April 18, 2013 9:40:38 AM
A month ago, if you had asked Jermaine Thomas, Ronnie Porter, or Antonio Wilson the location of Bacone College, they would have stared at you and scratched their heads.
But academics and athletics have a way of expanding geographical boundaries.
That's why today Thomas, Porter, and Wilson are able to answer that question at the snap of the finger.
"I had never heard of Bacone College, but when I heard they were interested I was very happy," Thomas said.
On Tuesday, Thomas and Porter, who are seniors at West Lowndes High School, and Wilson, a former multi-sport standout at the school, celebrated their opportunities to continue their football careers at the NAIA school in Muskogee, Okla.
Thomas said he was surprised to discover a four-year school from Oklahoma was interested in him. He said he was leaning toward attending Millsaps College before the opportunity to go to Bacone College became real.
"Being a small school, we need more exposure than a lot of other folks," Thomas said. "That combine was exactly what we needed."
Wilson, a 5-foot-7, 160-pounder, went to Holmes Community College after graduating from West Lowndes. A standout running back for the Panthers, Wilson was moved to the secondary and always wanted a chance to continue to play running back. He left Holmes C.C. and transferred to Hinds C.C., where he is still a student. West Lowndes High football coach Anthony King said a chance to running back didn't materialize for Wilson at Hinds C.C., so he sought another school that would give him an opportunity. His performance at a scouting combine last month at Columbus High organized by Erise Wilson and I Can Play (ICP) Scouting helped Wilson and his former West Lowndes High teammates attract attention.
"My coach told me about the combine and I came home and went to it," Antonio Wilson said. "I did a lot of training to get ready for it."
Wilson, who was a member of the school's football, boys basketball, and track and field teams, participated in the 40-yard dash, foot drills, and one-on-one testing to gauge his skills. He said he wasn't nervous even though it presented an opportunity to open another door for him.
"Football just comes naturally to me," Wilson said. "I just go out and play."
Erise Wilson's ties to college also enabled him to give the coaches at Bacone College positive feedback about all three players.
Wilson, who also is an Amateur Athletic Union basketball coach in the Golden Triangle, said the coaches at Bacone College trusted his evaluation and the recommendation of others who work with ICP Scouting.
Wilson expanded ICP Scouting, which was founded in Dallas, to the state of Mississippi in 2006. He said his goal and the goal of the non-profit organization's founder, Michael Price, is to help players from small schools, like West Lowndes, or others who don't attract a lot of attention from college coaches get noticed and secure chances to continue their athletic careers.
Wilson said the signing of Thomas, Porter, and Wilson gives him the first three players from this area to earn college scholarships. He credited Columbus High football coach Tony Stanford and his coaching staff for working with him to help make the scouting combine happen at his school. He said the combine attracted 30 players, including nine seniors. He hopes another player from the West Lowndes High football team will sign in the coming weeks.
"Talent wise, they had everything an athlete needs," Wilson said of the three players. "They are very coachable. They just needed a chance to go somewhere. Sometimes smaller schools get overlooked, but that doesn't mean they don't have the talent, and they have unbelievable talent here."
Bacone College is two hours east of Oklahoma City. It is the oldest continuously operated institution of higher education in the state of Oklahoma. Wilson said the opportunity for all of the players to go to a four-year school and to have it paid for beats the chance they could have had to go to a two-year school and then have to go through the recruiting all over again.
Like Thomas, Porter had never heard of Bacone College until his coaches told him about it. He said he was very nervous prior to the scouting combine because he knew he could realize a goal and get a scholarship.
"I think I made a very good impression (at the combine)," Porter said. "I was surprised by this opportunity, but I had an academic scholarship to Stillman College before this opportunity came about."
He said the chance to continue to play football on a scholarship was a plus he couldn't pass up.
King welcomes the assistance in getting his players noticed. Playing in Class 1A, King knows his program typically doesn't attract a lot of attention from college coaches. To have three players from his program get a chance to play at the next level is a bonus he hopes trickles down to the younger players on the team. Most importantly, he wants current and future Panthers to understand that they can do anything if they take care of business in the classroom and have good grades and solid scores on standardized tests.
"I am glad for Jermaine and Ronnie because they are good students," King said. "They had a chance to go anywhere in the country (because of their grades). We had some more schools in the state of Mississippi, but schools like Millsaps and Mississippi College don't give away athletic scholarships, so when the scouting camp came up through Marcus Price and Erise Wilson, the guys went over there and did good. It is a blessing for those guys to get a chance to go on and play at the next level."
The contents of this article have been modified since its original posting.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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