• John Macon Gillespie

Seven Sophomores To Watch

Any team needs veteran presence. Seniors and junior leading your team is, more times than not, a good sign for success. Each season, though, there are sophomores that emerge that no one could have factored for. When making preseason predictions, the number of returning starters is often what helps to generate buzz going into a new season. However, tenth graders that no one accounted for on the roster can often times be difference makers. Here is a list of seven sophomores that have emerged as just that for their respective teams.

Malik Brown

QB, Starkville

The Yellowjackets won the state championship in 6A last season, without much resistance. The title came on the heels of a season-opening loss to eventual 4A champion Noxubee County. Following the season it wasn’t just Kobe Jones, AJ Brown, Lorenzo Dantzler and Avery Brown moving on. Quarterback Montario Montgomery was perhaps the most important player Ricky Woods had to replace from last season’s team. In week one he went with senior safety Jaquez Akins in game one. Since then, though, it’s been Malik Brown.

Brown became the first sophomore Woods had started in over 30 years of coaching against Oxford. It appears as if there will be no looking back due to Brown’s success both on the ground and through the air. So far this season he has thrown for 304 yards and five touchdowns, while completing 64% of his 28 passes. He’s also nifty with his feet, as he has rushed for 130 yards.

Jaquerrious Williams

RB, Tupelo

In 2013 Trent Hammond and the Tupelo Golden Wave made an impressive run to the state championship on the back of solid defense and balance offensive attack. This season the Wave have assembled a similar machine and again appear to be contenders for a ring in 6A. Backfield mates, and classmates - quarterback Stephon McGlaun and running back J-Rock Williams - are a big reason for that optimism.

In fact, a long look at Williams and you can almost see a breakout star in region1-6A from a season ago. Yes, J-Rock has a chance to put together a season like Columbus 4-star running back prospect Kylin Hill did in 2015. Especially when you consider that Williams is the key offensive cog to what could be the state’s best team. So far this season the talented ball-carrier has totaled 58 carries through four games, good for 452 yards(7.8 yards per carry) and three scores. He has rushed for 100-plus yards twice this season, including 165 against Corinth and 174 against Shannon in back-to-back week.

Kenneth Jefferson

QB, North Panola

Kenneth Jefferson is the latest in a line of prospects to emerge from the North Panola football program. Like Willie Hibbler and Justin Conner before him, he has emerged early in his career. When you see Cougars play, the first guy who jumps out at you is Jefferson, but not only because he is already 6’3. Mostly you notice that he is a captain, a leader and he has big time skills.

When you see Jefferson it’s hard not to see glimpses of a young Keon Howard or the late Maikhail Miller and even some Cam Akers. Jefferson is tall enough and big enough to deliver passes stress free in the face of pass rushers. Is more than accurate enough, especially on the deep balls, which makes him dangerous due to his eye-popping arm strength. When he isn't airing it out, though, he’s able to make quick, correct decisions and deliver the ball anywhere on the field with velocity and zip.

Sinclair Ulmer

QB, Laurel

Despite the graduation of Keon Howard or Octavious Cooley the Laurel Tornadoes have managed to continue their success of the past three seasons. Todd Breeland has his bunch out to a 3-1 star with wins over Quitman, Oak Grove and Petal. Though Tyquan Ulmer has been the primary quarterback thus far, sophomore Sinclair Ulmer has played enough at the position to generate excitement for the future. In fact, there’s no question that he can help this team. Remember, Tyquan, can play other spots.

So far this season Sinclair has attempted 72 passes through four games and has totaled 155 yards and a score. He is averaging 77.5 yards through the air per game. On the ground his three attempts have netted 32 yards. Keep your eyes on this sophomore to make more and more plays as the season progresses.

Brandon Turnage

ATH, Lafayette

At 1-2 the Lafayette Commodores have been one of the most impressive 4A teams in the state so far this season. The Dores started 0-2 after two hard-fought battles against Horn Lake and Grenada, before defeating Oxford 23-3 in the Crosstown Classic this past week. That win ended the Chargers’ four-game winning streak in the rivalry series. Under new head coach Michael Fair, Lafayette appears to be growing an getting better.

That is just what sophomore two-way player Brandon Turnage is doing, as well. In fact, at the rate he is improving, you might want to go ahead and familiarize yourself. He has flashed his potential on offense as a receiver to the tune of five catches for 110 yards and a score. On defense he’s tallied 16 tackles, three pass deflections and even picked a pass off, which he returned for 17 yards, from his cornerback spot.

Jerrion Ealy

RB, Jackson Prep

If you’re a fan of the gridiron or the diamond, you might already know about Jerrion Ealy. He’s already receiving offers from major college programs, and he’s already established himself as a star for the Jackson Prep Patriots. Last season he rushed for 896 yards, on 8.5 yards per carry, scoring a touchdown once every nine totes. He displayed his athleticism as a pass catcher, as well, totally more than 200 yards receiving.

This season Prep is 4-0 and have reached that mark with relative ease. With that said, Ealy’s production is down due to his services not being needed for the majority of most the action so far. He has carried it for 140 yards on 8.8 yards per carry and scored four times so far in 2016. While most of the guys on this list will rack up SEC offers, Ealy already has two, in Mississippi State and Ole Miss.

Louis Paul Smith

OL, D’Iberville

D’Iberville center Louis Smith is one of the most impressive offensive linemen in Mississippi, regardless of class. This season, under new head coach Eric Collins, he has helped pave the way for the Warrior offense to rush for over 143 yards per game. One reason he appears to be so much more mature than his sophomore status, other than his size, strength and technical ability, is because he gained great experience contributing greatly as a freshman last season. In fact, he helped the Warriors rush for over 250 yards per game in 2015.

Smith also attended the Fortius Project combine back on March 5th at Petal high school. This allowed him to single himself out and really show his individual abilities as an offensive lineman. He showed that not only is he large, strong and technically sound, but he is also very athletic. Perhaps the sharpest tool in Smith’s skill shed is his IQ for the game. He gets the game on a different level and it shows when he goes up against the best of the best. Not only does he bring so many things to the table that are God-given, but he brings a relentless work ethic.

**Photo by Thomas Brown.

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