FULTON – Itawamba Community College defensive coordinator Sean Cannon may have gotten the biggest response from the high school football players he addressed Wednesday morning when he asked if they would consider Kobe Bryant a champion if his Los Angeles Lakers win the NBA title tonight.
Cannon’s speech was part of the NFL’s High School Player Development program that is being held at Itawamba Community College’s Fulton campus this week.
The Calhoun City native was speaking during the character portion of the program about what it takes to be a champion and the decisions an individual has to make to become a champion.
While the high school players may have been tired from staying up to watch Tuesday night’s Game 6 of the NBA finals, they were nonetheless pleased to take part in a NFL program that allowed them to work on their playing skills.
Not to mention, the four-day program, which ends today, didn’t cost anything to attend.
Saltillo’s Cayson Coleman and Nettleton’s Channing Lansdell said they were certainly glad to attend this week’s sessions, which lasted from 8 a.m. to just before noon each day.
“It has more interaction,” said Lansdell, a left tackle, “because most camps that we go to, you just get a couple of words from the coaches. This is really hands on and you get some of the best people around here teaching the fundamentals and the strategy of the game. It’s really good.”
This week’s program is the first NFL HSPD one to be held in Mississippi. It came about not even a month ago when Ron Hill, the NFL’s vice president of football operations, contacted Lee County School District Superintendent Mike Scott about hosting a HSPD program in Northeast Mississippi.
Hill happens to be an Okolona native and former ICC football player.
“He is from Okolona and he wanted to do something to give back to North Mississippi athletes, and he contacted (former Shannon High) coach Scott and coach Scott contacted me,” said Shannon athletic director Dennis Grubbs, who has been serving as the on-site coordinator for this week’s HSPD program.
“It was really difficult with the time restraint that we had. We got contacted on the 17th of May, so we did it all in less than a month. And to be honest with you, it is probably a five or six month undertaking.
“It’s been pretty stressful, but the participants and the coaches working it have been outstanding. The response is great. We certainly would like for it to hopefully grow each year. We hope that once the word gets out, it will continue to grow.”
The National Guard sponsors the HSPD program, and provided water, cooling fans, tents, assistance with registration and muscle for this week’s program at ICC.
“The National Guard has been a huge factor in this camp,” said ICC head football coach Jon Williams, who joined with Grubbs and some others in planning the program at ICC. “Without their help, we couldn’t have done it. It would have been impossible.
“They’ve provided a lot of man-power hours and a lot of equipment to help this thing run smoothly.”
Despite there being no NFL players and coaches present at ICC this week, you have to credit the coaches from some 15 area high schools as key contributors in pulling off an event for 285 total participants. In all, 28 coaches, including ICC’s coaching staff, took part in the program.
“All the area high school coaches that are working have gone above and beyond to pull this thing off for these students,” said Grubbs, who currently coaches junior high school football and high school track. “Any coach I’ve called, they said, ‘Sure, coach, I’ll help with anything.”
Ken Topps, who played college football at Mississippi state and Murray State, didn’t have a free camp like this to attend when he was a Shannon player. Now a coach, he said this is a nice camp to have in an area filled with talented high school football players.
“There’s a bunch of talent here,” said Topps, who will be entering his first season as Saltillo High’s quarterbacks/wide receivers coach. “There’s so much talent here.
“We had a good turnout of kids here and to see the amount of talent that is here in Northeast Mississippi, man, it’s amazing.”
Contact John Wilbert at 678-1572
John Wilbert/NEMS Daily Journal