Notes, quotes and an opinion or three…

So sorry to hear of the death of former Ole Miss football great Paige Cothren, a two-time All American fullback in the mid-’50s. Cothren was a splendid player, who excelled as a blocker, a runner, a tackler and a kicker.

He led a rich life, Paige Cothren did. He was from the famous Ole Miss Poole family. Buster, Ray and Barney Poole were his mother’s brothers, his uncles. He played at Natchez High, then Ole Miss and then three years in the NFL, two for the Los Angeles Rams and another for the Philadelphia Eagles.

Among Cothren’s many distinctions was this one: He was the first New Orleans Saint. That’s right. The first New Orleans Saint under contract was a Mississippian, Paige Cothren.

Cothren had been retired for six years when Tom Fears, the first New Orleans coach, offered him a contract to come kick for the brand new Saints.

He signed it and went to camp where he competed with Charlie Durkee for the placekicking job. Both men reportedly kicked well. Durkee won the job.

“It came down to Durkee and me,” Cothren once told The Times Picayune. “He kicked with a special shoe. His dad was an iron-worker and he made him a special steel-toed shoe. He kicked with it for one year and it got around the league. The league ruled the shoe illegal and they took it away.”

Cothren came back to Mississippi and became a Christian counselor and teacher and accomplished author of 29 books.

Funeral services will be Sunday at 3 p.m. at Houston First Baptist Church.


Any time I write about the Poole family, I have to bring up my favorite quote in the history of Mississippi sports. The Poole brothers — Buster, Ray and Barney, all future Mississippi Sports Hall of Famers — grew up in the Homochitto community where the school only went through junior high. When it came time for high school, Buster went off to Natchez, where he lived in a boarding house. In Natchez, Buster Poole was introduced to football. As all the Pooles, he was big, rangy, broad-shouldered and country strong. He could run and catch and block and tackle.

As the story goes, Buster returned to Homochitto for the holidays after that first autumn of high school and excitedly told his younger brothers, “Boys, have I found us a game we can play. . .”

And, boy, had he. . .


The 2016 Mississippi college football season kicks into high gear today. We find out about the Mississippi State quarterback situation when the Bulldogs play South Alabama at 11 a.m. We watch Jay Hopson’s first USM team when the Golden Eagles play at Kentucky at 6:30 this evening. And then, Monday night, Ole Miss takes on Florida State at Orlando in a battle of ranked tams

The picks:

State 31, South Alabama 14. Bulldogs may struggle some early, but superior talent and depth should prevail in the midday heat.

Southern Miss 34, Kentucky 27. Today’s upset special. I like the Golden Eagles because of senior quarterback Nick Mullens.

Ole Miss 27, Florida State 24. Oddsmakers would call this one an upset, too. But Chad Kelly, who was playing as well as anyone in the country at the end of 2015, gives the Rebels a huge edge over an FSU team that isn’t sure about the QB position.


Apparently, it is making the talk radio rounds that I wrote that Clinton wunderkind Cam Akers will play quarterback in college. It’s just not so. I said Akers could play quarterback at the next level if he so chooses, and he could. He has the arm to do it. Of course, he could also play cornerback, safety, running back or wide receiver and return kicks. That’s how versatile he is.

It has also been said that I called Akers the best high school football player in Mississippi history. I did not. I said he belongs in the same sentence with the best high school players in Mississippi history, and he does. He’s that good.

You can read the Akers piece here.

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Rick Cleveland, a native of Hattiesburg and resident of Jackson, has been Mississippi Today’s sports columnist since 2016. A graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi with a bachelor’s in journalism, Rick has worked for the Monroe (La.) News Star World, Jackson Daily News and Clarion Ledger. He was sports editor of Hattiesburg American, executive director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame. His work as a syndicated columnist and celebrated sports writer has appeared in numerous magazines, periodicals and newspapers.
Rick has been recognized 13 times as Mississippi Sports Writer of the Year, and is recipient of multiple awards and honors for his reporting and writing.

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