By Mike Talbert
Daily Journal player of the year Joe Gunn became the first of the remarkable Amory class of ’96 to make a firm commitment this week.
Gunn (5-10, 185), who set a state single-season rushing record of 2,602 yards and proved it was no fluke by averaging more than 200 yards in four playoff games, made a verbal commitment at his home to Ole Miss coach Tommy Tuberville Wednesday night.
“I had already made up my mind, but I waited until Coach Tuberville could come and talk with my folks,” Gunn said.
Gunn, part of the Amory class that won back-to-back Class 3A championships, is the most visible area athlete in the major college recruiting picture to make a commitment.
Among others who have made firm commitments are Pontotoc quarterback Ryan Hooker (6-2, 190) to Mississippi State and Calhoun City linebacker Chad Cook (6-2, 230) to Ole Miss. Hooker is the only quarterback prospect in the area, after Chad Hill of Oxford signed to play baseball at Ole Miss.
The other top prospects in Northeast Mississippi remain uncommitted. Colleges will be able to start signinging football prospects Feb. 7.
Linebacker Armegis Spearman (6-2, 230) of Bruce, who was reportedly committed to Tennessee, said he told Vol coaches he was interested during a visit to Knoxville. “I don’t really know where I will go yet. I will decide when I decide. I still have two visits to make,” Spearman said.
He has visits Arkansas and Mississippi State left. He has already been to Tennessee and Ole Miss.
Amory’s Rufus French (6-5, 225), considered the top tight end prospect in the country, is undecided as he heads to Notre Dame this weekend, with a trip to Tennessee set next weekend. French said he will announce his decision the Monday after he returns from Tennessee.
“It (recruiting) has been fun when I didn’t have any homework,” French said of the recruiting rush. “But when I have homework it has been hectic.”
French, who has made visits to Auburn, Ole Miss and Tennessee, said he would choose between one of the five schools he visited.
Two other Amory athletes are being looked at.
Linebacker Reggie Smith (6-1, 230) still has visits to Mississippi State and Arkansas, even though he says he is leaning toward Ole Miss right now.
“I’m still not sure. I want to see the other two schools first,” he said.
Defensive lineman Darius “Boone” Brown (6-4, 275) has visits with LSU and Arkansas in the next two weeks.
There are several other Amory athletes who are in the recruiting picture, including kicker Drew Hagan, linebacker Frank Bates, center Justin Swan, defensive lineman Terris Burns and defensive back Anthony McIntosh. Most are expected to form a potent recruiting nucleus for ICC.
Tupelo High School had a trio of players who committed together on a visit to Division I-AA Samford: All-Area defensive back Jason Long (5-11, 175), offensive lineman Rocky Pizza (6-4, 228) and defensive back George Roby (5-11, 175).
“We all really enjoyed the visit to Samford,” Pizza said. “It will give us a good education and a chance to play quickly at a good school.”
Tupelo running back Marcus Bell (6-0, 185) and quarterback Charles Penson (5-10, 147) plan to attend ICC.
In addition to Hooker, Pontotoc has two other top prospects in linebacker Daniel Galloway (6-4, 210), who is being looked at by Rice, The Citadel and Ole Miss, and offensive lineman Marcus Autry (6-6, 340), who has visited Mississippi State and has visits lined up with Auburn and Oklahoma.
“He is going to be outstanding. One detriment he had here was he had no competition in practice. We had no one of his size and caliber for him to practice against,” Pontotoc coach Jimmy Mitchell said.
Linebacker-quarterback Bradley Prather (6-2, 220) of Falkner is still being looked at by Arkansas, whose offensive coordinator Rockey Felker played quarterback with his father Michael Haddix at Mississippi State.
There are several other area players who are borderline prospects for one reason or another. Among those are: running back Santo Armstrong of Calhoun City, who is considered a baseball draft prospect; defensive back Anthony Spencer of Bruce; linebacker Carnell Houston of Okolona; lineman Shane Grice of Shannon; defensive back Jerome Tucker of Calhoun City; receiver Rory Redmond of Oxford; tailback Shane Bradley of Falkner; and receiver Isaiah Simmons of Falkner, whom Northeast Community College is looking at for both football and basketball.