Natchez has strong athletic heritage

Published 12:41 am Sunday, January 6, 2008

The LSU Tigers will be playing for a national championship Monday night and one of Natchez’s own is a part of the experience.

Former Trinity standout Stevan Ridley is a member of that Tiger team, and even though he is being redshirted this season, he is expected to be a major force for LSU in the years to come.

While Ridley is the latest Natchez area athlete to go on to the big stage, he is far from the first.

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In fact, many athletes have come out of this small part of the state to star in college and professional sports for years.

One of the most famous Natchezians to make it in the pros is former linebacker Hugh Green.

Green took his talent to the University of Pittsburgh where he dominated opposing offenses for four years.

He ended his college career with 441 tackles and 53 sacks. He also won the Maxwell, Lonbardi and Walter Camp trophies and finished second in the Heisman Trophy balloting his senior year of 1980, which is still the highest-ever finish for a purely defensive player.

Green was drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1981 and made two Pro Bowls with the team before being traded to the Miami Dolphins in 1985. He played six more years in the NFL before retiring in 1991.

Green was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1996.

Natchez currently has a few local guys in pro sports, including Houston Texans defensive back Von Hutchins, who starred at Cathedral and Washington Nationals outfielder Nook Logan, who prepped at Natchez High and played college baseball at Copiah-Lincoln.

Also, Vidalia’s Jarrett Hoffpauir is close to cracking the Major League roster of the St. Louis Cardinals after just a couple of years in the minors.

And it’s not just the stick and ball sports at which Natchez athletes excel.

Several track and field stars have gone on to brighter things, including former Natchez shotputter Jason Wisner, who went on to Mississippi State and became one of the best shotputters in Mississippi history.

There are also a couple of current athletes in Janice Davis and Kendrick Gibbons who are trying out for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.

Good luck to them, as they are, to use an Olympic metaphor, picking up the torch for the area in athletic achievement from those who have carried it before them such as Green and Perry Lee Dunn, who prepped at Trinity and became an All-American football player at Ole Miss in the 1960s as well as Joe Fortunato, who was a star linebacker for the Chicago Bears in the 60s.

There are numerous more people I could name in this space, but simply don’t have room for such a mountainous feet.

So as LSU plays for a national championship Monday night in New Orleans, Natchez residents will have a chance to cheer because one of their own is a part of it.

While others may not think much of seeing Natchez next to his biography in the game program, we know better.

Ridley is just the latest in a long line of athletic greatness in the Miss-Lou.

He wasn’t the first, and he definitely won’t be the last.

Jeff Edwards is the sports editor of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3633 or