October 17, 2012 3:25:29 AM
Scott Walters - [email protected]
SCOOBA -- Of all the football stadiums Nick Brassell thought he would one day play in, Sullivan-Windham Field was not on the list.
However, Brassell will be right there in uniform Thursday night when third-ranked East Mississippi Community College plays host to fifth-ranked Northwest Mississippi Community College.
The head-to-head battle for the North Division championship is slated for a 7 p.m. start in Scooba.
After causing waves in his freshman season as a two-way player at the University of Mississippi, a promising career took a turn in May when Brassell was declared academically ineligible for not passing the minimum number of credit hours needed to remain eligible.
Thus, Brassell had to find a new home for his football talents. EMCC was the program fortunate enough to get the call and more importantly willing to take the risk of helping the oft-troubled star.
"He has been a model citizen for us," EMCC fifth-year coach Buddy Stephens said. "He has gone to class and set an example. He has been everything we could have wanted."
Brassell has appeared in all seven games for EMCC (7-0 overall, 4-0 North Division), while making 26 catches for 349 yards, with four touchdowns.
The former South Panola High School star was once considered the biggest signee in the Ole Miss signing class. Now, he is thankful for a second chance.
"I have learned a lot this past year," Brassell said. "I learned to get my priorities straight. I just knew I had to come here and do what I had to do to get where I want to go.
"Being down here has helped me grow a lot as a football player and as a person."
While Stephens is pleased with Brassell's effort level, there is still that nature that is uniquely his. Rarely is Brassell separated from his portable music device. He has been seen many times dancing on the bench area.
"Sometimes, I think he really gets bored with the game," Stephens said. "He has all the God-gifted ability imaginable. He can be the best player on the field when he puts his heart and soul into it.
"I sometimes think he gets bored when it is a 42-0 game. I think the bigger our games get, the better he will play."
Perhaps the switch will be thrown Thursday night.
EMCC will risk its 19-game win streak against a fellow unbeaten. Northwest (6-0, 5-0) gave EMCC its biggest scare during last season's national championship run, before backing down in a 45-42 defeat in Senatobia.
"The thing about our team is its focus level," Brassell said. "Every week, teams give us their best shot, because this team won the championship last year.
"We just have to stay focused and take it one game at a time all the way to another championship."
EMCC's offense has remained a work in progress most of the season. While workhorse running back Rodriguez Moore returned, quarterback Quez Johnson is a first-year starter and four of the team's top five receivers are also new.
"The main thing about the offense is how everybody has bonded together real well," Brassell said. "One player feeds off another. That is what I like about being here. The team chemistry is good.
"We did not have that at Ole Miss."
While Brassell has seen a different set of opponents this season, he has been impressed by what he has seen from Mississippi junior college football, considered by many to be the nation's best.
"In my opinion, Mississippi football is the best," Brassell said. "They are a lot of great athletes. They are all hungry to get to the next level. I understand it. I know what it takes to get there.
"I have enjoyed this season because I played against a bunch of guys I played against in high school."
After Brassell's time came to an abrupt end in Oxford, he reached out to EMCC associate head coach William Jones to see if there was a chance to he could relocate to Scooba.
EMCC had made the initial offer to Brassell long before he settled in on the Division I radar.
"I always kept a strong relationship with Coach Jones," Brassell said. "He opened my eyes and my family's eyes to what type of opportunity I could have here. I trusted him. I told him I would come down here and try to help them out for a season."
Brassell has worked exceedingly hard to keep his academics in order. He plans this initial run through the MACJC North Division to simply be a pit stop to bigger and better things, including a return to the bright lights of big-time Division I football.
"In the end, football is still football," Brassell said. "In a lot of ways this is just like being at Ole Miss. You still have to prepare each week and you have to sacrifice for the good of the team.
"This is a lot more similar than most people think. I am really surrounded by some outstanding playmakers here. In some ways, this may be a better situation."
Scott is sports copy editor and reporter