BY BRANDON SPECK
TUPELO – Starkville didn’t win the Tupelo qualifier for next week’s National Select 7-on-7 National Championships. Brandon did. But one of the Jackets’ seniors may have been the big winner.
After Starkville forced a deciding game in the championship series, Brandon won the finale, 23-20. But Raphael Leonard, who caught two game-winning passes in wins against Olive Branch and Brandon, stole the show.
Leonard doesn’t have any scholarship offers to mull over.
“And I don’t know why,” Starkville coach Jamie Mitchell said. “He’s 6-3. He’s 185 pounds. He’s 4.55 in the 40, 22 on the ACT, great kid. I don’t know. People are absolutely missing on him. Hopefully good things are going to happen to him. He’s just got to keep doing it.”
These weren’t any run-of-the-mill catches.
Leonard caught both in traffic. Both came against the final horn. Down 33-31 with 3 seconds left, the first grab gave Starkville a 37-33 win against Olive Branch as quarterback Brady Davis, a Memphis commit, stuck it between the reaching arms of two defenders.
The second came with Starkville trailing 27-25 with 6 seconds to play and gave it a 31-27 win to force a second championship game. Leonard channeled Randy Moss, leaped over two guys, four hands and toed just inside the pylon to stay inbounds.
“I knew the coach was going to call my number. He just told me to make the plays,” Leonard said. “I just went up and caught the ball.”
Sounds easier than it looked.
Last season, Leonard caught 31 passes for 459 yards and a team-high eight touchdowns. He says Arkansas State and Louisiana-Lafayette are talking with him.
“That’s about it, really,” Leonard said.
No college in Mississippi is paying much attention. For now.
“They’re missing out on him,” Mitchell said. “That guy is an incredible football player. No telling how many plays he’s made for us. Somebody needs to sign the guy.”
Starkville may still receive an at-large invite to the July 17-19 national championships in Hoover, Ala., where Leonard would have the chance to showcase against some of the country’s top talent.
BY BRANDON SPECK