Mississippi doesn’t get enough respect.
At least, that’s what Keenan Barnes believes.
Texas, Florida and California are widely regarded as the top states for producing Division-I players. But the Madison Central wideout feels Mississippi isn’t far behind.
“We’re a top five state in the nation — easy,” he said. “No doubt about that.”
To support his claim, Barnes simply points to tonight.
That’s when Madison Central takes on Brandon in a metro area rivalry showdown that’s been the talk of the offseason. And that’s largely because several future D-I players will take the field.
“This is the game that has the most and the best talent you’ll see all year,” Barnes said. “You can point to like a dozen guys on the field and be like, ‘That dude is legit. He’s going D-I. That guy’s a four-star.’ There’s talent all over the place.”
And it’s evenly distributed.
Barnes, a three-star prospect according to 247Sports, and Trey Smith, who holds offers from Mississippi State, Louisville, Memphis and more, are the headliners for the Jaguars.
For Brandon, blue-chip defensive tackle Fletcher Adams and quarterback Gardner Minshew are household names for anyone who follows Mississippi preps.
“If you want to see talent,” Minshew said, “this is the game for you. There are some big names going against each other.”
But other than those four, Minshew would advise you to keep an eye on Titus Ivory — a three-star wideout who transferred from Terry to Brandon this year.
His 6-foot-5, 190-pound frame has Minshew geeked up.
“He’s a difference-maker,” Minshew said. “That’s what you want as a quarterback.”
Minshew describes the talent level that will take the field tonight as “second to none.”
But even then he’s not satisfied.
Adams, Minshew, Smith and Barnes are regarded as some of the top players in the state.
But Minshew wants more than local recognition.
“Mississippi should have more guys ranked on all those ESPN and Rivals rankings and lists,” Minshew said. “People underestimate some of the players here. It happens all the time.”
Minshew and Smith are examples of that.
Both have logged stellar numbers against top-end competition during their prep careers. But their stat sheets are far more impressive than their offer lists.
Minshew, entering his third year under center, has piled up more than 6,100 career passing yards.
Smith, who will make his debut at quarterback for Madison Central, recorded 2,300 all-purpose yards and earned All-Metro honors a year ago.
“I know there are guys on both sides of the field who will make big impacts at the next level,” Smith said. “But people outside the state may disagree. I think it gives us a little chip on our shoulder.”
When he lines up tonight, he’ll glance down at Adams — a Dandy Dozen selection who practically has his pick of the SEC.
They’ll be envy and a hint of anger.
“Look, Fletcher Adams is a stud. He’s great,” Barnes said. “But he’s a guy who is a great athlete and has all the offers and all that, and I think I deserve that too. I think I should be just as heavily recruited. It’s motivation for sure. I want that respect.”
But how do you earn respect?
Barnes has an answer.
“You have to live for games like this. Big playmakers and big players make impacts in big games,” he said. “This is the time to get that respect. It’s not like we’re putting up these numbers against bad teams. If you can perform in a game like this one where there’s so much talent, I think that says it all.”
Contact Riley Blevins at (601) 961-7344 or email@example.com. Follow @Riley_Blevins on Twitter.