December 9, 2013 9:25:49 AM
Scott Walters - [email protected]
BILOXI -- Many football players work their careers for one chance to become a national champion.
Antoinne Adkins is lucky. He has had that opportunity twice.
Adkins saved his best performance for his final game as a member of the East Mississippi Community College football team.
Adkins had six receptions for 186 yards and two touchdowns Sunday as No. 2 EMCC defeated No. 1 Georgia Military Bowl 52-32 to win the Mississippi Bowl and secure the National Junior College Athletic Association national championship.
"You never dream you will be in this position," Adkins said. "So many things have to happen to be a national champion. To go out and have this kind of game just kind of makes it all surreal. I am so proud of these guys. It has been an honor to be on the field with them this year."
A former standout at Meridian High School, Adkins busted onto the scene as a freshman at EMCC in 2011. Adkins caught 21 passes for 315 yards, rushed 14 times for 81 yards, and scored nine touchdowns.
In 2011, EMCC won all 12 games it played and captured the school's first national championship by beating Arizona Western College 55-47 in the El Toro Bowl in Yuma, Ariz.
Poised to be Quez Johnson's leading receiver in 2012, those plans were put on hold when Adkins tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee during summer drills.
"It was a big loss for our team, but the main concern is the welfare of the young man," EMCC sixth-year coach Buddy Stephens said. "You always have that fear that his playing career is over. Antoinne put in so many extra hours to make sure he came back even stronger."
Adkins admits watching the 2012 season was one of the most difficult things he had to do as a football player.
"It was so hard because you knew you should be out there making plays to help the team win," said Adkins, the only player on EMCC's national championship rosters in 2011 and 2013, "especially at the end of the year (2012), when we lost those final two games. It really hurt a lot. When you have this kind of injury, it's mental in a lot of ways. You know how much sacrifice you have to make to play this game. Sometimes your heart has to tell your mind you want to keep going."
Adkins used the training regimen of NFL star Adrian Peterson as the blueprint to come back stronger.
"This season has been everything I could have hoped for and more," Adkins said. "You have those doubts the first couple of games. Then you score a touchdown or two and it gets easier. All of a sudden you feel like you are back as part of the family. It is very rewarding."
Adkins led the team with 53 catches for 807 yards and eight touchdowns. He had three 100-yard receiving games.
On Sunday, Adkins and quarterback Dontreal Pruitt hooked up on a couple of dandy pass plays, including a 28-yarder on a fourth-and-7 play late in the second quarter. That score gave EMCC a 24-16 lead.
"I had a chance to catch passes from three quarterbacks here (Bo Wallace in 2011, Quez Johnson in camp in 2012, and Pruitt in 2013)," Adkins said. "You can call me the grandfather, I guess. Somehow or another it has all worked out for everybody."
Pruitt threw to 14 receivers in the national championship run. However, his confidence level was always high when the ball was in the air to Adkins.
"I just had to get it close," Pruitt said. "He has some incredible hands. Sometimes when there might or might not be a play, I knew I could get it there and he would do the rest."
On a day EMCC dropped five passes and committed 17 penalties, the Pruitt-to-Adkins combination was reassuring. With the duo moving the chains through the air and Lakenderic Thomas moving the chains on the ground, the Lions had too much for the nation's No. 1 team.
"We felt slightly disrespected coming into the game," said Adkins, who was named the EMCC offensive MVP for the game. "But that is OK because we knew it would work out in the end. All of the respect to Georgia Military for having a great team. However, they didn't have the weapons we had."
Adkins and Thomas held the national championship trophy as the team prepared to pose for pictures. Adkins knew what to do during the celebration. After all, he had been there before.
Follow Scott Walters on Twitter @dispatchscott.
Scott is sports copy editor and reporter