Past winners rack up more victories. Updates on Akers, Rooker, Thornberry, more

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Rick Cleveland

Updates on some people you may have read about in my Mississippi Today columns during the past year:

• From Dec. 2, 2016, when Clinton and Cam Akers swamped Pearl 49-35, and I wrote about Akers’ magnificent game, his career and how a young Pearl team had battled Clinton evenly if not for Akers.

Jacob Kupferman/CSM, Cal Sport Media via AP

Florida State running back Cam Akers (3) during Nov. 4 with Syracuse at Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee

Here we are almost a year later, Akers has signed with Florida State and leads the Seminoles in rushing as a freshman tailback with 695 yards and a nifty 5.55-yard per carry average. He is coming off a 27-24 victory over Syracuse in which he rushed for 199 yards and two touchdowns. Thus far, he has been a splendid player on a mediocre FSU team. The Seminoles lost their starting quarterback early on and have gone with a true freshman at the position. My take: Had Jimbo Fisher switched Akers from tailback to quarterback when the starter went down, the ‘Noles would have a better record. We’ll never know.

Meanwhile, Pearl, with so many players returning from the team that battled Clinton in last year’s state championship game, finished this regular season 12-0 and plays St. Martin of Ocean Springs in a first-round playoff game Friday night at Pearl.

Steve Knight, basketball coach at William Carey University

• From Jan. 23, 2017, after a powerful tornado virtually destroyed William Carey University’s Clinton Gymnasium, causing Carey’s Hall of Fame basketball coach Steve Knight to say, “I’m afraid that’s what we’re going to be left with: memories.” Knight was nearly certain the building would be declared a complete loss.

The Carey Crusaders played the rest of the season without a home gymnasium and still made the NAIA playoffs. They have practiced and played elsewhere until this week when – surprise! – the rebuilt and refurbished Clinton Gymnasium was re-opened. The Crusaders were to hold their first practice in it on Monday and will play their first home game Nov. 14 when Xavier visits.

“It looks brand new,” Knight said Monday morning. “We’ve got a new roof, two new walls, a new floor and new locker rooms. It’s really, really nice.”

Here’s another something nice: That new floor will be named for Knight in a celebration to come later this season – much deserved for a guy who has won 655 career games at Carey, ranking him fourth in victories nationally for NAIA basketball coaches.

Kelly Price

Mississippi State star Brent Rooker continued  his hot hitting in the Minnesota Twins organization.

• From April 11, 2017, still early in what was a baseball season to remember for Mississippi State’s Brent Rooker. “No Mississippi State baseball player in history, including legends named Clark, Palmeiro and Renfroe, has had a more impressive run at the plate than Brent Rooker recently,” I wrote.

Rooker never slowed down. He won the SEC Triple Cown, becoming the first player to do it since Rafael Palmeiro in 1984. Rooker hit .387 with 23 home runs and 87 RBI. Drafted by the Minnesota Twins, Rooker continued his hot hitting in the pros with a .281 average, 18 homers and 52 RBIs, earning a promotion from rookie league to Class A advanced. Seems a matter of time, maybe a season, before he will join Mississippian Brian Dozier with the big Twins.

Ole Miss media relations

Braden Thornberry continues his amazing amateur carer at Ole Miss this fall. 

• From August 18, 2017, when I wrote about Braden Thornberry’s decision to remain at Ole Miss when he could have pursued big money on the PGA Tour. I wrote: “First things first: If I am Braden Thornberry, the most accomplished college golfer in Mississippi history, I would have turned pro yesterday.”

Thornberry, the NCAA Champion and Player of the Year last season as a sophomore, won two of the Rebels’ four fall tournaments, averaging a team best 70.33 shots per round. If you want something to compare that scoring average to, try this: Thornberry averaged 69.57 per round last season. Jordan Spieth averaged 70.91 per round at Texas the year before he turned pro.

Rick Cleveland

Coach Lance Mancuso stands before the plaque honoring late Bassfield coach Howard Willoughby at the north end of Howard Willoughby Field.

On Sept. 28, 2017, I wrote about the remarkable football tradition in Bassfield where always strong Bassfield High School and neighboring Prentiss High have merged this year to form Jefferson Davis County High School. Bassfield, a town of a few more than 200 folks, has eight players starting at Division I football schools this fall. At the time, the Jeff Davis Jaguars were 5-1 despite missing several injured starters.

The 11-1 Jaguars have won six straight since then, mostly by lopsided scores including a 79-38 trouncing of St. Andrews Episcopal in the first round of the Class 3A state playoffs last weekend.

“We’ve gotten all but one of our starters back,” Coach Lance Mancuso said Monday. “We got Malik Shorts (a USM commitment) back just last week. We’re playing pretty well, and we need to be this time of the year.”

The Jaguars host defending 3A state champ Kemper County Friday.

UCA Athletics

Coach Steve Campbell has won two national football championships and looks to a third.

• Finally, just last week I wrote about University of Central Arkansas coach Steve Campbell, who has won national championships at Delta State University and Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College and is looking to win another at Central Arkansas. I wrote: “One guy’s opinion: Campbell would win at the highest level of college football just as he has won everywhere else.”

Can’t tell you how many of Campbell’s former associates and players have emailed to me since in total agreement.

Last Saturday, the UCA Bears trounced Lamar University 42-14 on the road, rolling up 556 yards of offense en route to their eighth straight victory. They have two more regular season games before the playoffs begin.