COLUMN: Some of the most talented high school football players in the nation hail from the state of Mississippi each year. The love of football in the state is evident in the turnout each Friday night and the reputation of a program with the success rate of South Panola has only elevated Mississippi’s stature in the nation.
Veteran college coach Randy Taylor, who currently serves as the Director of Recruiting for NCSA Athletic Recruiting, is just one of the many recruitniks who has a high opinion of the state’s talent pool. Four players from Mississippi — South Panola’s Isaac Gross, Petal’s Anthony Alford, Aberdeen’s Channing Ward and Morton’s Quay Evans — made his pre-season Top 150 list, while Lafayette quarterback Jeremy Liggins, is right there in the mix amongst his most thought of players.
“When you’re putting together a Top 150, you’re missing about 200 really good football players. These four stood out,” said Taylor, who was an All-Big Ten selection at center during his playing career at Illinois as well as the former Director of Football Operations at both Minnesota and UCLA. “(Liggins) is another one who is just a phenom as far as an athlete. He’s got to be a Top 300 guy and I was thinking I might even put him at 151.”
Liggins, who threw for 1,662 yards and 20 touchdowns last season leading the Commodores to a Class 4A state title, has scholarship offers from Ole Miss, Alabama, Auburn, LSU, Mississippi State and Southern Miss. Taylor, who watches extensive amounts of video on players to come up with his rankings, said he likes Liggins’ size and skills as a quarterback.
“He is a big athlete but he shows some QB skills. He can throw on time, he’s got a strong arm, he can throw with touch. Just to watch him make some plays, he seems to be coached well and he seems to take to coaching,” Taylor said. “He moves his feet well. He gets a little off balance, he gets a little inconsistent, but if you watch him on a couple of different plays to where he looks left and the boom, his feet switch, his shoulders turn and it’s a nice soft pass.”
The skills Taylor has seen on tape during Liggins’ last two seasons allow him to think that schools are taking the right approach with his recruiting even though some feel he will play another position in college due to his 6-foot-4, 270-pound frame.
“I think you have to recruit him as a quarterback. QBs always want to be QBs. There are so many that can play so many different positions. I think you sign him and you work it out later. If he can play the position, great. If not, he’s going to make money somewhere else,” Taylor said. “If he’s saying he wants to be a quarterback, I want a chance to play quarterback, then you recruit him like a quarterback. You give him a shot there. You line up and see what he can do. Hopefully they will see if he has a chance or not. He is one of those freak guys that you have to take on your football team.
“He’s going to help whether he’s a QB or something else.”
As talented as Taylor thinks Liggins is, Alford (6-1, 215) is this year’s highest-rated quarterback. Taylor has Alford, who accounted for 2,700 yards and 35 touchdowns last year, at No. 85 on his Top 150 list, and said the two-sport standout — he is rated as the top baseball prospect in the state as well — can help a team in a lot of different ways.
“Anthony Alford is a tremendous playmaker. He can really run the spread (offense),” Taylor said of Alford, who has an Ole Miss offer, among many others. “He can make most throws, but he can be a receiver or a corner. I love his acceleration.”
D-linemen stand out
Defensive linemen are the state’s biggest strength this season and Taylor has three linemen listed in his Top 150 list, including Gross, an Ole Miss verbal commitment, at No. 45.
“Isaac Gross, to me, he is the most fundamental sound of all these guys. He’s got a good, quick first step. His first-step quickness is terrific. The ability to get into the offensive player is such an un-talked about, un-appreciated ability and his biggest attribute. You don’t want that guy to get his arms extended and whether you’re in a gap or a three-technique or a defensive end to get up field, that first-step quickness makes it so hard on that offensive player,” Taylor said. “He can re-direct, put his foot in the ground and change direction. He is also going to be a good-sized player. He is 265 or so and there is no telling how big he could get.”
Evans, a 6-2, 315-pound defensive tackle who is being heavily pursued by Ole Miss to complement Gross in the middle, ranks No. 8 on Taylor’s list due to his phenomenal size and ability to re-direct offensive linemen in the middle.
Ward, who comes in on Taylor’s list at No. 112, is a 6-3, 230-pound end who made 119 tackles and 13 sacks last year. He has a motor that doesn’t stop and a player that has enough athleticism and size to play any of the linebacker or end spots at the next level.
“He is a talented kid that just doesn’t have the great consistency yet. He is going to get bigger, stronger, faster. He is a kid with an upside that has a chance to be a real good college prospect,” Taylor said. “He is the kind of kid that coaches think they can get to do more at the next level and be more consistent. College coaches are always looking at the kid that has the skills, the toughness, the motor, those kind of things.” (July 13, 2011, Page 8)