February 7, 2019 2:33:25 AM
WEST POINT -- Championship programs attract champions.
Winning five national titles has helped the East Mississippi Community College football program become the preferred destination of many of the state's top players. In recruiting at 10-time state champion West Point High School, EMCC coach Buddy Stephens and his assistant coaches found a plethora of talent and interested players.
On Wednesday morning, West Point defensive back Tyler Rupert, defensive end Jaylen Cungious, wide receiver Jaquerius Crawford, quarterback Jake Chambless, linebacker Brandon Lairy, and offensive linemen Ezekiel Head and Ke'Aris Smith became the latest Green Wave players to decide to continue their careers at Scooba. In all, EMCC signed 31 players Wednesday. Although Chambless and Smith weren't officially part of that list, the Green Wave reaped the rewards of winning their third-straight Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA) Class 5A State title in December.
"They're the best," said Rupert, who is 5-foot-10, 170 pounds. "I got that offer and that was the only one I really wanted."
Rupert said he received several other offers from junior colleges in the state of Mississippi but they never received serious consideration. He said the allure of playing in a program that has had as much success as EMCC made it easy to pick Scooba.
"It is a step forward and a step up for me," Rupert said. "It is a big step for me. I have had this as a dream ever since I went to see my cousin (Justin Cox) play at EMCC. There is no pressure (going from a state champion to a national champion). I just have to step up more."
Cungious, a 6-4, 215-pound defensive end agreed with his teammate. He said the coaches already have talked to him about adding weight to help him handle the rigors of playing against some of the nation's best players.
"I think it is going to be the same (as West Point) because we're just so used to winning," Cungious said when asked if he believed he was going to feel pressure going from a state champion to a national champion. "They watched me since my 10th-grade year. This year at camp, they told me I had an offer."
Cungious said the "official" scholarship offer came during the regular season and he waited until January to make his final decision.
Defensive back Ryan Melton and linebacker Brentt Cunningham (South Alabama), linebacker Jaylon Webb (Northwest Mississippi C.C.), and linebacker Latarius Embry (Mississippi Delta C.C.) rounded out a signing class that solidified West Point High's status as one of the state's premier programs.
Melton's decision to attend was known a few months ago, while Cunningham's was finalized recently. Melton, a 6-foot, 177-pound defensive back, said he is looking forward to helping USA reverse its fortunes after going 3-9 this past season. He said he hopes to bring a championship mind-set to aid the Jaguars in their transformation.
"They shocked me," said Melton, who played in the North-South All-Star game following the Green Wave's title run. When Melton returned from the game, he said he was called into West Point coach Chris Chambless' office and was introduced to multiple members of the USA coaching staff. "My initial thought was, 'No way are they here for me.' I was under-recruited. There weren't many DI schools on me."
Melton didn't believe his strong showing in West Point's playoff run would help him attract attention from Division I schools. He said he didn't receive offers from Mississippi State or Ole Miss and that Southern Mississippi didn't follow through with an offer. Melton said the surprise of seeing USA coaches visiting him in West Point still hasn't set in.
"To know I am blessed to be able to step on campus right out of high school and have a chance to start at a Division I school is pretty awesome," Melton said.
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Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.