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BRANDON SPECK

BRANDON SPECK

TUPELO

For once – even though the Mississippi High School Activities Association denied it multiple times after the Daily Journal reported it – the MHSAA and the schools and the public were all on the same page:

Get those football championships out of Jackson’s Veterans Memorial Stadium.

MHSAA executive director Don Hinton deserves credit for making this happen. And he deserves credit for putting the games in the right places, Mississippi State and Ole Miss.

There may be some backlash that both sites are technically in the North. But Troy doesn’t host in Alabama and it’s not because Auburn represents the south part of the state. It’s because, as in Mississippi, the two SEC schools rule the roost. When Southern Miss gets into the SEC, we’ll talk. No offense, but USM is the stepsister in a case like this.

“We want to take our student athletes to the very best venues in the state,” Hinton said.

I honestly sometimes have a tough time believing it when that statement comes from an MHSAA mouth, but this time, it’s right on.

But, there is a but …

On the heels of that announcement came this one: The new spot for the expanded state basketball tournament is Jackson State. Now I don’t really know why, but I do know the Veterans Stadium folks were giving Hinton and the MHSAA the business about some unpaid bills. Maybe the MHSAA had to throw JSU a bone.

Now I’ll be honest, I’ve never stepped foot into the gym there, but from what colleagues have said, it’s not ideal. But neither is Mississippi Coliseum, so there’s that.

“We want to take our student athletes to the very best venues in the state,” Hinton said.

Well, that’s simply not what’s happening with basketball. And before anyone starts on me about being a Jackson hater, stop it. I love Trustmark and believe we have the best place for baseball right there in Pearl. And I’m a rewards member at Holiday Inn, right beside the park, so that helps.

The perfect spot

Want the best place? It’s in Fulton. Cry me a river if you have to drive there from Biloxi. Itawamba’s Davis Event Center holds some 6,000 or 7,000ish. That’s the perfect size for a Class 6A crowd. The other five classes would be full and loud, not hollow and sort of loud like the atmosphere at the Coliseum. And it is by far the most beautiful arena in Mississippi, leaps better than The Hump or The Tad – especially The Tad.

“We feel like that is a great thing for Jackson State as well as the city of Jackson,” Hinton said of the hoops venue.

But what we need is the best thing for the kids, not for the city of Jackson. It’s not about how far people whine about driving or the tradition people are stuck on or some silly, “We’re going to Jackson” chant. And it’s certainly not about financing the city of Jackson or making JSU happy. Who cares? It is – it should be – about the kids.

So the MHSAA hit it out of the park with the football move. But the hoops move is equally as bad a move as the football is good.

Hitting .500 in baseball is Hall of Fame. But if the MHSAA wants it to be all about the kids and the experience, it needs to hit 1.000. Getting hoops out of Jackson should be next on the docket.

brandon.speck@journalinc.com

Shannon native Courtney Fells, left, played for the New Orleans Pelicans in the NBA summer league at Las Vegas. Here, he goes up on defense against Deshaun Thomas of the San Antonio Spurs. (AP Photo/John Locher)

Shannon native Courtney Fells, left, played for the New Orleans Pelicans in the NBA summer league at Las Vegas. Here, he goes up on defense against Deshaun Thomas of the San Antonio Spurs. (AP Photo/John Locher)

By Brandon Speck

Daily Journal

You don’t have to tell anybody in North Mississippi that Courtney Fells can shoot the rock.

The former Shannon star once had to be escorted from Amory’s gym, against an angry mob of fans who booed every single one of the 10 3-pointers he hit in a shooting clinic against the Panthers.

The NBA knows, too. Fells averaged 15 points in five summer league games with the New Orleans Pelicans this month. But he wants the league to know more.

“Scoring is just one part of my game. I just try to make sure I do the little things that the coaches ask me to do consistently,” Fells said via phone from Las Vegas. “I try to make sure I do what they ask me to defensively, make sure I’m in the right place for the right spacing, things like that.”

Fells, 27, fits the NBA mold, a 6-foot-5 shooting guard who can aggressively guard the wing and shoot from it.

He scored six points against a D-League Select Team. Against the Lakers, he played 23 minutes and scored 25. He hit 9-of-13 from the field, 4-of-6 from deep. He made all three attempts from the line.

He scored 19 points and had five rebounds against the Spurs, then 19 against the Hornets in an 8-for-15 night, 3-of-6 from deep with a pair of steals and three rebounds in 28 minutes. He earned a start in New Orleans’ final summer league game, finishing with six points.

He hopes it will result in a training camp invitation somewhere.

“We shot the ball well. They’re saying something good will come out of it. But it’s still a business,” he said. “We just hope for the best, if it’s here or overseas.”

FELLS

FELLS

A former Daily Journal Player of the Year, Fells played at North Carolina State from 2005 through 2009. He has spent the last five seasons mainly in Israel and Cyprus, as well as last season with the NBA D-League’s Austin Toros, where he started 41 of 47 games and averaged 18 points, nearly five rebounds and three assists and 1.72 steals per game.

Fells, 27, has a son and lives in Southaven, not far from his high school memories.

“Playing in the Lee County Tournament against Tupelo. I used to look forward to that every day, have the gym sell out,” he said. “A lot of those guys at Tupelo are my friends, so that was a lot of fun.”

Oh, so close

He wants to either land in the NBA or Euroleague. This was not his first NBA taste. He averaged 4.7 points and 3.3 rebounds in three preseason games with the Spurs last season in 12.4 minutes per game before being cut one spot shy of making the NBA champions’ roster.

With the Toros, he had three double-doubles and shot 48 percent from the field, 38 percent from three. His player efficiency rating of 16.05 was a point above the NBA average.

“Those are the little things that you’re going to need to do to make the team,” Fells said, “not scoring, because they pay guys to do that.”

brandon.speck@journalinc.com

Brandon Speck | Daily Journal Michael Abraham, left, talks with son Jack at last week's national 7-on-7 tourney in Hoover, Ala. The younger Abraham was the Journal's top offensive player after leading Oxford to the 5A final.

Brandon Speck | Daily Journal
Michael Abraham, left, talks with son Jack at last week’s national 7-on-7 tourney in Hoover, Ala. The younger Abraham was the Journal’s top offensive player after leading Oxford to the 5A final.

By Brandon Speck

Daily Journal

Michael Abraham insists he doesn’t know too much about quarterbacking, but Oxford head coach Johnny Hill doesn’t have to be that humble about the father of his quarterback, junior Jack Abraham.

“Unbelievable,” Hill said of the father-son relationship. “Michael has really groomed this kid since he was in the second grade. He doesn’t need much grooming now.”

Abraham burst onto the scene last season, leading Oxford to the Class 5A state championship game while throwing for 3,572 yards and 38 touchdowns. He was the Daily Journal’s Offensive Player of the Year. Not that he doesn’t still need some grooming, but he’s a worker. He voluntarily puts the work in now, thanks a lot to a coaching dad.

“We talk about football all the time.” Jack Abraham said. “Football is what we have in common. We both love the sport.”

Michael was a quarterback at Vicksburg’s St. Aloysius. He may not admit to knowing a ton about the position, but he knew enough to keep his son away from bad habits, like throwing the football like a baseball and not breaking the “golden rules.”

‘Football’s our hobby’

It started with the pee wee Buccaneers, where Jack played for Michael – and where Michael still coaches.

“It’s been great. Football’s been our hobby,” Michael Abraham said. “It’s never been drudgery. He’s liked the game and I just get him there, do what parents do and say, ‘Have fun.’”

Jack Abraham says the Buccaneers started his love for the game. Now dad watches as son continues to get better. And while Michael admittedly has let go of some of the leash as Jack has gotten older and allows him to do things on his own, the bond they share through football is evident.

Michael watched intently from the sideline last weekend at the national 7-on-7 tournament in Hoover, Ala. He’s like a coaching father for the whole team, but his eyes rarely go away from Jack.

“Football is our glue,” Michael Abraham said. “My wife likes to watch it. My daughter like to watch it. We don’t play golf. We don’t play tennis. It’s what we do.”

Michael, a dentist by trade, said it’s a family thing. He says 13-year-old Kate can rare back and throw it.

“She must have it in the blood, or something,” Jack Abraham said.

brandon.speck@journalinc.com

ADAMS

ADAMS

By Brandon Speck

Daily Journal

Fletcher Adams is already one of the state’s most feared defensive linemen. A double digit number of colleges are after the services of Brandon’s 6-foot-3, 255-pound senior.

And those schools haven’t even seen the 5-star recruit with the ball in his hands.

Adams flashed a new part of his skill set when he made the trip with Brandon to Tupelo’s recent National Select 7-on-7 Qualifier. He played tight end, for the first time he says since eighth grade.

“Fletcher’s got an unbelievable motor on everything he does,” Brandon coach Brad Peterson said. “Because of what he’s been able to do out here, we’re going to put in some third down packages for him and some red-zone packages.”

Listed at defensive tackle and defensive end, Adams is ranked by ESPN as Mississippi’s No. 5 overall prospect. Last season, he racked up 111 tackles, 9.3 per game. He had eight sacks and 17 tackles for loss.

What he didn’t do was catch a single pass. That could change this season.

“I’m pretty good at tight end. I’m pretty skilled, Adams said. “I just try to come out here and help our team win, just do what I can. I could play offense in college.”

Adams had planned to make a collegiate decision in August, but says it may come later, right now focusing his attention on his senior season.

But he does have it narrowed to five: Ole Miss and Mississippi State among them.

‘A great bond’

“When I go to Ole Miss and State, it’s just a great bond,” Adams said. “I go see the coaches and the players and get in really good touch with them.”

Florida, Alabama and Missouri round out his top five, so the SEC is likely in his future. His top five may get even hungrier when they get a look at him playing tight end.

“He’s big. He’s strong. He’s physical and like I said, he’s got a motor,” Peterson said. “And that’s something that you can’t coach, I don’t think. You can try to push a kid and motivate them, but he’s self-motivated and that makes it so much easier.”

brandon.speck@journalinc.com

Tyron Johnson of New Orleans is the top-ranked wide receiver prospect for the 2015 class. (File photo)

Tyron Johnson of New Orleans is the top-ranked wide receiver prospect for the 2015 class. (File photo)

By Brandon Speck

Daily Journal

Could Ole Miss sign another top-rated wide receiver?

Clyde Leflore, who plays for New Orleans’ Warren Easton High School, is ranked by 247Sports as the No. 10 player in Louisiana, has said Ole Miss is in his top five.

Ole Miss signed the nation’s top receiver, Laquon Treadwell, last year.

Could Leflore go to Oxford in a package that would include the nation’s No. 1 receiver? Easton teammate Tyron Johnson is the top-ranked wide receiver in America for the 2015 class.

The Rebels have offered both players.

“We talked about it, but he doesn’t really know where he wants to go yet,” Leflore said, “so when he does sign, then we’ll really find the outcome of where I’m going to go.”

The offer sheet for the 6-foot, 170-pound Leflore is a who’s who. After the 4-star 2016 receiver are, along with the Rebels: Clemson, LSU, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, UCLA, Georgia, Louisiana-Lafayette, Louisville, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Tulane, Southern Miss and Oklahoma State.

Last week at the National Select 7-on-7 National Championships in Hoover, Ala., Leflore said he hasn’t set a timetable to make a decision, but did say Ole Miss is in his top five, along with Clemson Texas Tech, Texas A&M and LSU.

“But that’s not in any order,” he says.

The two receivers led their team to the Select championship with a 12-1 record over the two days in Hoover.

Johnson is No. 27 on the ESPN 300. His offer sheet includes Alabama, Miami, Ole Miss, Arkansas, Auburn, California, Clemson, Florida, Florida State, LSU, Michigan, Mississippi State, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, San Diego State, Tennessee, Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech and UCLA.

“It’s gotten very intense over the years,” Johnson said. “Everybody is trying to get me and everybody is calling my phone.”

Both players say their styles are similar. Their coach, Tony Hull, agrees. He says Ole Miss is in the mix for either, or both.

‘Tremendous’ skills

“They’re running backs playing receiver,” Hull said. “They can run great routes. They catch the ball at its highest point. Their ball skills are tremendous and what they do after touching it is what a running back does. It’s kind of you get the best of both worlds with those two.

LEFLORE

LEFLORE

“Ole Miss is doing a great job recruiting them. They’re definitely on the list.”

The 6-1, 185-pound Johnson was 4A all-state last season after 1,300 yards receiving and 20 TDs. He doesn’t have a top five or a favorite among his suitors.

Leflore says the two are like the same person on the field and Johnson is playing adviser off the field for Leflore, who is admittedly “excited” about the recruiting process.

“He knows a lot about it, so I just go to him for help,” said Leflore, “how should I handle it and stuff, how he’s handled it over the years. So yeah, we talk about it a lot.”

Johnson wasn’t with the team when they played in a July 7-on-7 tournament at Ole Miss, but he knows enough to keep the Rebels in consideration.

“Ole Miss is a nice school,” Johnson said. “Ole Miss has had a lot of receivers from New Orleans who went there and went to the pros.”

brandon.speck@journalinc.com

baseball_icon_greenBy Brandon Speck

Daily Journal

Tupelo Christian baseball coach Will Lowrey is making sure Mississippi baseball players get as many eyes on them as possible.

His first BSN Sports Mississippi Elite Underclassmen Showcase is scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday at TCPS. It’s an invitation-only, state-wide event and is free to the athletes.

“The market is pretty loaded with showcases right now and unfortunately for some it’s priced out of what some kids can afford,” Lowrey said.

Lowrey has invited college and pro scouts to evaluate 130 of Mississippi’s best high school baseball players. There are two teams each for ninth-11th grades and four teams for incoming seniors. Seniors and juniors will participate on Wednesday, sophomores and freshmen on Thursday.

Lowrey, who did private lessons before his coaching career, is wanting to make the event yearly, from an event coaches and scouts are intrigued by to an event they add to their calendars.

“We have a lot of plans to grow this thing, especially to have a year of planning and also to have one year under our belt,” Lowrey said. “And to have the high school coaches and college coaches and everybody to see the finished product and what it can be.”

The list of attendees includes Daily Journal Player of the Year, junior Jacob Wilcher, and sophomore Nikolas Wilcher of Class 3A champ Kossuth.

Scouts watching

Prep, college and pro scouts took part in the invitation selection process. Players will go through a seven-inning game, 60-yard dash, velocity readings, shuttle runs and other skill trials.

The event is open to the public. All-day admission is $10 and concessions will be available. Lowrey intends to keep it free to players through sponsorship.

“This will give us a true assessment of what Mississippi has and be an opportunity for some kids who are maybe missing out,” he said.

brandon.speck@journalinc.com

John Davis | Oxford Citizen Oxford junior Kyree White catches a pass against Nequa Valley (Ill.) on Saturday.

John Davis | Oxford Citizen
Oxford junior Kyree White catches a pass against Nequa Valley (Ill.) on Saturday.

By Brandon Speck

Daily Journal

HOOVER, Ala. – Oxford didn’t get the championship it wanted, but the Chargers got plenty of what they needed during the weekend’s National Select 7-on-7 National Championships.

After a drowsy effort and 3-4 record in Friday’s pool play, Oxford went 3-2 in tournament play on Saturday at Hoover High and Hoover Met.

“It’s like two different teams from yesterday to today,” Oxford coach Johnny Hill said. “(Friday) I just don’t think we played hard and didn’t compete, had our lip poked out all day long. That’s not what we’re about. Today, we fought hard. We played well.”

Warren Easton, from New Orleans, went 12-1 overall to win the tournament.

Oxford drew a No. 17 seed after pool play and won its opener Saturday to draw top seed and then-unbeaten Brandon, and a 30-23 loss that sent the Chargers to the loser’s bracket. They reeled off back-to-back wins against Nequa Valley (Ill.) and Dutch Fork (S.C.) before losing 20-12 to host Hoover for the second time on the weekend.

“Brandon made two plays that were really unbelievable. Our defensive guys, you can’t cover a guy better than that. They just made a play,” Hill said. “All in all, I was pleased with today’s performance. I think we learned something. I think we grew up down here. Hopefully we can transition that over to the season.”

Last season’s Class 5A runner-up, Oxford hosts a jamboree at Ole Miss on Aug. 15-16 before it opens the season on Aug. 22 at Jackson Prep. Hoover wrapped up Oxford’s seventh 7-on-7 tournament of the summer.

Missing Chargers

The Chargers played without three guys – linebacker Mike McGee after injuring his thumb Friday, starting 6-foot-5 junior inside receiver Zach Cousar and linebacker J.R. Anderson got hurt against Brandon.

A lot of opposing defensive attention goes to Ole Miss-committed junior D.K. Metcalf, but junior Kyree White is an x-factor who’ll have to be accounted for by opponents, too.

White had a solid weekend. He caught three touchdown passes against Dutch Fork – one against safety Stephen Davis, son of former NFL running back Stephen Davis, whose offers include Auburn, Clemson, Florida, Georgia and Missouri.

“I think mentally our guys grew up today and showed what it takes to win,” Hill said.

brandon.speck@journalinc.com

John Davis | Oxford Citizen D.K. Metcalf is ESPN's top-rated junior in Mississippi.

John Davis | Oxford Citizen
D.K. Metcalf is ESPN’s top-rated junior in Mississippi.

By Brandon Speck

Daily Journal

HOOVER, Ala. – D.K. Metcalf looks frightening out on wide receiver island. Scarier still, he has two more seasons of high school football. Oxford’s 6-foot-3, 195-pound junior is a 16-year-old specimen.

“He’s a threat. Anytime you get single coverage on him, odds are he’s going to come down with it,” Oxford coach Johnny Hill said.

Metcalf, who ESPN rates as the No. 1 junior in the state, caught 52 passes last season for 618 yards and a team-high eight touchdowns. He has two offers, from Duke and Ole Miss. More offers are on the way, though some could shy away knowing dad Terrence played at Ole Miss, before a nine-year NFL career.

“I’m just going to be a junior, so anything can happen, but I’m committed to Ole Miss,” Metcalf said. “I just like the environment and the coaches, I feel like I’m their family.”

Metcalf committed more than a year ago. He’s Oxford quarterback Jack Abraham’s go-to target. Friday, in an early game of the National Select 7-on-7 National Championships at Hoover High, Abraham found him on a third down, then for a touchdown two plays later.

And everyone knows it. Metcalf is ESPN’s No. 37 prospect nationally for the class. He’s ranked the No. 2 junior at the position. An opposing team walked by Thursday and one player saw the touchdown catch. “That’s the money-maker,” he said.

That includes opposing defenders, reaching, grabbing and pulling when he gets past them. He drew a pair of flags in the opening game against Hoover.

“I try to use my body well and try to get them off me,” Metcalf said. But they like to grab me and talk to try to get in my head.”

Metcalf is a self-described “leaper” and “quiet leader.” His play does a lot of talking on the field, where Hill said he is also a good defensive back. But receiver is where he’s making his name. Against Boiling Spring (S.C.) Thursday, he just out-jumped a defender for a touchdown.

And if the defender wants to do some bumping, Hill is fine with that, too.

“He’s real physical, blocks well. He gets open,” Hill said. “He’s got good shake-and-bake moves, great hands. He’s just a complete receiver.”

Oxford continues tournament play today at 9 a.m. in Hoover. Thursday, the Chargers went 3-4 in pool play.

brandon.speck@journalinc.com

JOHNSON

JOHNSON

By John Davis and Brandon Speck

Daily Journal

HOOVER, Ala. – Hoover beat Oxford, then one of the Bucs’ to players said he’s going to Starkville.

After the Buccaneers beat the Chargers by a point in pool play to open the National Select 7-on-7 National Championships at Hoover High on Friday, 2015 wide receiver Justin Johnson announced his commitment to Mississippi State.

The 6-foot-4, 205-pounder said State is recruiting him as a receiver. 247Sports lists him as a 3-star prospect, the Bulldogs’ 19th commit. He talked about his strengths.

“Really just being physical, using my hands, using my size,” Johnson said, “boxing people out, blocking. I spend a lot of time on my blocking, most definitely.”

Last season, he had between 35 and 40 catches, according to his coaches, playing in a no-huddle, spread, zone team with a lot of weapons. He’s a winner, too, yet to lose a varsity game. Hoover has won back-to-back 6A titles and 30 straight games. The Bucs make the jump to Class 7A this season, Alabama’s first time with a seventh classification.

“He’s an imposing figure, a big body and tough matchup for a lot of corners. He has really good feet. He’s got good speed. You wouldn’t think he would be that fast because he’s so big,” Hoover wide receiver coach Aryvia Holmes said, “but he does a really good job. He’s a playmaker for us. He’s our go-to guy on offense. When we need a big play in the passing game, we’re going to him.”

Recruited by Mississippi State defensive coordinator Geoff Collins, Johnson said he had called coaches to let them know.

State offered Johnson on July 19 last year. He said he chose the Bulldogs over Georgia and Kentucky. His offer sheet also included UAB, Arkansas State, Jacksonville State, Memphis, Middle Tennessee, South Alabama, Southern Miss and Western Kentucky.

He attended Mississippi State camp on July 13.

“Really just a big family,” Johnson said. “That’s the first school I’ve been to and they’re showing love ever since. I’m excited about playing in the SEC.”

WARD

WARD

By Brandon Speck

Daily Journal

HOOVER, Ala. – Channing Ward was always the best player on the field at Aberdeen High School. One of the jewels of Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze’s first recruiting class at defensive end, he is still finding his place with the Rebels.

Freeze said Thursday from SEC Media Days it has taken Ward, a junior, longer than he expected to find that groove.

“It has. Channing’s one of my favorite kids to coach,” Freeze said. “I love having him on the team. He’s such an athletic kid. He got there late his freshman year. We had depth issues. With those depth issues, all of them had to play. It really would have done him justice if he could have had a redshirt year. We’re just trying to find the place he can help us the best.”

Ward (6-foot-4, 274) worked at tight end in the spring.

He played some there at Aberdeen. Freeze said the staff will get together today to discuss depth issues and make some decisions on where Ward will go from there.

Ward may not have made the mark coaches think he can make, but that’s because his expectation level is astronomical. He’s shown flashes of why. Off the bench, he has played every game at defensive end and special teams. As a freshman, he had a high of four tackles (three solo) in a Compass Bowl win and finished with 21 tackles and 1.5 tackles-for-loss.

Last season, he had 24 tackles, a pair of tackles-for-loss and a team-high seven hurries. He forced two fumbles. Against Arkansas, he posted a career-high six tackles. One of the fumbles made the highlight reel – an immediate GIF – when he leveled kick returner Brian Kimbrow in the season-opener at Vanderbilt.

Ole Miss safety Cody Prewitt thinks Ward will continue at tight end.

“He’s a wonderful player,” Prewitt said. “We all can get better mentally, but that’s really the biggest place he has to develop. Once he really figures out what he has to do and when he has to do it, he’s really going to blossom.”

A redshirt wasn’t in the cards in 2012 when the former Daily Journal Defensive Player of the Year went to Oxford when building depth was more of an issue than rotating depth. But it’s still a possibility.

“We’re always going to look at what’s best for the kid and our team,” Freeze said. “Heck, I wish I could go back and redshirt several of them.”

brandon.speck@journalinc.com