Greenville Christian’s D.J. Smith might decide to go the junior college route.

Catching up on several columns written over the last few weeks…

Remember Greenville Christian, the small Delta private school that stamped itself as one of the state’s best — if not the best — high school football teams in the state this season? The Saints finished the season 12-1 and easily won the MAIS Class 3A state championship, defeating Canton Academy 46-6 in the championship game.

“There were times it all seemed like a dream,” says Saints coach Jon Reed McLendon. “This was a special group and a special season.”

Special?

Rick Cleveland

McLendon says 20 of his 22 seniors have been offered scholarships at either the junior college or college level.

“Any other year I would think we’d have four or five that would sign with Power-5 schools,” McLendon said. “With the transfer portal and the glut caused by COVID, there are just not as many scholarships to go around. That’s true everywhere. There’s a lot of guys who normally would be signing with big schools that are going to go the junior college route.”

Believe it or not, that could include Saints quarterback D.J. Smith, the Mississippi Gatorade Player of they Year Award, throwing for 37 touchdowns and running for 14 more. Smith, a full academic qualifier, has DI offers from Arkansas State and Louisiana-Monroe and has received interest from Nebraska and Indiana, but might decide to spend a year at the JUCO level, McLendon said.

Greenville Christian wide receiver Chris Bell, the best high school player these eyes saw this season, has offers from Louisville and Maryland and interest from Ole Miss and Mississippi State but remains uncommitted. He was once committed to Southern Miss. As I have written, the gifted Bell looks like a carbon copy of former Ole Miss receiver A.J. Brown, the current Tennessee Titans star.

Remember Collins Hill, the nationally ranked high school team that handed Greenville Christian its only defeat, 37-22, back on Sept. 3? Turns out that was the closest game Collins Hill, ranked No. 3 in this week’s USA Today national high school poll, has played.

Collins Hill, 14-0, has won its games by an average of 33 points, and plays Milton for the Georgia Class 7A state championship Saturday night. 

“We knew they were mighty good when we played them,” McLendon said. “What they’ve done is no surprise to us. It’s nice to know that nobody else has played them as well as we did.”

Greenville Christian will have only one starter returning on offense, four on defense. You’ve heard of rebuilding seasons? “We’ll be starting over,” McLendon said, “especially on offense.”

•••

Remember Sam Burns, the former LSU golfer who won the Sanderson Farms Championship back in October? Burns has continued his remarkable play throughout the fall with three more Top 10 finishes. He was third last week at the Hero World Challenge in Albany, Ga., and currently ranks third on the PGA Tour money list with nearly $2 million in earnings in the new season. Pretty soon, he will be making SEC football coach money.

Burns’ scoring average through 16 rounds is 67.3. That’s insane.

Mississippian Hayden Buckley, who finished in a tie for fourth at the Sanderson, currently ranks 42nd on the PGA Tour money list with $498,000 in earnings this season.

As for the future of the Sanderson Farms Championship, it’s still on hold. That will be decided by the new ownership at Sanderson Farms when the sale receives approval from Sanderson Farms stockholders, perhaps by the end of the year.

•••

Remember back in late October when Southern Miss announced it was switching to the Sun Belt Conference?

At the time, the actual move was supposed to take place for the 2023 school year. Now there have been reports that the move could be made as early as the 2022 football season.Those reports could be premature. 

“I would say it’s a possibility but there’s nothing to announce,” Southern Miss athletic director Jeremy McLain said Thursday. “There’s still a lot that would have to happen for that to take place.”


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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.