CRAWFORD – It has been four years since a student from East Oktibbeha signed an athletic scholarship.
That all changed Friday morning, as Arthur Gillespie, Davalyn Bell, Kortland Petty and Terence Rice signed letters of intent to play football at Mississippi Delta Community College in Moorhead.
For East Oktibbeha head coach Randy Brooks, signing four players is a big deal for a Class A school.
"We haven't had a student athlete, football player in particular, sign a scholarship since 2007," Brooks said. "This is a big deal for a school our size to have these many kids sign athletic scholarships."
Gillespie was a four-year starter for the Titans. He knows how big this opportunity is not only for football but also education.
Getting to continue to play with his teammates is an exciting thing for Gillespie.
"I am excited because it has been a long time since we have had guys sign scholarships out of our school," Gillespie said. "I'm just happy that me and my teammates can go to the same school and play football together again. Hope we can do something better down there and move on to the next level."
Gillespie plays on the defensive side of the ball and is a tackling machine. Brooks gave him an opportunity in ninth grade and it has worked out well.
"He has over 350 career tackles because he has been a starter since he was a 9th grader," Brooks said. "He started at safety for three years. This year we moved him to linebacker in the 4-3 defense."
Gillespie had 117 tackles last season with two quarterback sacks and one interception. He made the All-State defense, All-Area first-team defense and All-District first-team defense.
Bell ran the offense his senior under center. He played running back prior to the switch to quarterback, but Brooks thinks his elusiveness can help him down the road.
"He brings speed and has ability to escape at quarterback," Brooks said. "He played quarterback for us this year, and only played quarterback for one year, but prior to that he was a running back."
Bell had over 1,000 yards passing with eight touchdowns for East Oktibbeha last season and added 600 yards on the ground with four more scores. He was selected to the All-Area second-team.
Petty played all over the field for Brooks. The fact that he is an athlete gives him the opportunity to play an position of the field.
"He's an athlete so he brings flexibility," Brooks said. "He can play several different positions."
Petty had 400 yards rushing and five touchdowns for the Titans last season and added 200 yards receiving and one touchdown. The versatile Petty saw time at quarterback, running back, wide receiver, tight end, linebacker, free safety, cornerback and even punted, which landed him on the All-Area team for special teams.
Rice not only played football, but has won state titles in track and field. His speed is what makes him a great football player.
"He brings speed," Brooks said. "He runs every bit of a 4.3 40'. He is a three-time state champion in track and field."
At defensive back, Rice had 52 tackles and two interceptions. He made All-District first team and All-Area on defense.
Rice had 429 yards receiving on offense with three receiving touchdowns and two rushing scores. He added one kick return for a touchdown.
Brooks knows this opportunity is good for his players in terms of football, but he also knows that an education comes with it.
When these players started out, he challenged them to work hard on and off the field and that meant in the classroom as well.
He promised that if they worked hard, something good might come along.
"For the past four years, I have been grooming them for this moment," Brooks said. "I told them that if they do what they are supposed to, four years from then, which is now, that they would be signing athletic scholarships. They have done what they are supposed to be doing."
Mississippi Delta just hired a new coach this year. Brooks believes his players will bring a different attitude to campus and will have opportunities to contribute early on.
"Mississippi Delta has a program on the rise," Brooks said. "These guys have an opportunity to get in on the bottom floor. Last year (Mississippi Delta) didn't win a game; they went 0-9. This group knows how to win. Overall as a a group, they are a group of winners. When I talked to the head coach at Mississippi Delta, I told him I would stake my reputation on these guys as a coach and an educator and I have been coaching for over 20 years."
Gillespie knows that he and his teammates can make a difference on the gridiron this fall. He wants to help his new team out anyway he can.
"Hope to bring some wins," Gillespie said. "Hope to help their school out like we did here."