Starkville High School football players Preston Baker, Stanley Higgins, Jawon Johnson, Raphael McClain, Gabe Myles, Josh Rice, Jimmy Saulsberry, Jacoby Smith, Johnny Smith, Kentrell Spencer surround head coach Jamie Mitchell on Wednesday after signing scholarships with various teams. (Photo by Alicia Brianna Carter, For Starkville Daily News)
Mississippi Valley State University can get ready for another Rice on the football field.
At the school where Jerry Rice began to make a name for himself, his nephew looks to do the same thing with the Delta Devils.
Josh Rice, who happens to be a wide receiver, was a one of 10 Starkville Yellowjackets to sign their names to scholarships to continue their football careers Wednesday morning.
"I guess I'm going to try to do halfway what he did," Josh said about his famous uncle. "I'm just glad to get a chance to play and get a scholarship."
Along with Rice, the other Jackets signing national letters of intent were Gabe Myles with Mississippi State, Jacoby Smith with Alcorn State, Preston Baker, Stanley Higgins and Juwon Johnson with East Mississippi Community College, Jimmy Saulsberry with East Central Community College, Johnny Smith with Northeast Mississippi Community College, and Kentrell Spencer and Raphael McClain with Northwest Mississippi Community College.
"This is one of the proudest days for me," SHS football coach Jamie Mitchell told the family and friends present at the signing. "To have 10 players move on to the next level is exciting, but the best news is they get to continue their education."
After winning the Class 5A State championship last season, the Jackets were able to make up for falling one game short of that goal in 2011.
The players had the State championship trophy close by and sitting on the table, while they signed their scholarships.
"We always put a lot of time in during the offseason," Rice said. "When we lost the State championship (in 2011), we came back this season to make it better and we got State. You've always got to work hard at what you want. If you don't work hard, you won't reach your goal. I always put in time with hard work and effort."
Myles also acknowledged that without hard work, there's no reward at the end and it has prepared him to be a Bulldog. He is also happy about his teammates being able to go play at different places.
"It's the largest (SHS group) we've had (to sign) the past couple of years," Myles said. "It's a good thing to know that we work hard. It pays off when you work hard. It's going to be crazy because I'm going to miss them and we're going our separate ways, but at the same time, we are all getting a higher education and being able to play football.
"I'm happy to be a Bulldog and it's been a dream to wear the Maroon and White. Hard work gets you where you want to be. I'm only going to work harder when I get there."
The other Division I signee for the Jackets was Jacoby Smith, who really came on during his senior season.
He was comfortable with his choice in schools after taking a visit to Lorman.
"They made me feel like I was at home," Jacoby Smith said. "All of the football players gather and hung out. I felt like it was for me."
When Spencer took his visit to Northwest, he was impressed with the huge campus in Senatobia.
Spencer knew the transition would be easier if he had a teammate to share the experience, so he talked to McClain about joining him.
"I knew it was going to be hard and I was going to be lost, so I decided to ask Raph what he thought about it," Spencer said. "The coach came to the school and saw Raph on film. They met Raph, set him up with a visit and turns out he likes it, so I've got a partner."
With Northwest only having one cornerback returning, McClain saw it as an opportunity to possibly play right away.
Plus, he gets to go against Spencer more in practice. Spencer is a receiver.
"We are close and had been playing football together since we were in pee wee," McClain said. "We did it all (at SHS) and went against each other in practice every day.
"I thought it would be good to go (to Northwest). I feel blessed to play junior college football. I get to express my talents and show what I can do so I can help my team out to the best of my ability."
Higgins had two schools on his list right up until signing day. After considering both EMCC and Pearl River Community College, coach Buddy Stephens and the school in Scooba was the destination of choice.
Even though Higgins admits it to be a hard decision, he believes EMCC is the right place.
"It's been a blessing, but it's been stressful going through and trying to pick the right school," Higgins said. "It's an honor to get to sign on National Signing Day. I like (the EMCC) complex and they win football games like Starkville High School does so I want to go down to where there's a winning tradition and get more rings."
Higgins also has teammates going with him in Johnson and Baker.
Baker believes the Lions run the type of offense that can utilize his running back skills.
"It's a great decision for me," Baker said. "I like their offense and think it is a good fit for me. I've always wanted to run that type of offense. It's an Oregon-type of offense. I like to be in that system and score as many points as we can."
Johnson looks to help EMCC with his ability as a lineman.
Once there, he knows it will be time to go back to work.
"Most people think this is all about fun and games, but it's not," Johnson said. "It's about business. It's nothing there (in Scooba). It's all about football and work until you get out of there."
Two other Jackets have set their sights on junior college, one headed to the north with Johnny Smith going to Northeast, while the other going south with Saulsberry attending East Central.
Saulsberry said East Central provides him an opportunity to continue to play in back and gold, which he likes, but it also gives him a chance to prove what he can do again at receiver after missing his senior season due to a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
"Now it's good and I'm ready to go," Saulsberry said. "It's a minor setback for a major comeback."
Johnny Smith saw where the NEMCC Tigers needed a safety and he's ready to take the experience received at SHS to Booneville.
"I feel like I can fit right in and help them out," Johnny Smith said. "The experience here made me a better man. I was disciplined as far as being on time. It made me a better player and person."
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