March 1, 2010

Walnut, Miss. star visits Ole Miss

Some high school football programs in Mississippi produce major college football players year in and year out, but for smaller schools, it's once in a blue moon - and perhaps longer - when a potential top prospect surfaces.

Such is the case with the three high school programs in Tippah County, located in northeast Mississippi, about 50 miles from the Ole Miss campus.

However, for the 2011 signing class, a name is beginning to emerge from Walnut, probably best known for being the hometown of former Mississippi State and Philadelphia Eagles running back Michael Haddix, who was drafted in the first round (eighth overall) in 1983.

Fast forward almost 30 years and the name coming out of Walnut is Shaquille Perry, who is not only Haddix's nephew, but is also the half-brother of another former Mississippi State star - Edward "Pig" Prather, who played for the Bulldogs from 1999 through 2003.

Perry, a 6-foot-3, 215 pound athlete, picked up an offer earlier this year from Southern Miss and attended Mississippi State's Junior Day two weeks ago and on Friday, he was in Oxford checking out Ole Miss.

Perry, who was accompanied on the trip with Walnut head coach Timmy Moore, said he liked what he saw in Oxford.

"I liked it," the soft spoken Perry said. "I got to talk with the coaches and walk the field. The indoor (practice) facility was nice and I liked the turf. The stadium was nice and I really like the jumbotron."

In addition to the interest from the three in-state schools, Perry is also being recruited by Memphis and is also receiving letters from Illinois.

While Southern Miss has offered, neither Ole Miss nor State has extended a verbal offer and Perry said the subject of an offer wasn't discussed during his visit to Ole Miss.

"We really didn't talk about that," he said. "The coaches did say they really like my film - the way I run hard and they also like my speed."

It was Perry's first visit to Ole Miss, but he said he's very familiar with the football program.

"I watched them a lot on TV," he said. "I really like the way they play hard. I could see myself playing for them."

Perry said he doesn't have any favorites and is open to all schools and is not sure what will influence his decision where to play college football.

"Shaquille is a playmaker for us in all three phases of the game," Moore said. "He has the ability to score every time he touches the ball. He a big back, with really good speed, and good hands. He finds seams, hits them very aggressively."

Perry ran for 1,197 yards on 153 rushing attempts last season and added 175 yards receiving on 12 catches and accounted for 21 touchdowns. He added 22 tackles on defense, playing outside linebacker, and averaged almost 40 yards a return on kick-offs and almost 30 yards every time he touched the ball on punt returns.

He said he "will probably" return to Ole Miss for another Junior Day (March 27) and/or for the spring game and camp with the Rebels this summer.

In a previous Rivals.com story, Moore said that Perry has some work to do academically, but he has him on a program aimed at getting him qualified.

Perry tripped to Hattiesburg to attend Southern's Junior Day on Sunday.

More on Tippah County football:

Over the years, Tippah County, despite being home to three small schools (Ripley, Class 3A; Walnut, Class 2A; and Falkner, Class 1A) has produced a few NFL players like Michael Haddix (running back drafted in the first round by Philadelphia and eighth overall), punter Jim Miller (San Francisico's third round draft choice in 1980, and Kendall Simmons (offensive linemen drafted in the first round by Pittsburgh).

Prior to Perry emerging as a potential major college prospect this year, it has been almost a decade since Tippah County has had a big time prospect. In 2000, Ripley produced a bumper crop of Division I prospects which included Ole Miss signees Jimmy Brooks, who ultimately ended up playing tight end for the Rebels, and Vashon Pearson, who might best be remembered for scoring the winning touchdown against Florida in the Swamp in 2003. Also on that team was quarterback Brandon Roberson, who was a standout punter for Memphis and Akeem Lockett, who saw significant action on the defensive line at Southern Miss.

Prior to that group of prospects, the biggest recruit was Pig Prather, a standout athlete from Falkner. Ole Miss recruited Prather hard and he was thought to be Oxford bound until he shocked Rebel fans with a verbal pledge to State in December 1998. The biggest recruits out of Falkner prior to that were the combination of Larry Gillard and Johnny Hatch. Hatch played one year at Ole Miss and lettered in 1974 and Gillard played for Mississippi State from 1974-1977. Gillard was at the center of a later NCAA investigation that resulted in the Bulldogs forfeiting 19 games that he played in during the 1975 and 1976 seasons.

Ole Miss letter winners from Tippah County:

Jimmy Brooks, TE/DL, 2002-2005 (Ripley)
Charles Childers, P, 1987-90 (Ripley)
Clint Conlee, OL, 1990-93 (Ripley)
William Finger, G, 1915 (Ripley)
Johnny Hatch, CB, 1974 (Falkner)
Jody Hill, LB, 1990-92 (Falkner)
David McMillin, TE, 1982 (Walnut)
John Meeks, RB, 2001 (Walnut)
Jim Miller, P, 1976-79 (Ripley)
Vashon Pearson, RB, 2002-04 (Ripley)
James Story, LB/FB, 1974-77 (Ripley)

Mississippi State letter winners from Tippah County (not all-inclusive):
Mike Eaton, OL, 1969-71 (Ripley)
Larry Gillard, DL, 1974-77 (Falkner)
Michael Haddix, RB, 1979-82 (Walnut)
Pig Prather, DB, 1998-2001 (Falkner)




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