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BATESVILLE — These eyes saw Walter Payton play at Columbia High School. These eyes saw Marcus Dupree play at Philadelphia. They saw Jerious Norwood play at Brandon, Deuce McAllister at Morton and Jimmy Johns at Brookhaven.
But these eyes have never seen a better Mississippi high school football player than Cam Akers, Clinton’s 17-year-old wunderkind, whom I saw in person for the first time here Thursday night.
In the first huge game of the 2016 high school football season, Akers threw for three touchdowns and ran for two more to lead the Clinton Arrows to a 38-26 victory over traditional Magnolia State powerhouse South Panola. Akers ran for 180 yards. He completed 14 of 22 passes for 272 yards. That’s 452 yards, five touchdowns, total. That’s against the University of South Panola, which is called that for a reason. This was against some big, fast, talented players. This was on the road.
Yes, and when Clinton really needed a defensive stop, Akers entered the game in the secondary.
As with all the truly great ones, the numbers, gaudy as they are, do not paint the complete picture. Akers runs with the power of Payton and the speed and shiftiness of Norwood, which is probably why so many college recruiters and all the recruiting services project him as a running back. Often times, he doesn’t even acknowledge the first guy that hits him. He just just runs through the would-be tackler without so much as a hitch or pause. And then, when he gets in the open field, he dodges defenders off their feet. And here’s the kicker: He can really, really throw it. He throws a tight spiral. He can, in the vernacular, spin it. And he can spin it on the run.
Akers may well play running back in college football and then in the NFL. But don’t think for a second he couldn’t play quarterback in today’s spread, hurry-up offenses in big-time college football. He surely could. Yeah, he’s short — 5-foot-11, tops — but he’s as tall as Russell Wilson and all he’s done is win a Super Bowl.
Listen to 47-year-old Lance Pogue, winner of five state championships and one national championship at South Panola. He’s coached more great players than many folks ever see up close and personal.
“Akers had a Heisman Trophy night tonight,” Pogue said. “He was single-handedly the difference.”
Asked where Akers fits in to Mississippi’s remarkable pantheon of football superstars, Pogue said this: “I am not going to just come out and say he’s the best high school player in Mississippi history, but I am not going to say he’s not, either. He makes all the plays. He’s really fast and really strong. And he’s tough. I’ll tell you what, it was hot and humid tonight and we had players throwing up and dehydrated on the sidelines. Not him. Nobody ran around more than Akers and he just seemed to get better and better, stronger and stronger. Heck, I look out there in the fourth quarter and that sucker’s playing defense.”
Akers does not lack for a supporting class. Tailback/cornerback Darious Mayberry is a big play waiting to happen. Safety/wide receiver Kameron White is a star on both sides of the field. It remains to be seen if the Arrows are strong and deep enough up front, especially defensively, to win a state championship, but nobody in Mississippi, or anywhere else, will have more playmakers.
As for South Panola, the Tigers are talented but unusually young. They are not a your typical South Panola powerhouse – yet, but they might be by season’s end.
“I like my team,” said Pogue, who has announced he is resigning from South Panola after this season. “Our goal is to be there in November, and I think we have a chance.”
We shall see.
This we know: Unless something happens to Cam Akers, Clinton will be in the final mix. He is special, really, really special.
Best Mississippi high school player ever?
These eyes have never seen one better. Cam Akers surely belongs in the first sentence of any such discussion.
Rick Cleveland writes a weekly sports column running Fridays at Mississippitoday.org