February 7, 2013 11:37:47 AM
East Mississippi Community College football coach Buddy Stephens predicted last August as many as 20 EMCC football players would be play senior college ball the following year.
Stephens hit that magic number Wednesday morning when eight more outgoing Lions signed senior college scholarship offers. Twenty-one players have signed off EMCC's 2012 North Division championship squad.
"We take great pride in making sure our players have the opportunity to play on the next level," Stephens said. "We tried to provide that one extra thing they need to get over the hump and make sure they are ready to play and contribute as a senior college. Anytime, you have a player given the opportunity to play on the next level you feel blessed."
The most notable signing was wide receiver Cory Smith's decision to go to Ohio State University. An Ohio native, Smith had committed to Mississippi State University. A last-minute scholarship offer from Ohio State changed those plans.
"This is an incredible opportunity," Smith said. "When you first start playing football, you are working toward this opportunity. I am thankful for my teammates and coaches who helped make this opportunity possible."
Smith led EMCC with 51 receptions for 733 yards and nine touchdowns this past season. After playing his freshman season at Grand Rapids C.C. in Michigan, Smith transferred to EMCC after Grand Rapids dropped its football program.
EMCC defensive lineman Jarran Reed signed with the University of Florida, while wide receiver/defensive back Martay Mattox signed with the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, where he will be part of that school's first football team.
Former Noxubee County High School linebacker Corey Williams signed with Alcorn State University. Williams had 39 total tackles, including three sacks, last season. He will be reunited with EMCC wide receiver Billy Shed, who signed in December with the Braves.
Honorable Mention All-American Shaquille Fluker honored his early commitment and signed with the University of Georgia. Six EMCC players will play in the Southeastern Conference this fall. Jason Yarbor, a Meridian native like Fluker, signed with Northwestern State University, where he is expected to play football and baseball.
EMCC offensive lineman Earnest Lang, of New Hope High, signed with Texas Southern University, while Rodney Davis signed with Jacksonville State University. Davis had 49 catches for 1,007 yards and 11 touchdowns in the Lions' national championship run in 2011.
n West Oktibbeha players sign: At Maben, A celebrated a pair of Timberwolves signed to play on the next level Wednesday.
Running back Tiberias Lampkin signed with Coahoma C.C., while quarterback Von Smith signed with East Mississippi C.C.
"A lot of people from small schools get overlooked," Lampkin said. "To be able to have a scholarship to play football means the world to me. It shows you can play at a small school and have success."
Lampkin ran for 1,982 yards and 32 touchdowns this past season.
"Junior college football in this state is the best," Lampkin said. "This will be another chance to showcase my skills and work hard to be the best player that I can become. My time at West Oktibbeha was special. We had a lot of great times here."
Smith was the ring-leader of the high-octane offense. He threw for 1,490 yards and 21 touchdowns this past season.
"The senior class is special to me," West Oktibbeha coach Adam Lowrey said. "They came to school and worked hard every day, in practice, in the weight room, in films. There was a determination because they wanted to build a legacy out here."
West Oktibbeha won a school-record eight games and finished 8-3 after being declared ineligible for the Mississippi High School Activities Association playoffs.
n Aliceville's Sterling moves on: At Aliceville, Ala., Senior defensive end Gerald Sterling signed with Washington State University on Wednesday. Sterling chose coach Mike Leach's squad over the University of Southern Mississippi and Arkansas State University.
Sterling visited Washington State in October and committed to the Cougars shortly thereafter.
"It's a very great day for me and my family," Sterling told The Tuscaloosa News. "I'll be in a different location. I've got to man up and do what I've got to do and take on my dream. There was a lot of sweat, bruises, tears sometimes, but all of it paid off. It got me to this day right here."
The 6-foot-3, 260-pound Sterling played defensive lineman, tight end, and fullback for the Yellow Jackets. Sterling had 85 tackles, 17 sacks, five caused fumbles, and five touchdowns last season.
Scott is sports copy editor and reporter