February 7, 2013 11:35:05 AM
Scott Walters - firstname.lastname@example.org
STARKVILLE -- Starkville High School quarterback Gabe Myles was part of a recruiting battle like many other talented seniors.
However, Myles' recruitment didn't end with any drama Wednesday morning, as he signed a National Letter of Intent to play Division I football at Mississippi State University.
Myles' father, Eddie, was a four-year letterwinner at MSU from 1987 to 1990, so most assumed Gabe would follow in his father's footsteps and stay close to home.
"There were some other offers," Myles said. "Really, my father was great about the whole thing. This was not something I had to do. This was something I wanted to do. All along, this was the right choice and everybody knew it."
Myles threw for 1,153 yards and 12 touchdowns and helped lead Starkville to the Mississippi High School Activities Association's Class 5A state championship. Myles was one of 10 Yellow Jackets to sign college football scholarship offers.
"This will go down as one of the all-time special classes in this school's history," Starkville coach Jamie Mitchell said. "When these players came into the program, things were down. It was not cool to be playing football around here. Their hard work and determination is what made playing football around here the cool and popular thing to do again."
Other signees included: Raphael McClain and Kentrell Spencer (Northwest Mississippi Community College), Jimmy Saulsberry (East Central C.C.), Josh Rice (Mississippi Valley State University), Johnny Smith (Northeast Mississippi C.C.), Jacoby Smith (Alcorn State University), and Preston Baker, Stanley Higgins, and Jawon Johnson (East Mississippi C.C.).
For McClain and Spencer, the opportunity to play together at NWCC took a lot of planning.
"When I took my visit and met everybody, I knew that is where I wanted to go," said Spencer, who had a team-best 24 receptions for 482 yards and six touchdowns. "But I sure couldn't go alone, so I talked to the coaches about recruiting Ralph. They looked at his tapes and brought him in for a visit. I am very happy that that all worked out. It was a relief."
Said McClain, "I am real excited about a chance to play junior college football. This is a great opportunity. It will be fun playing against all of my other friends at the other schools."
Baker, Higgins, and Johnson are looking forward to a chance to build on EMCC's legacy. The Lions have won 20 games in the past two seasons, including the 2011 national championship.
"It is a real good fit for me personally," Baker said. "They run such an exciting, up-tempo offense. It is an Oregon-type offense. There are a lot of plays to be made. I am looking forward to the opportunity to get over there and be a part of that. They like to move the football and score points. It is exciting."
Baker had 11 receptions for 197 yards and four touchdowns this past season. His signature touchdown was the eventual game-winning catch in overtime of the North State championship game against West Point.
Higgins is excited about playing in Scooba.
"It's been a blessing, but it's been stressful going through and trying to pick the right school," said Higgins, who also had four receiving touchdowns. "It's an honor to get to sign on National Signing Day. EMCC wins football games like Starkville High School does, so I want to go down to where there's a winning tradition and get more rings."
Johnson also looks forward to the challenge of playing at one of the state's top junior college programs.
"Most people think, it's all about fun and games but it's not," said Johnson, an offensive/defensive lineman for the Jackets. "There's nothing there. It's all about work and football until you get a chance to get out of there and to play on the next level."
Rice found his natural fit at MVSU, where he will follow his uncle, Jerry Rice, the Pro Football Hall of Famer who starred with the Delta Devils before becoming a household name in the NFL.
"I am really looking forward to playing on the next level," Rice said. "It's a big challenge. I want to go and make my own name for myself and be a part of a something special. I am looking forward to the chance to get started."
Teammate Jacoby Smith also will play in the Southwestern Athletic Conference at Alcorn State.
"They play good football in the SWAC," Jacoby Smith said. "I liked the atmosphere and I liked the fact that the football team was together as a family in everything they did. I thought this was a good fit."
In Decatur, Saulsberry will get an opportunity to play after missing his senior season at receiver with an anterior cruciate ligament injury.
"I feel blessed to have this opportunity," Saulsberry said. "I am back and healthy and ready to play. I am grateful that I have been given this opportunity to play college football."
Johnny Smith also looks forward to the junior college football playing experience.
"Northeast was in need of a safety, so I thought this was a good chance for me," Johnny Smith said. "It is a great opportunity when they present you a chance to step in and play your position right away."
Back at MSU, Myles most likely will move to a new position. Whatever challenge lays ahead, the 6-foot-1, 185-pounder is ready.
"I am open to whatever the coaches want for me," Myles said. "I have always approached it like no position is set in stone. You just have to go out, work hard and show what you are capable of doing. You have to be ready to take advantage of any opportunity that presents itself."
Starkville took advantage of its second opportunity to win a state championship. The Yellow Jackets were denied in the 2011 state championship game. A year later, a talented group of Yellow Jackets signed scholarships with the state championship trophy in the middle of the proceedings.
"These are some really special young men," Mitchell said. "Their parents should be proud. They came in with a dream and made it a reality."
Scott is sports copy editor and reporter