Collins, Smith, others sign with colleges Wednesday

Published 12:00 am Thursday, February 5, 2009

Meadville — Jamie Collins and Alex Smith are now Golden Eagles.

The Franklin County football players signed letters of intent to play for Southern Mississippi at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday in front of their family and coaches.

Collins, the quarterback who helped lead the Bulldogs to the fourth round of the MHSAA 3A playoffs this season, is expected to move to the defensive back position at Southern Miss.

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He has said he chose the Golden Eagles because their coaches, including head coach Larry Fedora, who received a contract extension through 2012 after this season.

“He’s an excellent athlete,” Franklin County coach Trent Hammond said of Collins. “He’s gifted to be so big and fast. He’s got great range from sideline to sideline as a defensive player, and he’s very physical — he likes to tackle and enjoys the actual contact of the game.”

Collins had verbally committed to Auburn last year but changed his mind after head coach Tommy Tuberville resigned.

He said he did not like the way the Tigers looked under new head coach Gene Chizik.

Smith, a defensive back for the Bulldogs, said Southern Miss felt like a second home to him.

It didn’t hurt that his aunt is an alumna of the university.

“The coaches have always been very straightforward with me,” Smith said. “I felt like I was going to be well taken care of.”

Hammond said he expects Smith to be a corner in college.

He said at 5 feet, 11 inches and 185 pounds, Smith is big but has great speed.

“He’s smart in the secondary,” Hammond said. “He’s able to recognized things and pick things up real quickly. He’s able to come in and adapt and fit into a bunch of schemes.”

Smith said choosing a college was the toughest decision he’s ever made.

He was being recruited by Memphis, Jackson State, Louisiana-Monroe, Louisiana Tech, Arkansas State and Co-Lin Community College, according to his dad, Robert Smith.

“I don’t like to tell people no,” Smith said. “I had to tell people I didn’t want to come to their school, and that was really hard. I didn’t want to disappoint anybody.”

Collins said he made the choice, however, by realizing his future was on the line.

His father said he’s just happy the day is over.

“It was tiring because of all the phone calls and all the people,” Robert Smith said. “I’m just real happy he’s made a decision. He went with a great school and a great program, and he’s going to be successful.”

Smith’s dad said he barely slept at all the night before signing day, although his son slept “like a rock.”

It will be an adjustment next year, he said.

“He’s the only child I have so I focus all my love and energy on him,” Robert Smith said. “I’m not going to have anyone to hang out with anymore, and I’m going to cry when he leaves.”

Hammond said the Bulldogs will have big shoes to fill next season with the loss of the seniors — Jordan Hunt committed to Co-Lin.

“Guys like that you’re going to miss for sure,” he said. “It will be a challenge for us — not only just the players, but the coaches will be challenged as well.”

But Smith and Collins both feel they’ve made the right choice, and they are excited about seeing a familiar face on the field next season.

Two Natchez schools also had players sign with Division I programs.

Natchez High wide receiver and kick returner Rico Richardson signed with Jackson State while Trinity Episcopal lineman Larry Calcote inked with Northwestern State.

Calcote picked Northwestern State, a Championship Subdivision school that plays in the Southland Conference, over UCLA because he said it was a better fit.

“I’m honored to be going to a good school,” Calcote said. “It’s a great place and they play good football. I’ll fit in there. I’m a Demon now.”

Calcote said he was impressed with new Demons coach Bradley Dale Peveto, who was the former co-defensive coordinator at LSU.

“Coach Peveto is a great guy,” Calcote said. “I’m looking forward to playing for him.”

And Calcote might get to play very soon.

“With the situation they have on the offensive line, I might be able to play immediately,” Calcote said. “I’m going to hit the ground running. It’s not about where you go to school, but what you do when you get there.”

Trinity football coach David King said Calcote signing with Northwestern State was a just reward for the hard work he has put in throughout his Trinity career.

“Larry will go down as one of the best linemen to ever play at Trinity, but his best football is ahead of him,” King said. “This is a great opportunity for him. The coaches at Northwestern State feel good about his chances of playing quickly. It’s great when hard work pays off and Larry is a tribute to that.”

Richardson was also pleased after signing with two-time defending SWAC East Division champion Jackson State Wednesday afternoon.

“I’m proud of myself,” Richardson said after signing. “I never thought I’d get a scholarship for football. I’m ready to go there and show my stuff.”

Richardson said he knew he wanted to go to Jackson State once he took a visit there.

“It’s the right place for me to go,” Richardson said. “It’s a nice campus, and the people are nice. The coaching staff all seems to be real cool.”

Three Natchez High players — Keith Dee, Ernest Jones and Charell Carter — signed scholarships to play football at Copiah-Lincoln Community College.

Bulldogs football coach Lance Reed said it was an honor for four of his players to continue their football careers on the collegiate level.

“It’s good for them,” Reed said. “Their goals were always to play on the next level. I’m proud for those guys to get that opportunity. They’ve put in a lot of hard work and this is the reward for that.”

Other local players that signed on Wednesday were Centreville’s Justin Henry, who signed with Championship Subdivision school Southeastern Louisiana, and Cathedral’s Josh Gamberi, who signed with NAIA school Belhaven College.