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01-29-2006, 11:42 AM
NCAA Signing Day: Spotlight avoiding West Tenn's best


His voice echoes over the phone like a parent wondering why the standout quarterback turned down the chance to take his daughter to the prom.
Or why his son wasn't good enough to make the football team.

To understand why Drew Hayes is confused - make that confused, frustrated and disappointed - when it comes to National Signing Day, you must remember the 2005 high school football season in West Tennessee.
The individual success of Hayes at McKenzie, Huntingdon's Phillip "Boo" Weathers and Kevis Buckley at Lexington. The team success of Union City, Huntingdon and Lexington.

"You'd think with as much talent as we had in West Tennessee this season that you would have several guys committing to larger schools," Hayes said.

According to the numbers, though, that's just not the case this year.
Only one area senior - LaDerrick Vaughn of Manassas - is expected to sign a national letter of intent with an NCAA Division I-A football program on Wednesday, the first day a football recruit can make a binding agreement with a college or university. Vaughn has been committed to Ole Miss since last spring.

Hayes says the recruits have to find what fits them on an individual basis.
"Sometimes the larger schools don't work out," said Hayes, winner of the 2005 Class 1A Mr. Football Back award. "Sometimes it works out better for guys to go to a smaller school or stay closer to home. Sometimes it fits them better.

"You have to look at each individual."

While there isn't enough time to breakdown the story of each area senior, we can take a look at how West Tennessee prospects have dealt with being largely ignored by major college football programs.

Size Doesn't Matter
For the majority of area seniors, smaller is better. Players considered too small to play major college football - particularly Weathers and Lexington's Johnathan Deberry - still found smaller schools willing to offer them an opportunity.

Winner of the 2005 Class 2A Mr. Football Back award, Weathers has orally committed to Division II Carson-Newman, while Deberry is going to play baseball and football at NAIA Bethel College.
Huntingdon coach Mike Mansfield said Weathers had the chance to walk-on as a non-scholarship player at a larger school but decided smaller was better.

"I told him, 'You've got to find a place where you can fit in and accomplish something,'" Mansfield said. "I wanted him to find a place where he'd be happy and be able to play. And I think he'll have an opportunity at Carson-Newman."

Bethel and Division I-AA Tennessee Martin are benefiting from the larger programs bypassing area players. In addition to Deberry, Bethel has commitments from Lexington's Spencer Taylor and Brighton teammates Johnny Douglas and Mario Harvey.

Despite undergoing a head coaching change when Matt Griffin left for Murray State last December, UTM has already received oral commitments from Lexington's Kevis Buckley and Haywood's Aaron Carney.

Although Lexington's Blake Booth changed his commitment from UTM to Murray State when Griffin switched jobs, the initial recruiting class for new UTM coach Jason Simpson could continue to grow after a handful of area recruits - including Bruceton's Russell Noles, South Side's Alex Hayes and Milan's Chris Johnson - were expected to visit the campus on Saturday.
Westview's Markei Guy, Crockett County's Jay Beaird and Union City's Nate Coleman are other area players also considering UTM.

The Big Show
Noles is a perplexing example of the recruiting game. An imposing figure at 6-foot-6, 300 pounds, Noles entered the season with bigger colleges such as Vanderbilt, Duke, Ole Miss and Mississippi State keeping tabs on him.
Fast forward two months after the end of his senior season - which included winning the 2005 Class 1A Mr. Football Lineman award - and the recruiting picture is much different for Noles.

Although he did talk to Vanderbilt coaches a few weeks ago, Noles has yet to hear back from the Commodores. Ole Miss and Mississippi State have disappeared. Noles was scheduled to visit Duke, but the Blue Devils canceled and never offered a scholarship.

With the larger colleges out of the picture, Noles is now being recruited by three schools - UTM, Bethel and Lambuth.

Noles said he doesn't really know what his future holds, but it's not like there's anything wrong with that.

"Most of the kids around here are small-town, simple folks that can do as well at a small school as they would at a big school," Noles said. "Football is football. You just get on TV more at the bigger schools."

Holding Out
Other prospects are holding out from making commitments for various reasons. Multi-sport standouts such as Hayes, Hardin County's Adam Milligan and Humboldt's Keith Warrington are still unsure whether they want to play one or two sports at the next level.

All three players have received scholarship offers from smaller schools to play both baseball and football. So far the timing just isn't right for any member of this trio.

Hayes appears to be in a nice situation for someone not expecting to sign on Wednesday. The second-leading passer in state history with 9,300 yards has talked to Memphis for football, Vanderbilt and Mississippi State for baseball, and the University of Tennessee, Cumberland, Bethel, Lambuth and Tennessee Tech for both sports.

David Cutcliffe - who recently returned to UT as the program's offensive coordinator - called Hayes' father twice early last week and plans to check back with the family after Wednesday.

Even with the interest, Hayes doesn't expect to make any decisions anytime soon.

"Vanderbilt and Mississippi State want to see me pitch live before they make any offers, so I'm probably not going to sign anywhere on signing day," Hayes said. "I'm still just looking for whatever presents the best opportunity for me to come in and make a difference in my first or second year."

Falling Into The Gap
A handful of players are waiting to see if any larger programs will have last-minute scholarships available. The opportunity to join larger programs as a non-scholarship player is appealing to others, including University School of Jackson's Will Dement with Ole Miss and Samford, according to USJ coach Mickey Marley.

Although Jackson Christian School's Will McDonald has narrowed his choices to two Division II schools in Harding and Abilene Christian University, JCS coach Eric Cohu said he has another group of seniors - Jeffrey Allen, Rob Meadows, Michael Ragan and Brandon Sheffield - who are still weighing numerous options.

A local player in a similar situation is JCM's Rickey Borner.
Another group of prospects will only be able to continue their football careers at a Division III college, which don't offer athletic scholarships.
Covington has at least five players considering Rhodes College in Memphis or Millsaps College in Mississippi. One of those players, Joe Freeman, said the recruiting process has been difficult but worth the time and effort.
"You just try not to think about it and keep your mind off it," Freeman said. "Our time will come."

No matter how much larger colleges ignore West Tennessee prospects.
- Joshua Parrott, 425-9634

West Tennessee Prospect Watch
Although Manassas senior LaDerrick Vaughn is the only area senior expected to sign with an NCAA Division I-A school on Wednesday, that doesn't mean West Tennessee is devoid of football talent. Here's a list of some of the area's top seniors and their list of colleges:

Name High School Colleges Showing Interest
Keilan Adams Covington Cumberland, Bethel
Leslie Adams Covington Cumberland, Bethel
Jeffrey Allen JCS DI, DII, NAIA
Roby Anderson Covington Rhodes College, Bethel, Millsaps College
Cody Baker Huntingdon Bethel
Kegan Ball McKenzie Lambuth, Cumberland
Parks Barker Union City Rhodes College
Jay Beaird Crockett County Tennessee Martin, Lambuth
Michael Bond JCM Lane College, Bethel
Blake Booth Lexington Murray State
Rickey Borner JCM Lane College, Bethel
Kevis Buckley Lexington Tennessee Martin, Austin Peay
Aaron Carney Haywood Tennessee Martin
Ronnie Casey Hardin County Tennessee Tech, Arkansas State, Lambuth, Cumberland
Larico Cole North Side Carson-Newman, Rhodes College
Cornelius Coleman Milan DI-AA, Lambuth, Cumberland
Nate Coleman Union City Tennessee Martin
Johnathan Deberry Lexington Bethel
Jarvis Degraffreed Covington SW Miss. CC, Miss. Delta CC
Will Dement USJ Ole Miss, Samford
Johnny Douglas Brighton Bethel
Joe Freeman Covington Rhodes College
Cody Glover Union City Tennessee Martin
Markei Guy Westview Tennessee Martin
Reggie Hampton North Side Lambuth
Mario Harvey Brighton Bethel
Alex Hayes South Side Tennessee Martin, Cumberland
Drew Hayes McKenzie Memphis, Mississippi State, Tennessee, Vanderbilt,
Cumberland, Lambuth, Tennessee Tech
Brandon Howard Liberty Cumberland
Chris Johnson Milan Tennessee Martin, Austin Peay, Lambuth, Cumberland
Michael Joy North Side Lambuth
John Kermit Laughery McKenzie Navy
Josh Leinweber Lake County Campbellsville, Cumberland
John Lemonds Lake County Campbellsville, Cumberland
Will McDonald JCS Harding, Abilene Christian
Rob Meadows JCS DI, DII, NAIA
Adam Milligan Hardin County Memphis, Vanderbilt, Tennessee, Austin Peay,
Arkansas State, Tennessee Tech, Lambuth, Cumberland
C.J. Minks Covington Tennessee Tech, Millsaps College, Cumberland
Stephen Moten JCM Lane College, Bethel
Tony Mosley Union City Arkansas State
Corey Moore Liberty Cumberland
Ryan Nanney Dresden Louisville, Arkansas State
Russell Noles Bruceton Vanderbilt, Tennessee Martin, Lambuth
Michael Ragan JCS DI, DII, NAIA
Chris Reece Crockett County Lambuth
Kenneth Riley JCM Lane College, Bethel
Gabe Rivers Covington Rhodes College, Millsaps College
Charlie Rose Henry County Tennessee Tech, Austin Peay
Brandon Sheffield JCS DI, DII, NAIA
Hunter Smith Riverside Lambuth
Brandon Snyder Huntingdon Cumberland
Tim Stark Brighton JUCO
Chris Taylor Liberty Cumberland
Spencer Taylor Lexington Bethel
Jeremy Teague Henry County Austin Peay
LaDerrick Vaughn Manassas Ole Miss
Buck Wakefield Munford Carson-Newman, Austin Peay, Lambuth
Keith Warrington Humboldt Chattanooga State, Murray State, JUCO
Phillip Weathers Huntingdon Carson-Newman
Jawain Williams JCM Lane College, Bethel
Originally published January 29, 2006