February 7, 2013 11:28:54 AM
Columbus High School football coach Tony Stanford sees the growth in his program.
This past season, the Falcons advanced to the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 6A North State playoffs out of one of the state toughest districts.
On Wednesday, Columbus showcased another sign of that maturation as athlete Quan Latham and wide receiver Dalon Moore signed scholarships to play football at East Mississippi Community College in Scooba and Itawamba C.C. in Fulton.
Senior offensive lineman Jake Thomas, who had given a verbal commitment to play football at Mississippi State University, signed his National Letter of Intent to go to MSU after playing in the fourth annual International Bowl on Tuesday in Austin, Texas.
Latham and Moore signed their National Letters of Intent on Wednesday morning in a signing ceremony in the school gym.
"I am proud of both of them. They did a tremendous job for our program," Stanford said. "They went through the building stage of where our program is right now. We feel we are getting in the upper level of 6A. We're playing a good brand of football, so we can always look back and say the last two or three classes are the ones that helped get us there."
Latham has battled injuries for the past two seasons. He fractured a vertebrae last season that caused him to miss significant time. This past season, he suffered a thumb injury that limited his time. Stanford said the "freak" injury in 2011 served as motivation for Latham because he came back stronger and determined to make an impact as a senior. Latham did just that, taking a move to running back and playing both ways. Stanford said Latham's play was a key reason Columbus nearly defeated South Panola in Batesville. Stanford credited Jason Miller of Rehab at Work for helping Latham and the rest of the Falcons recover from injuries and stay healthy.
"I think a lot of people saw what kind of running back he could have been if we had him all year," Stanford said. "He went to Grenada and probably had the best game we've had from a running back in a while. He controlled the game. He put the team on his back and carried us to victory. He showed out at South Panola when he broke his thumb. That is the only reason we ended up getting beat by only seven points. You know how good South Panola (the Class 6A champion). He looked like a man against boys against them."
Latham, who also is a standout on the school's track and field team, would have loved to have had an injury-free season, but he believes he still proved a point.
"I proved hurt or not you can still go out there and do your best and play to the best of your ability," said Latham, who said he has a chance to earn playing time at cornerback and safety.
Stanford said Moore made his impression early in the season, especially in a victory against Tupelo. He said ICC coach saw Moore play against Tupelo and stayed on him even though Moore suffered a high ankle sprain and missed the last three or four games.
"While he was injured, he was on the practice field every day encouraging his teammates and helping them any way he could," Stanford said. "Every Friday he tried to play but couldn't. He has a lot of courage, and he is going to be a good player for ICC."
Moore had six catches for 77 yards, including a 18-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Trace Lee in Columbus' 14-0 victory against Tupelo on Sept. 21. He said ICC coaches contacted him shortly after that game and remained in touch. He said he and the coaches built a bond and a relationship. He was sold after he took a visit to the Fulton campus.
"It was always a dream growing up to do this. But to actually be here means a lot to me," Moore said.
Moore said the ICC coaches told him he has the opportunity to earn playing time at tight end or at wide receiver.
"It doesn't matter to me (where I play)," Moore said. "I am just here to make plays."
Thomas was selected to play on the 2013 U.S. Under-19 National Team, assembled by USA Football. The U.S. U-19 team competed in the annual event that involves nations in the International Federation of American Football (IFAF). The IFAF World Team includes players 19 years old and younger from outside the United States. IFAF is made up of 64 countries from six continents.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.