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January 10, 2006

Mississippi schools reversing a trend?

One of the keys to success when building a program in Mississippi is keeping a good portion of the in-state talent at home to play football.

Under Ed Orgeron and Sylvester Croom, Ole Miss and Mississippi State have started to do a better job with regards to keeping Mississippi talent flowing to Mississippi schools.

Last year, the Bulldogs signed three of the state's top five prospects, including defensive back Derek Pegues and linemen Calvin Wilson and Louis Ellis. The Rebels were able to convince five-star defensive tackle Jerrell Powe, the state's top prospect, that Auburn and LSU weren't better choices than Ole Miss.

Offensive lineman Josh McNeil, who went to perennial out-of-state talent raider Tennessee, was the only top five prospect to sign with a non-Mississippi school.

This season, LSU has come into the Magnolia State and nabbed Rivals100 prospects Marcus Tillman and Derrick Odom and Alabama has gotten Mike McCoy and Justin Woodall.

Losing those four four-star players is a trend that the Dogs and Rebs have to reverse.

Despite the losses (there have been whispers that Tillman isn't a 100 percent done deal), both SEC in-state schools have won their share of battles this season, too, particularly at talent-rich Olive Brach High.

Rivals100 athlete Allen Walker had scholarship offers from schools throughout the Southeast. Florida, Alabama and LSU, three schools with a load of recruiting momentum, all wanted the 6-foot-2, 205-pounder. But the top prospect at Olive Branch decided to stay at home and play for the Rebels, committing to Orgeron and staff on Jan. 4.

If Ole Miss can hold on to Walker (he will visit Florida the weekend of Jan. 20), then it will mark the second straight year that the top prospect in Mississippi chose the Rebels.

Walker's teammate, three-star wide receiver Markeith Summers also committed to the Rebels that day.

Ole Miss also is in good shape with Meridian (Miss.) running back Cordera Eason. The 6-foot, 240-pounder, who could also play fullback, is down the Rebels, Auburn and Alabama. It's hard to see him going out-of-state and this point.

On the same day his brother and teammate decided to commit to Ole Miss, Olive Branch quarterback/athlete Anthony Summers committed to Mississippi State. Anthony is a talented athlete that can play a number of positions at the next level and is the type of player the Bulldogs need to improve get back to winning in the SEC West.

Like Ole Miss, State also is in good shape for one of the state's top running backs. Four-star Rivals250 selection Anthony Dixon is down to the Dogs and Alabama and has had Mississippi State near the top of his list throughout the process.

Looking ahead to the class of 2007, stud linebacker Chris Strong of Batesville (Miss.) South Panola has given hints that he may commit to Ole Miss early. Strong, who potentially could be one of the top linebackers in the South, is the brother of former Rebels linebacker Eddie Strong.

The Bulldogs also have a family connection should they land Dixon. Antwon Dixon is Anthony's brother and is on several national watch lists for next season's class.

The third Division I-A program (and the most successful on the field during the past decade) in the Magnolia State, Southern Mississippi, also has done a solid job harvesting in-state talent. It wouldn't be surprising at all to see the Golden Eagles pull a big surprise or two when all is said and done.

Indeed keeping the in-state talent at home is key for the schools in Mississippi. It's a good way for the SEC programs to compete for championships (ask Alabama and Auburn) and a good way for a school like Southern Miss to continue to win in Conference USA and put players in the NFL.

It appears, at least for now, that all are trending toward doing it.



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