Most of the top football players in the state of Mississippi will converge on Tupelo High School Saturday for the sixth annual Southeast Select Combine.
The event was created and still hosted by Steve Robertson, a recruiting analyst for FoxSportsNext.com, after holding a similar event in Mobile, Ala. The inaugural event in 2008 had several top names, such as former Mississippi State standout Fletcher Cox, who was selected in the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft by the Philadelphia Eagles.
“The first year we were up there we had Tyler Russell, Tracey Lampley, Chad Bumphis, Pat Patterson, Nickoe Whitley and Vince Sanders. Some of these guys are household names in Southeastern Conference football circles, especially in Mississippi, and we were privileged to have those guys in our first year. Some have already gone off to the NFL and it was amazing to say we had a chance to watch those guys in action,” Robertson said. “It’s amazing to go back and look at pictures and see how much those guys have grown and how they’ve become men and just a few years ago they were just guys with a dream hoping they would get an offer from somewhere.”
Some other top-rated players that have taken part in the combine in different years include Channing Ward, who just finished up his freshman campaign as an Ole Miss Rebel, and Byhalia’s Davion Johnson, who just signed a scholarship with the Rebels.
This year’s combine will begin at 10 a.m. Registration begins at 9 and players will be tested in the 40-yard dash, L-Cone drill, the shuttle and the long jump according to Robertson.
High school coaches from around the state not only help bring prospects to the combine, they help run the event and testing. Most of the time, the combine is concluded by 1:30 or 2 in the afternoon.
“Fortunately I’ve been blessed to get to know some guys that have a similar heart as I do. This is really a celebration of football in our state,” Robertson said. “I do have a couple of hard and fast rules and the first is absolutely no college team gear. This is not the Egg Bowl. Nobody that is affiliated with me or the event can show up with any college of any sort on.
“This is a chance for us for guys around the state that play different classifications that would otherwise never play against one another, it gives them a chance to measure themselves against guys that SEC offers or guys they’re familiar with from different media publications,” Robertson added. “It gives them a chance to realize when they go back to school how much work they have to do. Some of them don’t realize how many guys are chasing the same offers until they come to an event like this and they say ‘man, there are a lot of people out here grinding for the same opportunity.’”
Buford showed out
Last year Lafayette running back D.K. Buford attended the combine and ran a blazing time in the 40. He was joined by Callaway linebacker Ronald Walker and Meridian defensive back C.J. Hampton. All three are verbal pledges to Ole Miss.
“I think that’s one of the things we do a little better job than most people with and that is to be as inclusive as possible and to allow the coaches themselves to decide which guys can come. We don’t charge any money. I lose money in this deal. Tupelo pays for my hotel room. I buy my own gas. It’s a time for us to get everybody together and this evaluation thing is something I take pretty seriously,” Robertson said. “It’s fun to get some third-party numbers on the guys. The most fun part is to see a guy like a D.K. Buford run. I’m far removed from him, I’m five hours away from him (Robertson lives in Baton Rouge, La) so had he not come to the combine, I wouldn’t have been as familiar with him.
“To see him run as well as he did and then the third time he ran a sub 4.4, I was there watching myself. I wanted to make sure somebody didn’t have a quick trigger,” Robertson added. “He’s just a legit speedster. It’s exciting when you get to see kids you normally don’t get to see and you get out there on a level playing field and watch them compete against the other great talents in the state. That’s rewarding that you provide that place for them.”
Best of the best
The bulk of the combine will be rising seniors but there will be a good mix of underclassmen there, especially if they have next-level ability.
“I tell the coaches that if they are bringing an underclassman, I want to make sure that he’s outstanding. I want to make sure that it is somebody that is going to play beyond the high school level and probably in a D-I category. I kind of leave that up to the coach’s discretion,” Robertson said. “The thing that we have done the last two years is just open it up and be as inclusive as possible, and not just for the SEC-caliber guys. Anybody that has a chance to play beyond the high school level we want them to come. We want them to get exposure and we want them to be able to showcase their skills. A lot of these guys will re-emerge two years down the road as junior college prospects thanks to that furtile Mississippi JUCO system. (One of those examples was former NWCC standout Donald Hawkins who signed with Texas). To have a chance to watch them develop and come along as they go, that’s a big part of it too.”
Even if Robertson doesn’t know a prospect is coming, he’s been welcoming.
“I don’t want anybody to be turned away. We want a list of numbers so we can kind of prepare but there have been times we had kids show up and we run out of shirts. We had a school bus of kids show up that we never knew were coming, 20 kids, and we just put some numbers on tape and let them run and they were just as happy as the rest,” Robertson said. “They just wanted to get out there and show what they could do. Doing something like this is rewarding for me because I think we’re shining the light on some guys that haven’t had the exposure they probably deserve.” (May 23, 2013, Page 7)