June 10, 2010 9:27:00 AM
STARKVILLE -- Anthony Alford has heard the talk.
The rising junior at Petal High School is a standout quarterback who is considered a college prospect. But Alford is attracting even more attention for his exploits on the diamond.
Speculation already has started as to how high the 6-foot-1, 205-pound shortstop/outfielder will be taken in the early rounds of the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.
And while this year''s draft wound down Wednesday, Alford and his Team Mississippi teammates are just beginning what could be a journey to make a bigger splash at the national level.
Alford and the rest of Team Mississippi practiced Wednesday at Mississippi State in preparation for the 14th annual Junior Sunbelt Classic in Oklahoma. The event, which former New Hope High School baseball coach Stacy Hester helped organize, begins Friday at three locations in the McAlester, Okla., area. Teams from Canada, Indiana, Texas, Missouri, Arizona, Georgia, Colorado, and two from Oklahoma also will compete.
Alford is excited about the opportunity to showcase his talents against some of the nation''s top players. He said he is even more eager to continue his maturation as a baseball player. After all, he said it wasn''t too long ago that the teenager wasn''t as skilled a baseball player as he is today.
"I couldn''t hit worth a crap," said Alford, who started playing baseball when he was 6. "I used to suck at baseball. I used to get up at 6 or 7 o''clock in the morning with my older brother (Bernard Williams) and we worked at it for years."
Alford, who is one of three rising juniors on the team, feels baseball is his better sport. He said it is difficult for his to pass up the allure of "Friday Night Lights," and that he anticipates playing both sports for the rest of his high school career.
Where he will go after that remains to be seen, but Alford hopes this trip to Oklahoma will show him what he needs to work on to get even better.
"I just want to have fun," Alford said. "It is going to show me for one, I am not the best person in the country and that I have places to improve."
Hamilton High rising senior Chase Reeves is the only local player who will make the trip. Last season, New Hope High''s Philip Tice competed in the event.
Reeves said he has heard stories about the level of play and the "dry heat" he and his teammates will face in Oklahoma. He said he is looking forward to the opportunity to work on his running speed and to fine tune the rest of his game.
"I think it is going to be great," said Reeves, who has given a verbal commitment to play baseball at the University of Mississippi. "It is a chance to make some new friends and go out and play against who you''re going to be laying against the next four years."
Hester said the Junior Sunbelt Classic will test the abilities of Alford, Reeves, and the rest of the players. He said Team Mississippi has fared well in the event (two second-place finishes and one third-place finish), and that this year''s team should fare well.
"We really have some great kids from good programs," Hester said. "I really feel good about our team."
Wednesday''s practice gave the coaches a chance to meet everyone and to begin to formulate a game plan on how they will use some of the state''s most talented players in the 10-game slate.
Columbus High baseball coach Jeffrey Cook, former Caledonia High baseball coach John Wilson, and Perry Central baseball coach Mark Davis also will serve as coaches.
Houston High''s Jacob Schumpert and Madison Central''s Zach Irwin are the other rising juniors on the team.
The rest of the roster includes: Luke Lowery, Connor Barron, and Austin Knight (Sumrall), Cody Brewer (Perry Central), Caleb McKee (Neshoba Central), Cody Shrewsbury (Tupelo), Nick Johnson (Ridgeland), Caleb Dugas and Cody Livingston (Northwest Rankin), Patrick Barnes and Akiko Thompson (Clinton), Scott Votaw (Lawrence County), Josh Laxer (Madison Central), Brandon Smith (Petal), Keith Shumaker (Jackson Academy), and Brandon Woodruff (Wheeler).
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.