June 5, 2009
The Southern Mississippi football program already has made an impression on Rickey Knox.
Wednesday afternoon was an opportunity for Knox and more than 70 other football players from the region to get to know the Golden Eagles'' coaches and program even better.
Coach Larry Fedora and members of his coaching staff worked out players from Lowndes County, Mississippi, Alabama, and Tennessee for more than two hours Wednesday at Columbus High School.
Knox, a rising senior lineman at Columbus High, already has attracted interest from Southern Miss, and Wednesday was an ideal time for him to build on that relationship.
"It was a new experience and it was hard. It really tested me physically," Knox said. "It showed me there is a lot of competition everywhere and you have to be the best you can be and you have to train hard."
Knox and the other participants went through a host of stretching and agility drills and then spent more than an hour working on skills at position-specific stations. He said the drills and training tested his speed, endurance, balance, and footwork and that he thought he did better than he thought he would have.
More importantly, Knox said the experience has him thinking more about Southern Miss.
"It makes you want to come to Southern Miss and to think about Southern Miss before Mississippi State or Alabama because they have already looked at you and you have been at one of their camps already," Knox said. "It strengthened my impression of Southern Miss a lot. I am looking for the bond the coaches have with the players and the way they talk to them and show them different techniques."
Fedora, who is entering his second season, closed the afternoon with a huddle and a chant of "Southern Miss to the top." He told players that NCAA regulations prohibit the coaches from calling recruits, but he told them they can call the coaches, and encouraged them to do so as many times as they want to build relationships or to ask questions about the program.
"I think it is very crucial to our success," said Fedora, whose team went 7-6 and beat Troy in the New Orleans Bowl last December. "It is another opportunity to get Southern Miss out in front of some kids. The areas we are at are maybe areas that they can''t get to Hattiesburg as conveniently, so we are bringing the camps to them."
Southern Miss started the football camps in Hattiesburg and has traveled to Madison Central, Cleveland (at Delta State), and Olive Branch. Fedora said he and the coaches plan to go to Picayune and to finish with a final camp in Hattiesburg.
Fedora said Southern Miss is the only school in the state that is traveling across the state and brining camps to players. He said it is a "win-win situation" because he and his coaches get to see hundreds of players. He said the program held camps across the state last year and it will continue to hold them.
"Quite a few of the guys we signed last year came out of these camps," Fedora said. "I would say 75 to 80 percent of that signing class (participated in camps)."
Columbus High School coach Bubba Davis said nearly 10 players from all classes participated in the drills. He said it the event provided an ideal opportunity for all players to compete against some of the state''s top talent and to get a taste of what they will need to do to play at the next level.
Davis, who has been coaching football for 40 years, said colleges didn''t use to travel across the state to market themselves and to identify talent. These days, though, he said schools and coaches have to do things differently when it comes to recruiting.
"Southern year in and year out has done a great job recruiting," Davis said. "I don''t know of anybody else who does this. I know some of our kids have been invited for a thing like this at (the University of) Alabama. There is a kid or two that State, when they have a one-day thing, invites to come over.
"I think it is great. I don''t know how many days they travel on that bus, but it is great for them because they are together and out meeting coaches. They are selling the program. It is a great way to sell your program."
New Hope High School coach Michael Bradley agreed Southern Miss is making an impression on players by bringing their drills and teaching methods to schools across the state. He believes it will help them when it comes to recruiting the top talent in the state.
"I feel this is something that all of the colleges will be doing in a few years," Bradley said. "Coach Fedora is a little bit ahead of the curve on this, and bringing the camp to the kids allows a lot of kids that might get missed otherwise an opportunity to come and to get visibility with the college coaches."
Bradley said former New High football players Josh Ferguson, who will attend East Mississippi Community College, and Jonathan Guerry, who will play football at Southern Miss in the fall, attended similar events last year to help build name recognition and to start a dialogue with coaches. He said players benefit whenever they have a chance to be seen by coaches.
"The coaches always want to get the kids they''re looking at into their camps,": Bradley said. "Character and personal relationships are big. Those are things that they can ask coaches, but until they actually experience it for themselves, they don''t know for sure. Going to camps like this gives them a chance to build personal relationships."
New Hope High''s Terrence Dentry was one of a handful of Trojans who participated in the afternoon of drills and training. The rising junior running back enjoyed the experience and took some valuable pointers from Fedora at a position-specific workout station.
The coaches had running backs high-step over pads on the ground and cut past another individual at the end of the line.
Dentry, like many of the other participants, had his arm carrying the ball come away from his body too much, which prompted Fedora to stress that running backs need to tuck the ball in tight and that it is imperative for them to protect the ball.
Dentry said the station work and the afternoon made an impression on him.
"If you keep (the football) tight, the linebackers can''t strip or punch the ball out," Dentry said. "It felt better. Now that I have it tucked in tighter I can hold on to the ball better."
New Hope High rising senior Seth Stillman also participated but appeared to tweak his right hamstring midway through the afternoon and was forced to sit out the rest of the activities.