BATESVILLE — It’s not often that a high school program as dominant as South Panola has been the last 18 years has a first of any kind to publicize. For a program that has won nine state championships and seen countless players sign Division I offers and star at Northwest Mississippi Community College over the same period, it’s hard to believe that a Tiger hasn’t played in one of the top high school All-Star games in the nation.
Defensive tackle Issac Gross, an Ole Miss verbal commitment, continued to make a name for himself at the state’s top program Wednesday when he was formally presented with an honorary game jersey that commemorated his selection to the 2012 Under Armour All-America Game. The game, which has been in existence since 2008, will be played Jan. 5 at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. The game will culminate an entire week of All-Star events for prep standouts and be televised live by ESPN. The 6-foot-2, 265-pound Gross, who donned his game jersey as part of the American Family Insurance Selection Tour, said it was an honor to be chosen for the game and the first Tiger selected to play in the contest.
“I’m looking forward to going out and playing hard and showing them what football is all about in Mississippi and show that I can play with the best players in the nation,” said Gross, who will be joined by fellow Mississippians Channing Ward (Aberdeen), Quay Evans (Morton) and Devon Desper (Madison Central) on the team. “I know Channing Ward and Quay Evans. I’m real cool with those two guys. It’s a good opportunity for me to go out there and show myself off. I want to go out and prove that I can play with the other great players in the country. It’s a big opportunity for me.
“It’s been a lot of work every day, every summer, day in and day out. I feel real proud to represent South Panola. I love my school and I know they will be pulling for me.”
Gross said he is still a strong verbal commitment for the Rebels despite the team’s struggles so far this year.
“I tell people all the time Ole Miss really recruits junior colleges. They don’t really recruit high schools so if they’re recruiting you out of high school, then you must mean something,” Gross said. “Ole Miss is a good team. They’ve always been a good team. I just love Houston Nutt. He’s a real good guy who cares about his players that he has on his team.”
Gross said he went to the Alabama game and still remains close with freshman standout Nickolas Brassell, who also attended South Panola.
“I talk to him every week. He said he’s trying, he’s giving all he can to the team he just needs a couple more guys that love the game just like does,” Gross said. “He said that my decision is still going to be my decision. Just like the good old days at South Panola, we would love to play with each other.”
Ole Miss coaches have told Gross that they think he can play defensive end or maybe even outside linebacker when he gets to Oxford.
“I see myself getting a little bit bigger, a little bit stronger. I know I have to have the body to play in that league,” Gross said. “I would love to play defensive line.”
The 2011 freshman class that Ole Miss signed was a tight bunch. Brassell and fellow wide receivers Donte Moncrief and Tobias Singleton helped recruit top players to become members of the class. Gross said that the 2012 class isn’t quite as tight, but he did say that he has had discussions with Ward and Evans, who are both uncommitted, about playing together in the future.
“Channing and Quay have been recruited by a lot more colleges. I tell them that I would love to play with you on the next level but if not I understand,” Gross said.
Can’t win ‘em all
South Panola hasn’t had the season it is used so far this year. Instead of knocking off opponents and maintaining a healthy winning streak, the Tigers have had to get used to losing a few games, which in turn has been good for Gross and others.
“It taught me you can’t win them all. It’s been good. Everybody has said growing up that it’s not what college you go to, it’s you have to get used to losing because you’re going to lose,” Gross said. “I feel like I’ve done better this year than I did last year. I’ve made a lot of tackles behind the line and a lot of sacks too but I don’t have as many as my 10th grade year. I’m not worried about my stats, I’m just trying to help us get wins and do what is best for the team right now.” (October 20, 2011, Page 7)