HATTIESBURG – There are many reasons why Alabama has won 22 of the previous 30 high school all-star football games with Mississippi, including the fact that Alabama’s population is about 2 million more than the Magnolia State’s.
“Relatively speaking, you’re talking about 6A vs. 3A or 4A,” said Northwest Rankin’s Toby Collums, one of the Mississippi high school coaches for this year’s contest, Tuesday afternoon. “That’s a heckuva difference.”
It is. But there’s much more to it than that. Twenty-nine of the 30 previous games have been played in Alabama. Home field advantage, even in all-star games, makes a difference.
Mississippi got one of its eight victories in the 2015 game, the only played on Mississippi soil. The game returns to Hattiesburg and The Rock at Southern Miss this Saturday at noon. It can be seen on various TV stations around the state.
Mississippi soil or not, oddsmakers would make Alabama a huge favorite this time around. The Alabama roster is chock full of highly rated recruits, many headed for Power Five conference schools.
“If you go down the rosters, we may be a little bit behind the eight-ball talent-wise,” said Lance Mancuso, Mississippi’s head coach from State Class 3A champion Jefferson Davis County. “People say this is one of the strongest Alabama teams they’ve had and they’re always strong. But our guys are excited and take a lot of pride in representing Mississippi high school football.”
Brookhaven center Trace Clopton, a 6-foot-2, 290-pound Southern Miss commit and a coach’s son, is more than a little excited.
“I look at it as a great honor to represent not only my hometown but the entire state of Mississippi,” Clopton said. “I’ve grown up in it, so I’m well aware of how important high school football is in towns and communities across Mississippi.
“We’ve got players from all parts of the state from big schools and little schools that run all kinds of different offenses and defenses,” Clopton continued. “It’s really challenging to get ready for a game like this in one week of preparation, but it helps that we all have one thing in common. We want to beat Alabama.”
Trace Clopton’s father, Tommy Clopton, serves this week as Mississippi’s scout coach, which requires explanation. Both teams are allowed to use one coach to scout the other team’s practices. The elder Clopton has scouted the Alabama practices.
Said Tommy Clopton of Alabama, “They are just what you would expect: big strong and fast, full of players headed for Alabama and Auburn. I mean, they look like a team of big-time college players.”
The quarterback position might best illustrate why Alabama would be considered a big favorite. Alabama’s two quarterbacks: Jack West of Saraland, a four-star recruit who chose Stanford over Alabama, Auburn and a host of others; and James Foster of Lanier in Montgomery, another four-star who is choosing from among Alabama, LSU, Florida State and others. Both are tall, athletic pro-style quarterbacks.
Mississippi’s two quarterbacks: Kenneth Gainwell of Yazoo County, a three-star recruit long committed to Memphis; and South Panola’s Patrick Shegog, an unrated Tulane commitment who chose the Green Wave over Army, Navy and Central Arkansas. Both Gainwell and Shegog are listed as athletes, rather than quarterbacks, by recruiting services.
Although Mancuso has won state championship at three different schools running a Wing-T offense, which requires precise timing, Mississippi will run from the spread, which is more familiar to more of the players.
“We’re doing what we feel like gives us the best chance to compete,” Mancuso said. “We got a lot better today (Tuesday) after really getting to know each other Monday. Man, it’s a lot to do in a week’s time.”
Mississippi did it especially well two years ago when future Ole Miss receivers A.J. Brown and D.K. Metcalf caught two touchdowns each from future USM quarterback Keon Howard in a 28-21 victory.
Although Alabama holds a commanding lead in the series, most games have been close, including four that have gone to overtime, all won by Alabama in Alabama. Alabama won last year’s game in Montgomery 25-14.