By John Davis, Oxford Citizen
There were still a few sweat beads on the face of Octavious Cooley minutes after Laurel’s victory over Center Hill in the MHSAA Class 5A state basketball quarterfinals Wednesday night.
Cooley and the rest of the Golden Tornadoes had just celebrated in the locker room in the bowels of Jackson State’s Williams Assembly Center, with the focus turned towards the next round and the nationally ranked Callaway Chargers.
Cooley, a 6-foot-4, 245-pound wide receiver for the football team, is the man in the middle for Laurel’s basketball team. He is wide at the hip and large at the shoulders, making it tough for opposing forwards to gain much room down low against him.
Cooley’s focus right now is clearly on basketball, and helping Laurel capture the 5A title in basketball, a mere three months after defeating Oxford in the 5A football title game at Mississippi State. Since that title win over OHS, Cooley decided that he would like to live in Oxford, and play for the Ole Miss Rebels and Hugh Freeze.
“I really felt like I knew where home was and I had Ole Miss on my mind for a long time,” Cooley said about why he made a verbal pledge over a year before he can make it official with his signature. “I just felt in my heart that it was time to commit.”
There is a family connection between Ole Miss and Cooley’s family, and with the Rebels’ success on the field the last three years, the combination proved to be just right.
“I always knew a little about Ole Miss because most of my family went to school there. It’s like a tradition in my family,” Cooley said. “They just started spring practice and (the coaches) told me they wished I was out here practicing. They sent me a text on Twitter. I told them that I wish I was, too.”
There were still two more games for Laurel to win in order to capture the title in hoops, and that meant defeating Callaway’s Malik Newman, who could end up playing for the Rebels in basketball next season. If there was one thing that Cooley learned from playing Oxford in the football title game it was that no matter who is deemed the favorite, it was all about competing.
“We know it’s going to be a journey and a lot of mountains to cross over,” Cooley said. “You got Malik Newman out there, so we have to get our game plan right. We already know what he’s going to give us, so we have to come out with what we do well. Oxford was favored to beat us and that just made us come out and compete harder that day. We wanted to go put pressure on them and play with a lot of heart.”
High on Patterson
The nation’s top quarterback, Shea Patterson, has committed to be a part of the 2016 class since Cooley gave his pledge. As soon as Patterson decided he wanted to be a Rebel, Cooley went and started to research his accomplishments.
“I didn’t know much about him, but I did hear his name in the past,” Cooley said, who came away impressed and happy he was coming on board after his trip on the Internet. “When it happened, it just made me look into more and more.”
After basketball, Cooley said he will start getting ready for spring football. He doesn’t participate in track, so he will lift and condition until he gets on the field again. Cooley said he was looking to get a personal trainer in order to be in even better shape for his senior season.
Offer for Howard
In a perfect scenario, Cooley would love to have his quarterback, Keon Howard, play with him at Ole Miss. The Rebels will not take any more than one signal caller in 2016, and that’s Patterson, but there was no doubt Howard was athletic enough to play another spot for the Rebels.
“Quarterback is where his heart is at and nobody can’t change his mind except him,” Cooley said. “I do think he will go to school to be a quarterback, but I would love to have him. That’s my brother. Without him, I’m nothing.”
Another player in the state that Cooley was already tight with, who is also a verbal pledge for the Rebels in 2016, is Wayne County defensive tackle Benito Jones.
“We’re like best friends,” Cooley said. “We talk a lot.”
Cooley is rated as the No. 10 overall prospect in Mississippi for 2016 by Rivals.com, and the nation’s No. 19 tight end prospect. He is one of 10 verbal pledges for the class, and one of six from the state’s high school ranks.