.

DEFENSIVE BUZZ Over the past couple of recruiting seasons, Mississippi State has put an emphasis on building depth on the defensive line. This spring fans could easily see the returns on that mindset. Yes, Fletcher Cox did turn pro early but there is plenty of depth returning for the Bulldogs up front. That allowed defensive coordinator Chris Wilson plenty of options and combinations this spring. Senior Josh Boyd leads that group at defensive tackle but he has plenty of help. Rising sophomores Curtis Virges and P.J. Jones and seniors Dewayne Cherrington and Devin Jones all had their moments last year. And added to the group this spring was early high school graduate and highly-touted 2012 signee Quay Evans. “We were able to mix and match a lot this spring,” said Wilson. “We were able to move Devin Jones outside some and move Kaleb Eulls inside some. We are just trying to find that right combination and have options and you gotta have that depth in this league. Unlike last year, we do have that depth and that allows us to try different things.” On the edge, senior Shane McCardell raised his level of play this spring along with Eulls. Preston Smith got his feet wet in the SEC last year as a true freshman and the Bulldogs also welcomed 2012 Juco signee Denico Autry to the fold this spring. As a whole, the MSU defensive ends only tallied six sacks last year. That is where Autry hopes to make an improvement. “It was tough at first getting adjusted this

Sep. 1 JSU

Sep. 8 AUB

Sep. 15 @TROY

Sep. 22 USA

spring but I got more comfortable,” said Autry. “We need more of a pass rush this year at end and that is my job and the job of all of us.” The Bulldog linebackers exhibited depth as well this spring with a mixture of veterans and new faces. Senior Cam Lawrence ranked among the SEC’s top tacklers last year with 123 stops while junior Deontae Skinner ranked second on the team with nine tackles for loss. Junior Chris Hughes and sophomore Matt Wells are also in the picture at outside linebacker along with sophomore Christian Holmes. MSU did graduate a pair of middle linebackers but redshirt freshman Benardrick McKinney and sophomore Ferlando Bohanna filled that void this spring. McKinney is among MSU’s most athletic linebackers at 235 pounds while Bohanna is one of the top hitters of the group. That experience theme carried over to the cornerbacks in the spring, evident with three seniors in Johnthan Banks, Corey Broomfield and Darius Slay. Banks opted to return for his senior year after debating on whether or not to turn pro a year early ala Cox. In reality, the Bulldogs have a trio of starting cornerbacks and they used several schemes this spring to get all three on the field at the same time. At the back end of the defense, the experience is lacking, though, at safety. With the graduation of Charles Mitchell and Wade Bonner combined with Nickoe Whitley recovering from last season’s injury (Achilles’ heel), safety was a question mark. At the end of spring, sophomores Jay Hughes and Dee Arrington were penciled in

Oct. 6 @UK

Oct. 13 TENN

Oct. 20 MTSU

Oct. 27 @BAMA

as the starters before Whitley’s return in the fall. Adding depth was senior Louis Watson and redshirt freshmen Kendrick Market and Zachary Jackson. POSITION TO WATCH The Bulldogs entered the spring with plenty of question marks surrounding the offensive line, and some questions were still on the table after spring. MSU returns left guard Gabe Jackson who has been solid the past two years in a starting role. Sophomore Dillon Day also drew starts at center last year while sophomore Blaine Clausell got a couple of starting nods at left tackle. But throughout the spring, Clausell also saw time at right tackle while sophomore Damien Robinson was also rotating at both tackle spots. Juco transfer Charles Siddoway could very well be the starting right tackle when fall camp opens. The former California transfer made a move late in spring for that job. At right guard, a lot depends on the health of senior Tobias Smith, who missed most of last year with a major knee injury. If healthy, then Smith brings the most experience to the offensive line and also is one of the team’s top leaders. Building that needed depth is also a question. Candidates in that role include guard/ center Ben Beckwith, junior college transfer and center Dylan Holley and also tackle Archie Muniz, who like Smith missed spring ball due to a knee injury. BIG QUESTION MARK While the offensive line may be the biggest question mark, the Bulldog safeties and special teams have concerns of their own. Will Nicke Whitley return true to form? Will the other MSU safeties gain from what little experience they had last year? Obviously, if Whitley returns to 100 percent in the fall then that eases a good bit of concern. And with his absence this spring, it did allow Hughes, Watson, Arrington and Market to get more reps in practice. While many pegged Arrington - a 2011 signee - to grow into a linebacker eventually, he shows Whitley-like capabilities in the spring with his hard licks in the secondary. MSU must also find a replacement for nowgraduated placekicker Derek DePasquale. That help may not arrive until the fall with Oak Grove all-state kicker Evan Sobiesk expected to walk on. Junior Brian Egan handled the placekicking and kickoff duties in the spring but was in-

SEE MSU - Pg. 39 Nov. 3 A&M

Nov. 10 @LSU

Nov. 17 ARK

Nov. 24 @UM

MISSISSIPPI SPORTS MAGAZINE - 21


M S M 2 0 12 S P R I N G P R A CT I C E R E C A P

OLE MISS REBELS SPRING GRADE

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Photo by Greg Pevey, Mississippi Sports Magazine

By Jake Adams Contributing Writer

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s November 2011 and a season full of embarrassments came to a merciful close Ole Miss looked like a team that had been left for dead. The Rebels finished one of the worst seasons in the history of the school in the midst of a record-long 14-game SEC losing streak. Dead might be a stretch, but the program didn’t have much of a pulse. Enter one Hugh Freeze. The man doesn’t give a speech without a biblical reference or metaphor. In his opening press conference Freeze said Ole Miss had been wandering in the wilderness - a reference straight out of the Old Testament. Religiously speaking, Freeze would be the first tell you he believes in the resurrection of the dead. As the new head coach of the Ole Miss Rebels, he’s now tasked with leading one. This spring Freeze’s quest to breathe life into Ole Miss football began. In his brief career, Freeze has already developed a reputation for being a powerful motivator, and in April he put those skills to work trying to instill a new desire in his player. “I have one expectation for next year,” Freeze said at the conclusion of spring. “That’s for us to compete for 60 minutes in every game we play, and then we’ll see what the scoreboard says.”

OFFENSIVE BUZZ The folks who know the most about the future of offense at Ole Miss either played for him in high school, or witnessed his brief stint at Lambuth or saw the impressive turnaround he orchestrated at Arkansas State, where Freeze spent exactly one year as offensive coordinator and another as head coach before accepting the job in Oxford. Judging by his two years coaching the Red Wolves, Freeze likes to spread the ball all over the field and he likes a quarterback who can supplement his arm with his feet. In Freeze’s system, 22 - MISSISSIPPI SPORTS MAGAZINE

FRESH START... Hugh Freeze takes over an Ole Miss team that has lost 14 straight conference games dating back to 2010. Most Ole Miss fans have a ‘wait and see” approach to the upcoming season to see if Freeze can make a noticeable difference in the teams play.

it all starts with the quarterback. The coach spent the month of April looking for the one who could best keep his offense “on schedule”. That’s Freeze parlance for moving the chains and not giving up the ball with negative yardage or a turnover. Within the first couple weeks of spring practice Freeze pegged returning junior Barry Brunetti and income junior college transfer Bo Wallace as the two who would compete for the job. That   decision and an injury bumped returning quarterback Zack Stoudt, who started four games last year, completely out of the picture. If the spring game is any indication, Wallace may have an edge into August. He finished with a game-high 240 yards passing, completing 16 of 26 passes, including two touchdowns and an interception. Brunetti, playing for the opposing unit and noticeably weaker offensive line, was only 4 of 10 for 62 yards, but he also ran for 109 yards. However, the spring game didn’t convince Freeze. “If I had to say today, I’d say I’d probably play two,” the coach responded after the spring game when asked if the quarterback competition might continue even into the

season. Whether or not that’s just coach-speak in an attempt to keep the competition ongoing and sharpen Wallace’s skills is anybody’s guess, but Freeze seemed adamant that the competition was still too close to call. Wallace and Brunetti both bring similar ingredients to the table. They just do it differently. Both can run. Wallace is a big deliberate runner who can carry a few defenders with him trying to get the extra yardage, while Brunetti is more explosive and flashy with his feet. Wallace is tall and can use his 6-foot-5 frame to stand in the pocket and see the field. Brunetti is more compact, agile and seems to be the most effective outside the pocket. And both have different experience that give them unique advantages. Brunetti participated in a spread formation zone read scheme his freshman year at  West Virginia. Wallace spent a year under Freeze’s tutelage at Arkansas State before transferring to junior college. Whichever quarterback Freeze chooses will have a fleet of talented receivers at his disposal.


Photos by Greg Pevey, Mississippi Sports Magazine

“We’re going to need help from our incoming freshmen,” Freeze said. None of the players we’ve mentioned above can succeed if Ole Miss can’t field an offensive line capable of protecting the quarterback and making holes for the running backs. At the end of spring ball, it was apparent the offensive line was having the most trouble learning to adapt to Freeze’s up-tempo offense. The group struggled with protection during the spring game and their breakdowns in protection and penalties hurt both side offensively. Offensive line coach Matt Luke must replace Bradley Sowell (graduation), Matt Hall (no longer on the team) and NFL draft pick Bobby Massie. Patrick Junen, Aaron Morris, Emmanuel McCray and junior college transfer Pierce Burton saw most of the 1st team snaps in spring, but they’ve got work to do. “The tempo we want caused them some problems and we still have a ways to go in that adjustment period,” Freeze said. Off-season conditioning will be important for the offensive line as they prepare for Freeze’s fast-paced offense. Barry Brunetti (#11) and Bo Wallace (#14) will continue to battle for the top QB spot during two-a-days.

“Those guys are making plays,” co-offensive coordinator Dan Werner said after a Grove Bowl game that included several standout performances at receiver. “I tell the quarterbacks, those are the quarterback’s best friend, you throw it up there and they go and make a play for you.” Donte Moncrief was the unquestioned leading receiver as a freshman last season. He’s big, physical with good hands and the unique ability to create separation between himself and the defender. Moncrief had two touchdowns in the spring game and looked poised to make the big jump great players often do between their freshman and sophomore seasons. “Donte’s special,” Freeze said. “With his size he’s a good matchup for us.” Ja-Mes Logan also looks ready for a breakout season. Freeze offered that Logan had the most consistent spring of all the receivers. “We expect him to be a major contributor in the fall.” Freeze said. Logan had 88 yards receiving in the spring game and two touchdowns. Vincent Sanders, a former Mississippi High School Player of the Year, was Wallace’s top receiver at the spring game, with 89 yards on five catches. The group gives the Ole Miss offense a formidable set of threats at wide receiver, and it’s probably the only position group with enough depth to please the coaching staff. That’s why Nick Brassell, who hasn’t yet even been menSep. 1 C.ARK

Sep. 8 UTEP

Sep. 15 TX

Sep. 22 @TULANE

tioned, despite being one of the top receivers a year ago, will be spending most of his time on defense in 2012. Brassell would probably be the fastest receiver in the group, but Freeze says he sees Brassell as an “NFL corner,” and he plans to keep Brassell on the defensive side of the ball. Brassell will probably still be used situationally as a deep threat. You can’t keep that kind of talent on the bench, and Freeze knows it, but look for Brassell to spend more time on defense and less on offense next season. Ole Miss doesn’t have the same luxury at running back. There’s a large void in the backfield that Freeze will have to fill with an incoming freshman and maybe even Mackey or Tobias Singleton, who was moved from receiver in the spring. Jeff Scott is the leading returning rusher, and he’ll probably see the most carries early on by virtue of his experience, but Scott’s a speedster, not a bruiser. Look for Scott to work hard to prove to the coaches he can be an every down back this summer. With the exit of Brandon Bolden, this will be Scott’s first season with a chance to be the go-to ball carrier, and he’s definitely got the quicks to make big plays for the Rebels, but with his slight frame it’s unlikely he can shoulder the load without some help. Two-time Tennessee Player of the Year I’Tavius Mathers and other newcomers will get hard looks in August as the coaches search for a back who can get the tough yards between the tackles. Sep. 29 @BAMA

Oct. 6 A&M

Oct. 13 AUB

Oct. 27 @ARK

DEFENSIVE BUZZ Developing a defense that exerts maximum effort every single play of the game was a major theme in the spring. Ole Miss fans well remember games from 2011 where lackluster performance led to one humiliating defeat after another. New Ole Miss defensive coordinator Dave Wommack watched the film. “I didn’t think there was much effort to their play in the second half of the season,” Wommack said. We have to make sure our football team plays hard on every single snap. Now some of them still have a ways to go in that area, but effort is the number one thing we’re looking for.” Wommack has the unenviable task of taking over a unit that was one of the worst in college football last year. Six starters return from that squad, led by safety Charles Sawyer and linebacker Mike Marry. Last year the defense struggled mightily at stopping just about everything, but especially the run. Unknown tailbacks feasted on a porous defense on a weekly basis. Wommack’s first priority will be to make sure that doesn’t happen next season. If he can’t figure out a way to stop it, success will be hard to come by in Freeze’s first year. Unfortunately, Wommack didn’t get much help when senior nose tackle Uriah Grant required shoulder surgery. The defense is hurting for SEC-quality players. “Some of the young guys are going to have

SEE OLE MISS - Pg. 39 Nov. 3 @UGA

Nov.10 VANDY

Nov. 17 @LSU

Nov. 24 MSU

MISSISSIPPI SPORTS MAGAZINE - 23


M S M 2 0 12 S P R I N G P R A CT I C E R E C A P

SOUTHERN MISS GOLDEN EAGLES SPRING GRADE

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Photo by James Pugh

By Rick Jones Contributing Writer

W

hen Larry Fedora arrived at Southern Miss four years ago he predicted a Conference USA championship and a BCS national ranking in the immediate future. That feat was accomplished last season when the Golden Eagles steam rolled their way through the 2011 season en route to a 12-2 record. The magical season included a 49-28 win at Houston to claim the schools first C-USA title since 2003. The win against the highly-favored Cougars, who were looking to crash the BCS party at the time, vaulted Southern Miss into the BCS Top 25. Fedora left for North Carolina following the Hawaii Bowl and Ellis Johnson, one of the top defensive minds in the nation took over. Ellis, who spent many years with Steve Spurrier at South Carolina, is ready to keep to ship headed in the right direction. Following his first spring at Southern Miss, Ellis was direct with his answer concerning how good the team could be in 2012. “I like our team speed and we have a chance to have a good football team,” Johnson said. “We are going to win, it’s just a matter of how many can we win. To be special, and that’s our goal, you have to win the league then beat someone that people don’t think you can beat. “In my (first) time at Southern Miss (198889 defensive coordinator), we beat Florida State and Mississippi State. The year after I left, Southern Miss beat Alabama and Auburn in the same year. There have been times when this program has stepped up and competed with that conference (SEC) very competitively. This team is going to win games, it’s a matter of how many we are going to win.” OFFENSIVE BUZZ The biggest question mark involves replacing four-year starter Austin Davis at quarterback. During his career at Southern Miss, the

24 - MISSISSIPPI SPORTS MAGAZINE

ON A MISSION... Desmond Johnson returns for his Senior campaign with goals of wreaking havoc on opposing defenses. Johnson will team up with Jamal Woodyard in the backfield in 2012.

Meridian native broke many passing records held by future Hall of Farmer Brett Favre. As a senior, he threw for 3,496 yards with 30 touchdowns against 11 interceptions in the fast-tempo offense under Fedora. Davis is now concentrating on his professional career. That leaves the challenge of taking the snap in the season-opener at Nebraska up to Chris Campbell or Ricky Lloyd. A third player in the mix was Arsenio Favor, but a knee injury during the first week of spring drills resulted in surgery. Favor was the back up to Davis last season. “You can not lose a four-year starter at quarterback and not have to make a pit stop to give you time to get things straightened out,’’ Johnson said. “But I think we have a couple of

guys who can answer the call.” Lloyd is a redshirt freshman and Campbell is coming off a shoulder injury an both showed promise during the spring in terms of running the spread offense. Campbell (6-4, 215) looks to be the best runner while Lloyd (6-2, 200) has a stronger throwing arm but neither took a snap last season. All-State quarterback Anthony Alford of Petal is also expected to be to challenge for the starting spot once he officially gets on campus to begin summer workouts. In the spring game, Campbell completed 12 of 18 passes for 167 yards and one touchdown. “We have to string things together,’’ Campbell said. “We have to do better on first down.


Photo by James Pugh

Freshman QB Ricky Lloyd will have big shoes to fill in 2012 as he replaces All-Conference QB Austin Davis.

I think it’s been a tough battle. Competitive makes everyone better. All three of the quarterbacks, we are good friends and in this together. Our goal is to get one percent better each day. “Competition makes everybody better. I feel good about the players around me. We need our leaders to step up and make sure we’re all held accountable.” In comparison, Lloyd completed 14 of 28 passes for 199 yards. Based on the overall lack of experience, there could be certain situations where the Golden Eagles could use two quarterbacks. “Our starter will be a young man who redshirted last season (Lloyd) or is coming off a shoulder injury (Campbell) or is still in high school (Alford),’’ Johnson said. “Either way, neither has thrown a pass in a college football game.” “Chris (Campbell) is steady and Ricky (Lloyd) is hot and cold, up and down. Both of them are still in the hunt. If we had to play tomorrow, he (Campbell) would give us a little more experience and give us the least bad plays.’’ Offensively, the Golden Eagles will have to replace Lamar Holmes, a recent second-round pick in the NFL Draft, along the offensive line. But the Golden Eagles, who use a lot of zone blocking, do return Joe Duhon (6-2, 306), Austin Quattrochi (6-3, 295) and Jason Weaver (6-5, 305) along with wide receiver/running back Tracey Lampley, who rushed for 463 yards last season to go with 5784 receiving yards and four scores. Look for Quentin Pierce and Ryan Balentine to add depth at the receiver slot and the Golden Eagles are solid at running back.

SEE SOUTHERN MISS - Pg. 38 Sep. 1 @NEB

Sep. 15 ECU

Sep. 22 @WKU

Sep. 29 L’VILLE

Oct. 6 BOISE

Oct. 13 @UCF

Photo by James Pugh

Oct. 20 MARSH

Oct. 27 @RICE

Nov. 3 UAB

Nov.10 @SMU

Nov. 17 UTEP

Nov. 24 @MEMP

MISSISSIPPI SPORTS MAGAZINE - 25


AROUND THE STATE

VANN STUEDEMAN - MISSISSIPPI STATE

Experience is the Key By Paul Jones Contributing Writer Photos courtesy Ole Miss and Miss. State Sports Information

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egardless of the sport, Mississippi State and Ole Miss are normally mentioned in the same breath within the Magnolia State and beyond the borders of this state. But that bond may have even more in common this year when it relates to fast-pitch softball. The Rebels and the Bulldogs both feature first-year head coaches this season with Vann Stuedeman at Mississippi State and Windy Thees at Ole Miss. Both are in the journey of building up their perspective programs on their campuses as well as growing the sport of 26 - MISSISSIPPI SPORTS MAGAZINE

fast-pitch softball in the high school and summer league ranks. Both coaches are also familiar with the Southeast due to their paths to Oxford and Starkville. Before taking over the Ole Miss program, Thees coached at Memphis and enjoyed a solid playing career at Florida State. Meanwhile, Stuedeman was an assistant coach at Alabama for 11 years before being rewarded with her first head coaching job. “Being in the league for the last 11 years I was very familiar with the (MSU) program and what it has done over the years,” said

Stuedeman. “So I was excited about the caliber of kids we have here and the quality of people in the program. I identified a couple of places we needed to improve on and I immediately went to work in those areas and it has just been great to be here and still be in the league, too.” And having experience in the SEC, said Stuedeman, made the transition a bit easier and knowing the challenges that were down the road. “Words cannot describe how much experience changes your perception on something,”


WINDY THEES - OLE MISS said Stuedeman. “Already being in the league helped me tremendously, knowing what I was up against and knowing what we have to bring day-in and day-out. It was definitely a blessing already having experience in this league and I knew what we had to do in order to move forward. “Knowing this league kinda gave us a head start and knowing the pitchers we would face. All of that played a big part.” Of course, having experience in the SEC and understanding the talent that hails in this league doesn’t always spell instant success. “It is a very unforgiving league,” said Thees. “Every week you face a quality opponent and then you mix in your non-conference games and you get challenged every game. We played Alabama one week and they are one of the top teams in the country. Then we face

a Florida team ranked fourth nationally and then move on to Auburn and Georgia, both teams ranked in the Top 20 in the country.” And the key, added Thees, is to make sure her squad gets better due to that competition and eventually reaps the rewards of that process. “When we started out we wanted to make sure we kept the kids in the right mindset,” Thees said. “You are not gonna win them all in the SEC but you have to understand you are playing the best competition day-in and dayout. It is kinda like in Major League Baseball where the best teams don’t win them all. “We have to be focused on our skill set and play hard for seven innings and for 21 outs. We have to make sure we play perfect softball and sometimes you do that you win and sometimes you still lose. But as we build

we will see our program finish on top of the scoreboard in SEC play and that is our goal.” So far, both coaches have been pleased with the efforts of the players in their initial season at the schools. And giving that all-out effort on a daily basis is the first step of any athletic program. “These kids have given me everything they have,” said Stuedeman. “If they had a million dollars they would give it to me. They are trying to be the best softball players they can be and they learn something in every game we play. We call it expensive experience or inexpensive experience and we talk about that all the time. They get better every day in every opportunity and they approach it like that.” Naturally, Thees and Stuedeman understand their top priorities as the head coaches of SEC programs. That goes without saying and the reason they were hired was to boost their programs into the upper echelon of the SEC ranks. But in a state where fast-pitch softball is behind neighboring states, another vital responsibility falls on their shoulders. “I think my job and responsibility as the Mississippi State coach is to grow the sport of fast-pitch softball in our state,” Stuedeman said. “This past fall we went out and did some free clinics off campus and then had some paid clinics on campus. We’ve been to Ridgeland and played and we are also trying to get up a college tournament on the coast at the Gulfport Sportsplex in the future. “Then we’ve had all the area coaches out for a coaching clinic at the Starkville Sportsplex and our girls go out for a kids’ clinic. Our girls also volunteer to be assistant coaches for a lot of the little league teams.” Thees carries the same role in Oxford and her program also reaches out to the younger girls in the state and in the high school programs in the Magnolia State. Starting kids out in fast-pitch softball is a goal of Thees and also a key factor in making the sport more popular with each passing year. “I love the South and I love this area,” said Thees. “There are so many talented athletes in this area. We enjoy the coaching clinics we give in our area and other parts of the state. It is amazing to see how far athletes have come in softball and great to see their development. “When I was in Tallahassee, Fla., the sport of fast-pitch softball had really just started to grown and it was the same when I coached in Georgia. The sport still hasn’t grown like it has in surrounding states but I am excited because we have the athletes here in this state. It is just a matter of getting them to play more and learn more at an earlier age.” In this day and age of college programs training year-round, the process of building the popularity of their sport is something that also never stops and runs deep into the offseason. MISSISSIPPI SPORTS MAGAZINE - 27


“We are really doing a good job in this state of having more summer travel teams and hosting more summer tournaments,” Thees said. “We want to be involved in those aspects and it also gives us a better venue to recruit. We also have many coaching clinics in the fall when we are not in our season. Then you have the junior college coaches in the state that are doing a wonderful job of bringing up the talent and improving players from high schools. “And it all starts with the dedication of the high school coaches and summer league coaches. We see that dedication is there now. When we go out to recruit we now see kids in the state that can help us and they have all the basic skills needed. Then it is our job to give them the advanced skills when they get to Ole Miss.” Similar to the pressures they feel to post wins for their programs, Thees and Stuedeman carry the same type of responsibility to encourage girls at a young age to play fastpitch softball and to increase the love of the sport. “I carry a strong responsibility in that it is my job to make this sport great in this state,” said Stuedeman. “I feel very responsible for that and I am going to do everything I can to get the quality of fast-pitch softball up in this state. And it’s not just the quality of the sport. We need more kids playing the sport. The more we can get playing softball the better we can get at our school and the talent will rise.” Which would aid the efforts of keeping the in-state talent at home for their college careers. “It is our responsibility to recruit at home. I want Mississippi girls to wear this Mississippi State uniform cause they know what that means to have Bulldogs across their chests. It is my job to not only lead our program into the College World Series but to also grow our sport in this league.” Yes, they are in-state rivals and bitter rivals in every athletic program on campus. But in this case, if both programs have success it is something that will go well beyond the rivalry and benefit both programs in the future. “I think it is imperative for us and Mississippi State to build programs into strong contenders in the SEC and in the national spotlight,” said Thees. “And it is easier to be in that national spotlight when you climb in the SEC ranks. You start chipping away in the SEC and keep on climbing up. “The more success that we have in the SEC and the more success Mississippi State has in the SEC, that translates into more kids in this state getting excited about softball. Kids either love Ole Miss or love Mississippi State and that is just the way it is in this state. But if we both do well then we will see fast-pitch softball really boom in this state with the high school programs. And that will relate to more kids wanting to play the sport.” - MSM 28 - MISSISSIPPI SPORTS MAGAZINE


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MISSISSIPPI SPORTS MAGAZINE - 29


RUN MISSISSIPPI

On a Mission from Rod Rod Simmons and Rod’s Racers are getting Mississippians to move their feet By Jack Criss Contributing Writer Photos by Rod’s Racers and Mississippi Sports Magazine

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R

od Simmons was getting his annual physical in February of 2009 and the news was not that good. His doctor told Simmons, an LPN health professional himself, that his cholesterol was entirely too high. Moreover, she gave her patient three months to bring the numbers around to good standing. Simmons took the news in stride---literally---and a new movement was about to be born. “I found out my cholesterol was too high on a Tuesday,” the affable Simmons says. “That very Saturday I was walking my first 5K race!” The new competitor placed second for walkers in that race, the 2009 Rush For Brush in Jackson on the campus of UMC in Jackson, and has never retraced his fast steps. Simmons who, when not winning most 5K walks in his age category places in the top three, became a regular fixture at Saturday races. More an advocate than fanatic, he (with his wife April usually at his side) can always be seen at road races across the state with his trademark smile, encouraging other runners and walkers, an omnipresent camera in his hands when not competing.  Simmons has lost count of the number of races he’s participated in but says it’s well over 100. Three months after that doctor’s appointment, Simmons had lowered his bad cholesterol number to 14 when it had been well above 130. “The scale for bad cholesterol is between 0 to 130,” Simmons, who currently works at the University Physicians Grants Ferry facility, says. “I saw what exercise could do for me and how much fun it was so I really became involved in area races and felt the need to get others involved, too.” By early 2010, Simmons was on the board of the Mississippi Track Club handling public relations for that long-standing organization. Soon, though, he saw other avenues he wanted to explore and new directions to take. This led Simmons and April to form Rod’s Racers, which just recently became an LLC. What stared as a popular Facebook page---and movement---Simmons describes now as a “business.” He says, though, that “at the same time our (Facebook and web) site is a friendly ‘community’ for walkers and runners


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of all backgrounds and abilities. They come to the Rod’s Racers page to get real time answers to questions, learn about upcoming races and post photos. Rod’s Racers has also allowed us to establish great relationships with race directors from all across the state and we help them promote their events, from the largest to the smallest community fundraiser.” Rod and April are on the road just about every weekend traveling the state, taking photos and interacting with their running and walking friends. Simmons has six other people who assist him with Rod’s Racers, all competitors themselves: Tim Irvine and Evelyn Watkins in Meridian, Frank Barrett in Laurel, Gina Mooney in Seminary, Katie Amos in Brookhaven and the recently added Meghan Franks from Starkville, one of the state’s elite female runners. Simmons explains that these associates help with the social media aspects of Rod’s Racers, from Twitter to race updates and photo tagging on Facebook.

With nearly 1600 followers and growing everyday, Rod’s Racers has become in its short existence a positive force in the Mississippi athletic community. This was furthered evidenced by Simmons’ organization itself getting into the sponsorship and creation of road races. “We put on the Inaugural Viking Half Marathon in Greenwood with Beth Stevens and the Chamber of Commerce there,” Simmons says, “which drew over 650 people all through Facebook – a major success that we’re really proud of. We’re also putting on the new Flora Half Marathon for Sunnybrook Children’s Home and the Rise and Shine Half Marathon and 5K in Hattiesburg in May and the Hotter Than Hades Tibbett Half Marathon in Leland in June, all three of which benefit area charities. This was part of my vision for Rod’s Racers when we started and I’m very excited about getting these new races off the ground,” Simmons says.

“Rod has really done a lot to boost the sport of racing in Mississippi for both runners and walkers,” Lesley McLin, owner of Fleet Feet Sports in Ridgeland, says. “I think he’s made racing more accessible and, really, more fun for a lot of people who might have never participated otherwise. I’ve always supported Rod and Rod’s Racers and appreciate what he has done, both personally and professionally.” When asked how it feels to be a “celebrity” in Mississippi’s running community, Simmons laughs heartily. “I’m just amazed at how fast our Rod’s Racers page has grown and the enormous support we’ve received. I’m very grateful. I want people to know that we are here for them, plain and simple. That’s the bottom line.” - MSM (Jack Criss is Publisher of ProBizMS.com and an avid runner)

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MISSISSIPPI GOLF

On Target Ridgeland based SkyGolf has changed golf forever with an idea that was right on the mark By Chuck Stinson Contributing Writer

I

t is not too far from the truth to say that one of the companies credited with bringing golf into the 21st century and creating a revolution that has forever changed the game was founded out of, well, boredom from playing too much golf. “I was semiretired”, says Jackson native and Skyhawke Technologies co-founder and CEO Richard Edmondson. “I quickly became bored with golfing every day. I had an opportunity to play golf four, five, six times a week and it kind of became boring to play that often during the warm weather months and during the cool weather months I did a lot of SkyGolf CEO Richard Edmundson hunting and that started to get boring too. After six or seven months of semi-retirement I started looking for something entrepreneurial that would fit.” What fit was the creation of the leading GPS device in golf, The SkyCaddie from SkyGolf. A Mississippi State graduate, Edmondson attended school on a baseball scholarship, where he pitched for two SEC Championship teams in 1965 and ’66. His intentions were to study engineering but after he was shown the failure rate of athletes in engineering school he opted for business and eventually became a Certified Public Accountant. That started his path to a major accounting firm which eventually led him to become the CEO of Dataplex, an information technology company

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that was quite successful and eventually was sold in the mid 90’s and led Edmondson to his semi-retirement. The fundraising ventures, golf playing and hunting weren’t quite doing it for him or others he had known from his days at Dataplex. So the wheels were put in motion to develop something, anything that would be success-

plus years in development the launch of the first SkyCaddie came in 2001 just a few weeks before the disaster of 9/11 which made disposable income almost non-existent in most families. “One of the perils of any new start up is that you need things to start out well or you can burn through your capitol relatively quickly. Luckily the investors believed in our

We have travelled over one million miles and collected over 100 million data points on golf courses to create the only primary mapped data base of golf courses in the world. We are the only ones that have mapped data base that we created ourselves,” said Edmondson, who had first-hand experience in creating this process.”I was the original mapper. I mapped

ful. “My other technology partners said, ‘why didn’t we try to start up something ourselves instead of try to find something that already existed?” Edmonson said that during the late ‘90’s his partners were already dialed into what the future would hold. They knew mobile phones would eventually connect to the internet and they would have embedded GPS. “It was really very interesting and exciting”, said Edmondson. He also adds, “It was quite by accident to really get into the golfing thing. It had nothing to do with my interest as an amateur golfer at all. We were just looking for places we thought there was growth opportunity for a start up business. What we kept coming back too was mobile devices, the internet and GPS”. The technology team looked at the cart based GPS systems golf courses were using and knew that was not the way they wanted to go. But taking that idea and selling it to the consumers that were soon to be carrying handheld computers had strong possibilities. “What we started to think was we could take a cart based GPS and imbed that in a handheld device. We thought this would be better consumer product than a golf course product”, said Edmondson. That idea started to blossom and after three

concept. We were ultimately able to afford the marketing that was required to expose a brand new product to golfers that had never thought about needing a product like ours before. We actually created a brand new product in an existing market. The golf industry has been around for centuries and has been limited to 14 clubs and a ball. We were trying to introduce a 15th item to their golf equipment”. Nearly 11 years since the launch in 2001, SkyCaddie is the number one rangefinder in the game. Over one million units have been sold and the company has generated over 300 million dollars in revenue. The Ridgeland based company employs 150 Mississippians and 250 employees total worldwide. So what has made the SkyCaddie the gold standard of rangefinders? The answer might be in the way the company approached the idea of mapping the courses. By foot, one hole, one course at a time. “There were no maps to golf courses, so we had to go out and create maps to load into our device. That mapping process was part of building the company. We had put together teams of people and train them on how to map a golf course. To date we have mapped over 28 thousand golf course around the world. We have been to those golf courses about 45 thousand times.

Annandale ten or 12 times trying to get a process down of trying to map a golf course”. It is a process that separated the Mississippi built company from the rest in the industry. “Everyone else does their maps by tracing satellite imagery. They do that because it is quick and easy and saves money. We actually travel to the golf course, we walk the golf course and we record all the data points with equipment that is accurate to within a foot of being totally precise.” Edmondson and company have no plans of standing still in this lightening fast age of technology. They are already laying the foundation for the future of the company. The first step was the development of Club SG, an online community that is Skygolf driven. “When people buy our product they register the device and become part of our community. We know who buys are product. They use our product and they download golf courses. They upload golf scores to our website where they can track their progress and see how their game is going. They can also post it to Facebook, share it with their friends and make comments on Twitter”, says Edmondson who sees this as a marketing person’s dream because it creates and instant data base. “We have over a million visitors a month MISSISSIPPI SPORTS MAGAZINE - 35


PGA golfer Jim Furyk (right) and long time caddie Mike “Fluff” Cowan are members of the SkyCaddie Advisory Board.

to our website. We serve up 13 million page views. We download 1.5 million golf courses a month and this has become an area of great opportunity to grow in the future”. A social network is not the stopping point either for Skyhawke Technologies it is only the new beginning. The company is set to introduce a new system called SwingLabs to 36 - MISSISSIPPI SPORTS MAGAZINE

help amateur golfers find the right equipment for their game. An idea that is way overdue says Edmondson. “Unfortunately amateur golfers haven’t benefited from the technology that professional golfers have benefitted from. The equipment is designed to get you more distance, the balls are definitely designed for that, the pros are adding 30, 40, 50 yards. What we have found after testing 25,000 golfers is that nine out of ten golfers are buying the wrong equipment for them. They don’t have the information they need in order to select the proper driver with the right loft, the right flex, that gives them the correct launch angle and spin rate that optimizes their swing to get the best distance. Amateurs go buy a driver or irons that look good or feel good off the rack and nine times out of 10 times they are making the wrong decision. There are actually 800 thousand combinations of heads, shafts, flexes and lofts out there and an amateur golfer has virtually no chance of accidently getting the right thing.” SwingLabs is also neutral when it comes to equipment. The desire is to place the right club in the hands of the amateur golfer without brand bias says Edmondson. “It’s not about buying the right brand. SwingLabs is a method that helps a golfer know if their cur-

rent club is hurting their game. If they find out their current equipment is not helping their game or hurting their game our system with help them select the right product out of 800 thousand combinations.” So why did Edmondson keep this trend setting company in his home state? Well one reason is that he married a Mississippi girl and that was a big part of the decision he jokes but he also believes in Mississippi and its people. “It would have been easier to try and grow this business somewhere else but I think it is important that you stay committed to your state and we have great people that work for us and deserve an opportunity to grow without having to move. It is good for our economy and people who live here and work here should have an opportunity to invest some of their money in Mississippi companies.” As for his golf game that has, ironically, disappeared, Edmondson laughs at the change, “There was a point I was a single digit golfers, instead of playing 2 or 3 times a week going to 2 or 3 times a year. I haven’t played enough to post a handicap. Being in the golf business is not the best thing for your golf game for sure.” That may be true but his being in the golf business has been the best for the game of golf and golfers around the world. - MSM


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M S M 2 0 12 S P R I N G P R A CT I C E R E C A P - C o n t i n u e d MSU - Con’t. from pg. 21 consistent on field goals and also extra points. Egan will get a battle from Sobiesk in that role and a battle from 2012 signee Devon Bell of Warren Central High School on kickoffs. TEAM ATTITUDE With the competition battles at many positions this spring, that also helped the MSU coaches in another aspect. Yes, it creates depth at needed positions but it also kept many upperclassmen from feeling content and satisfied. “We’ve got to keep pushing every day and that part hasn’t changed,” said Banks, who should reap his share of preseason honors this summer. “You got to bring it every day out here and do the same in the summer. Look at my position alone and you see what kind of competition we have. Nobody can let up or you will fall behind. “That is how we have to approach it as a team, too. We want to move forward and do bigger things this year. Last year is gone now and this is a new start and a new challenge for

Ole Miss - Con’t. from pg. 23 to come in and help us this next year,” Wommack said. “I mean, it’s just a fact of life.” That bodes well for incoming five-star defensive end Channing Ward and South Panola tackle Isaac Gross. Defensive line coach Chris Kiffin watched the film from last season, too, and said what he saw was a lack of fundamentals and discipline. “I don’t know what they were doing scheme wise, but guys were constantly doing their own things up front. I am going to pay attention to details as far as technique and fundamentals go.” Kiffin said he saw improvement from his group at the end of the spring. C.J. Johnson made the biggest splash on defense in the spring. Johnson was one of the most prized recruits in Mississippi a couple years ago, as a linebacker from Philadelphia. Johnson didn’t surface much his freshman season, but this spring he officially made the move to defensive end, and it’s working out pretty well for him. Johnson had best spring game any defender, leading the team with eight tackles, including a sack. “Johnson is going to be a special player,” Freeze said more than once throughout the spring. Charles Sawyer and Wesley Pendleton will return to work the secondary for Ole Miss in 2012. Sawyer led the team with four interceptions last year and will offer reliable pass protection and run support in the defensive 38 - MISSISSIPPI SPORTS MAGAZINE

all of us.” Playing in the country’s toughest division already, that challenge got even tougher with the offseason addition of Texas A&M to the SEC Western Division. With the likes of Alabama, LSU and Arkansas also on the 2012 schedule, MSU will need that mindset and that depth produced this spring if they hope to climb the ladder in the SEC ranks. INJURY REPORT Last year the Bulldogs suffered their share of spring injuries, most notably by Griffin’s ACL tear. But this spring injuries were kept to a minimum but still a hot topic of conversation involved in the game of ‘what if ’. As noted, Smith and Whitley did not undergo spring drills due to their current rehabs. Also not able to participate in contact was Muniz. Once Smith and Whitley return in the ball - and both are expected to do so - some of the concerns at safety and on the offensive line could be decreased. The same goes for Muniz and his addition to the O-line depth. backfield. Junior college transfer Dehendret Collins had a nice spring game including two interceptions. He and Pendleton figure to play a lot of cornerback. Senquez Golson spent most of his spring with the baseball team, but he should see plenty action at the corner position as well. Ole Miss received disappointing news before spring practice began that team leader and linebacker D.T. Shackleford would require another surgery to his injured knee. The time of his return to practice and the team is still uncertain. Shackleford’s return is one of many question marks on the Ole Miss defense as it exits spring practice. Will the unit be able to improve? Will incoming players like Ward and Gross be able to contribute and bolster the defensive front? Are fundamentals going to be the difference in helping this team make a marked improvement from 2011? Games and scoreboards will answer those questions in September. KEY CONCERN One of the biggest questions that will probably loom throughout the spring and summer will be which players will be lost due to academic performance. Freeze has said it’s possible there could be as many as five or six casualties due to academics. Brassell’s name has been mentioned in that group along with several other contributors. It could be well into the summer before questions regarding eligibility are answered. Losing a player like Brassell or any other player would be a blow

PLAYERS TO WATCH Like always, the quarterback at any school will get most of the attention and that goes without saying. For MSU’s Russell, he will be a redshirt junior with plenty of SEC experience under his belt. How will he handle being ‘the guy’? How will the offense revolve around Russell’s ability to throw the ball? How those questions get answered will go a long way in the Bulldogs’ success in 2012. On the defensive line and with Cox now earning a living in the NFL, Boyd is expected to step into that centerpiece role. Boyd, in his right, has been a solid contributor to the defense over the past three years. He moved into the starting spot as a true freshman and has progressed each season. While Lawrence was a bit of an unknown performer last year, that wasn’t the case following the season. Lawrence was one of if not the most active defender on MSU’s roster in 2011. Now with more help around him, Lawrence should have the same type of impact as a senior. - MSM

for this depth-starved team. Ole Miss can’t afford to lose anybody. PLAYER TO WATCH Former starting quarterback Randall Mackey was moved to running back in the spring so Freeze could focus his energies on developing Wallace and Brunetti, but after watching the spring game, it’s apparent Freeze still has plans for Mackey. The fleet-footed athlete threw two touchdowns passes in the spring game from both running back and the wildcat. He also had a couple nice runs. Mackey’s knack for handling the football and his speed didn’t go unnoticed by Freeze. “We think Mackey can give our offense a boost with his explosiveness,” Freeze said. Ole Miss is thin at running back. Expect the Rebels to utilize his passing ability out of the backfield next year to keep defenses off balance and find openings in the defense, much like Mackey did in the Grove Bowl. - MSM

USM - Con’t. from pg. 25 Desmond Johnson rushed for 36 yards and two touchdowns in the spring game and Kendrick Hardy added 17 yards on the ground and a touchdown. DEFENSIVE BUZZ Defensively, senior hybrid end Jamie Collins has developed into a 2012 NFL draft pick. As a junior, Collins, a converted linebacker,


recorded 98 tackles. Southern Miss is strong at corner and safety, but thin at linebacker due to the graduation of Ronnie Thornton (111 tackles). Filling that void will be Alan Howze at linebacker. Howze, a former running back at Ocean Springs High School, collected 22 tackles last season. Upfront, Khyri Thornton, 6-3, 300, will anchor a line that lost Cordarro Law, “I think we have a chance to be one of the better defenses, if not the best, in the league,” Johnson said. “We have a lot of speed and players who can make plays. Jamie Collins has caught the attention of the (NFL) scouts and Alan has been our quarterback on that side of the ball.” “Alan is like Austin Davis was last year on the offensive side. He gets us in the right defense and makes the right calls. I really think the fact that he played running back in high school has helped him on defense.” Southern Miss’ offensive production a season ago built around the play of Davis and the leadership of Holmes. PLAYERS TO WATCH The leaders this season will be Lampley, arguably the fastest skilled player in C-USA along with Collins and defensive back Deron Wilson who recorded 75 tackles with four interceptions last season and two touchdowns. “We have to look at the best way to use (Lampley),’’ Johnson said. “I don’t know if he is touching the ball enough. We may have to work him in the backfield and out of the backfield. He has to get involved more often.’’ In the spring game, Lampley had four catches for 90 yards. Of note, Jacoris Cotton (98 tackles) and Wilson give Southern Miss a solid one-two punch in the secondary. TEAM ATTITUDE “My overall impression is we have a chance to be a really good football team,” Johnson said. “I think we have some guys who can stand out and make big plays for us on both sides of the ball. Our overall look on offense will be different, but not that much. We will run the spread and use the 4-2-5 look on defense. I have been struggling with a reference point since I have been here as to who we are. Tommy West (former Memphis coach) has been in this league for a while. He said we have a good looking bunch of kids who want to work. I don’t know if we could match up in the same arena with the SEC, but I think we could be very competitive in that league on a week in and week out basis. But we are at Southern Miss and our goal is to win the Conference USA championship. I feel good coming out of spring. Let’s see what happens.” - MSM

HADAD - Con’t. from pg. 13 tion if Mullen can get us to the next level. I think he could continue his current trend for as long as he wants to, we can always schedule four out of conference patsies and grind out a couple of SEC wins, and end up in Nashville or Birmingham in late December. Quite frankly, as a Mississippi State fan, I would be hard pressed to be upset about that, it’s better than anything I’ve ever known as a football fan.  But can Mullen push through and put Mississippi State on that next tier, leave Vanderbilt and Ole Miss behind and get on

the level of a South Carolina or Arkansas, that spot just behind the truly elite. This season will tell that tale. So Coach Mullen isn’t going anywhere new at the end of this season, but the question is, is Mississippi State going anywhere new under Coach Mullen? - MSM

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MAKIN’ IT RAIN Follow Make It Rain Sports on Twitter® @MakeItRainSport

Southern Miss facing the harsh reality of conference realignment By Make It Rain Sports Featured Columnist

L

et me preface this article to say that, Make It Rain Sports is a sports outlet that lives on the edge. We are often confrontational and not afraid to hit emotional topics within the world of sports. This is in no way intended to belittle or insult the University of Southern Mississippi sports program as we love the fine alumni and supporters of the Golden Eagles. Having said that, we look at the facts and give our opinion as we continue to, Make it Rain. Sixteen straight winning seasons, eight consecutive bowl appearances, and four league championships in the 12-year history of Conference USA. In 2007, they were selected as the conference team and coach of the decade. This is Southern Miss Football. Remarkable accomplishments, regardless of conference affiliation. But conference affiliation is something USM must evaluate, as conferences rapidly jockey for new teams and position themselves for the inevitable super conferences. Many teams will surely be left out to dry. This doesn’t mean teams in small conferences will have to stop playing competitive college sports, but it does mean opportunities for success will be increasingly limited for those not affiliated with the upper tier conferences. And yes, USM is one of those teams. For years USM played football as an independent and played other sports in the old Metro Conference. In those days (1982-95) USM played and beat teams like, Florida State, Alabama, Auburn, and others. But even then, teams started making big conference moves. Florida State to the ACC in 1991, South Carolina to the SEC in 1992 are just a few that began in the early nineties making the conference jump. Actually a study was done by Raycom Sports back in 1990 of a proposed Metro Super Conference. Keep in mind the SEC didn’t expand until 1992. That super conference would have had a north-south divi40 - MISSISSIPPI SPORTS MAGAZINE

...when teams are bringing in more money by ticket sales or TV contracts, a slippery slope begins to emerge, and USM is on the edge. sion format with the likes of Boston College, West Virginia, Florida State, Louisville, South Carolina and more. Those teams ring a bell? Yep, they all bolted for greener pastures leaving Southern Miss to join Conference USA in 1996. We all know the benefits of conference affiliation but CUSA hasn’t always been in the best position and again last year lost some big market teams, as Memphis, SMU, and others bolted for more financially stable situations. CUSA, like many smaller conferences, is looking for ways to financially compete and stay in the game with other conferences. If they do not, they will ultimately have to shutter the doors. Memphis’ leap to the Big East created quite a stir in Hattiesburg as many fans wondered how could Memphis be chosen ahead of their beloved Eagles, as USM had dominated Memphis over the years. Well it’s not always about wins and losses. It’s also about what you bring to the table financially and frankly USM fails in this area. In 2008 the Orlando Sentinel released a report that showed a ranking of total revenue by Division One programs. USM ranked 111th with just over fourteen million dollars in revenue. Memphis conversely was ranked 68th with a revenue of just over thirty-three million. Memphis has a bigger market and a bigger brand. Proceeds from ticket sales and sponsorships, and allocated revenue, such as tuition waivers, money from student fees, and direct institutional support, is where USM has failed drastically. Obviously, the athletic departments with

the highest revenue typically are from schools that fill 80,000- to 100,000-seat football stadiums on Saturdays and come from conferences that receive an automatic Bowl Championship Series bid. But, why can’t USM more closely mirror schools like MS State or Ole Miss? Hattiesburg is much larger than Starkville or Oxford and is much closer to the Gulf Coast and Jackson. Truthfully, there is no reason why USM cannot fill a thirty thousand plus football stadium. Southern Miss wants to compare itself to teams like Boise State or TCU, and yes I can see the reasons behind the comparisons on the field. But the big difference is off the field. Boise State ($21,777,002) TCU ($43,439,777) and even SMU ($33,031,503) show vastly different operating budgets than Southern Miss ($14,472,618). This doesn’t mean that USM cannot compete on a playing field with anyone on any given day, but when teams are bringing in more money by ticket sales or TV contracts, a slippery slope begins to emerge, and USM is on the edge. So where does Southern Miss go from here? You have to start with what you can control. And that is with the man in the mirror. If you’re a USM fan and you can’t (or won’t) drive an hour and a half to support your school, during a nationally televised game, you should no longer complain about the current state of your program. You can have the best facilities, coaches, and players in the nation, but if you can’t fill the seats or sell a TV package, you are not attractive to other conferences. If you were waiting for USM to get in a big conference before buying season tickets, you are going to be waiting a very long time. Today’s college sports world is a huge business and it takes more than catchy marketing phrases and hard work by coaches and players to compete. If USM is ever going to step up, as a program, it starts with the alumni, fans, and donors. Get out and support USM at the gate, donate to your school, buy into the school’s vision. Don’t let your sports teams be abandoned on the road side. If the culture among the Southern Miss faithful doesn’t change, then the only vision you will have is of yesteryear and you will have to settle for being a first rate sports program, in a second rate conference, because at the end of the day, it’s about putting bottoms in seats. And that is truly- the bottom line. - MSM


MISSISSIPPI SPORTS MAGAZINE - 41


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