You looked around the room Tuesday and it was easy to be impressed by the future of major college football. There’s Oxford’s D.K. Metcalf right next to Starkville’s A.J. Brown. Over on the other side is Meridian’s Raekwon Davis, Noxubee County’s Jeffery Simmons, Germantown’s Nigel Knott and Wayne County’s Benito Jones. That’s just half the room.
The 2015 Clarion-Ledger Dandy Dozen is as good of a group as any in recent memory, full of guys that are going to end up playing at Ole Miss, Mississippi State or, honestly for most of them, anywhere else they choose. They’re at the point in their lives where anything is possible. Their talent and genetics are making the future limitless. Which is why it is difficult to think that it’ll not work out for some of them, that the NFL will not be their ultimate destination.
“Everybody in this room is not going to go to the NFL,” Tyler Russell said. “I’m sorry, but it’s just not going to happen.”
Every year The Clarion-Ledger asks someone to talk to the Dandy Dozen players about their future and tell their story. This year it was Russell and Clayton Moore, for whom it was only seven years ago they were the ones listening to the speech inside the Veterans Memorial Stadium locker room. The Dandy Dozen quarterbacks of 2008 from Meridian and Louisville were going to go to Mississippi State and Ole Miss, respectively, start for four years and then go to the NFL. It was still a dream, but it felt like an eventuality to them.
Things did not work out that way. Moore was kicked off his high school team during the Class 3A semifinals, lost his Ole Miss offer and ended up playing at four schools (Ole Miss as a walk-on, Mississippi Gulf Coast, Akron and Jackson State) in five years.
“As a young kid I had attitude problems growing up,” Moore said. “I always threw my bat during Little League or would throw my helmet. I never learned from my mistakes as a kid. … I had 20-something offers and at the end of the day I was stuck with none because of my attitude.”
Russell did not have the same control issues, but admitted he took things for granted sometimes.
“We had a really good team (at Meridian), and to be honest with you it was easy,” Russell said. “We had a good offensive line, good receivers, good running back and good defense. We had fun, but I took it for granted because I said, ‘I can’t wait until I get to college.’ I always wanted more, but I’m here to tell you the funnest time I had was winning a state championship, getting elected Mr. Football and winning Gatorade player of the year.”
Russell’s plan at Mississippi State did go as scheduled for a while: He killed it on the scout team as a freshman, played some the next two years as the backup and set school records as a redshirt junior in 2012. But things never went right his senior season. Russell ended up sharing time with Dak Prescott, and a torn labrum in Russell’s throwing shoulder ended his college career.
“The doctor told me that I would never be able to throw the ball the same, so I worked my tail off to throw,” Russell said. “I had some workouts with the Bengals and the Browns, and did pro day this past year. But I’m kinda getting away from football a little bit because I know I did everything I could.”
This is depressing, right? They had the dream and then it all died. But here’s the thing, though, and I don’t think this fact was lost on a parent in the room Tuesday: Moore and Russell are both college graduates. Moore is working as an investigator with a law firm in Louisville and looking at law school. Russell still has an agent and is hopeful for another chance at some level of football, but he’s preparing for the next phase of his life at the same time and doing so with a degree on the wall.
“School is the No. 1 key,” Russell said. “Remember this, too: They’re going to use you so you have to use them. What I mean by that is that they’re going to use you on Saturdays to go out there and perform, to bring money in and do all of that stuff and get recruits in. So go out there and do whatever you got to do, because all the resources are there. Go out there and get your degree.”
The NFL is guaranteed for no man, but there’s nothing stopping you from getting that degree. Remember that Dandy Dozen-ers.
Contact Hugh Kellenberger at (601) 961-7291 or email@example.com. Follow @HKellenbergerCL on Twitter.