Darius Maberry

HATTIESBURG — Clinton’s Darius Maberry, who spent this football season as a highly valued freshman red-shirt at Southern Miss, has spent the last few days impersonating a good friend of his:

Cam Akers.

Wearing a gold jersey – Akers’ Florida State No. 3 – Maberry was giving USM’s defense a look at what they will face in the Dec. 27 Independence Bowl at Shreveport, La. Believe this: Maberry possesses both the speed and first-hand knowledge to play Akers.

But Maberry’s portrayal of Akers ended Wednesday afternoon when he suffered a knee injury that will require surgery next week and will keep him out of spring training in 2018. Maberry was running a deep, sideline pass pattern when he and a teammate collided. The teammate quickly got up. Maberry didn’t.

Rick Cleveland

It was a sad reminder of the risks football players take daily when the stadium is empty and few are watching. One moment he was streaking down the sidelines with near-world class sprinter’s speed. The next, he was being helped off the field, unable to put weight on the injured knee. An MRI Thursday revealed a torn ACL.

USM trainer Todd McCall said Maberry is looking at a six-month rehab/recovery period with a goal of having him cleared for conditioning workouts sometime in July.

Earlier Wednesday, Maberry smiled about his role as “Cam Akers.” He said he had told Akers what he was doing and both had enjoyed a good laugh.

“Nobody knows him much better,” Maberry said. “He’s my bro.”

Then-Clinton quarterback Cam Akers passes in last season’s MHSAA Class 6A football championship game in Starkville.

For those who don’t know, Akers was the five-star high school quarterback, who switched to running back at FSU after being one of the most productive, most highly recruited players in Mississippi high school history. He led the Seminoles with 930 yards rushing as a freshman.

Maberry was a three-star recruit, playing one heck of a supporting role to Akers’ five-star Clinton stardom.

In fact, Maberry, not Akers, led Clinton in all-purpose yardage in 2015 with 1,461 yards rushing and 327 yards receiving. Maberry rushed for more than 2,600 yards over his last two Clinton seasons and scored 54 touchdowns as a Clinton Arrow.

At USM, Maberry has been talked about as the next Ito Smith, referring to the senior running back who has become the 10th player in NCAA history to rush for more than 4,000 yards and catch passes for more than 1,000 yards in his career.

Smith, himself, said as much Wednesday before Maberry’s injury.

“He can go,” Smith said of Maberry. “He’s gonna show everybody just how good he is next year.”

Said USM coach Jay Hopson, “Darius could have helped us this year, but we had Ito and we just didn’t want to use up a year of eligibility when he might get five or six touches a game. But I’ll tell you this, he’s gonna be a really good football player for Southern Miss.”

Before the injury occurred Maberry was asked how much he was looking forward to getting back on the field as a full-fledged team member in spring, 2018.

“Oh man, you just don’t know,” he answered.

A few minutes later, his wait got considerably longer.

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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.