By David Wheeler/NEMS Daily Journal
On the surface, it might appear as business as usual for this time period on the calendar for Ricky Smither and Jon Williams.
With national signing day Wednesday in college football, the respective Northeast Tigers and Itawamba Indians coaches have some busy days ahead of them as each tries to pin down the athletes they need for their junior college programs.
But in September of 2011, the Mississippi Association of Community and Junior College Presidents announced new recruiting rules within the state. Basically, Mississippi was wide open for the 14 football-playing schools to recruit any player in the state.
“Basically, we’ve had to work a lot harder, fighting a lot of battles for every kid,” Itawamba’s Williams said. “It has been an adjustment.”
Smither echoed that from the Northeast perspective.
“Having enough coaches to get on the road and hit all the players,” Smither said. “There are just five of us, and it has been a big challenge.”
Both Williams and Smither indicated that their basic recruiting area from previous years has not changed because of the wide-open state. And both indicated that they had been in touch previous seasons with schools they were working for this signing period.
“We really haven’t gone below I-20,” Williams said. “It’s too far to go any further, and sometimes doesn’t make much sense.
“To recruit a player from the Coast, they would have to pass 12 junior colleges to get to us.”
Recently in signings of other junior college sports, a Tupelo baseball player committed to Jones County, and a Saltillo softball player to Gulf Coast. Neither Williams or Smither thought that was an example of a trend under the new rules.
“We’ve always hit a lot of schools,” Smither said. “Highway 82 is about as far South as we go.
“For us, it’s always about recruiting the best athlete, and in North Mississippi, there is always some great talent.”
As for the specific focus of both area junior colleges, both appear to be targeting the defensive side of the ball.
“We lost a lot of linebackers, three really good defensive backs, and two linemen, so defensively, we have a lot of needs at every position,” said Williams, who plans on 20 returning players. “Offensively, we lost two quarterbacks, which is a huge concern, and two of the best running backs in the league.”
Smither plans on 22 returning for next season.