May 7, 2010

Brassell latest _ and brightest? _ in line of South Panola stars

BATESVILLE, Miss. -- South Panola is one of the most storied programs in high school football.

The school in Batesville, Miss., just minutes from Interstate 55, has won 103 of its last 105 games and state titles in six of the last seven seasons.

It has produced linebackers Dwayne Rudd and Eddie Strong, cornerback Deshea Townsend and defensive tackle Peria Jerry, among others.

Many believe, however, that a current member of the Tigers' team, rising senior wide receiver Nickalos Brassell, might be the player to ever matriculate through the dynastic program.

That's a conversation Brassell isn't interested in.

"I leave that to everybody else to debate whether I'm the best or not," Brassell said earlier this week as he prepared for a spring practice session. "I just work hard. I know they worked hard. I just want to be known as one of the best who've come through.

"I grew up playing backyard football with all of my family. All of them had talent but they never got to make it to the next level because they had injuries or whatever. Some of the best have come through South Panola."

The 6-foot-2, 177-pound Brassell, a speedster who is considered an elite college prospect as a wide receiver, cornerback and return specialist, is instead focused on his future, both immediate and long-term. He's hoping to lead South Panola to another state championship this fall, all the while entertaining a list of suitors that has grown too long to count.

"I'm kind of shocked and surprised," Brassell said. "I'm really just living the dream right now. When I get my offer from Alabama, and they had just won the national championship, that really just started it off."

Alabama, Ole Miss, Southern Cal, Tennessee, Auburn and Arkansas are the schools Brassell mentions when asked about recruiting. Others _ most recently, Arizona State and Pittsburgh _ have joined in the fray. Three schools _ Ole Miss, Alabama and USC _ seem to stand out as early leaders, though Brassell insisted Wednesday he has no favorites.

"I'm really just open to anybody," Brassell said.

How open Brassell may or may or not be to a position change could be an interesting dynamic to the ongoing race for his signature on a national letter-of-intent. While Brassell acknowledges that his heart leans to the offensive side of the football, he's not oblivious to the fact that 6-foot-2 cornerbacks with his speed aren't exactly dime-a-dozen.

"To be honest, I'm open to playing any position," Brassell said. "Any position that my team puts me at to play to help us win, I'll play any position. I just keep an open head and I take it all in."

"He's just a playmaker," South Panola coach Lance Pogue said. "He makes things happen on the field. Offensively, he's just a constant threat, whether it be running or throwing, to make a big play every time he gets his hands on the ball. He helps us so much not only with his big-play capability but also because he garners so much attention. That helps our running game, too. Defensively, he's our best cover guy. We can put him on somebody's best receiver. He can play safety. He's just a ball-skills guy who can make plays, and then he's a hell of a kick returner. He's just a great football player in all aspects.

"If he did play corner, you're talking about a guy who's 6-2. You've got these 5-10 and 5-11 guys and all of a sudden you find a 6-2 corner with his ability, man, it's a different market. He's a great offensive player, too. I think whoever gets him is getting a guy who can play either or, which is very, very rare with that kind of ability."

Brassell caught 62 passes for 1,272 yards and 15 touchdowns last season, adding 89 tackles and a pair of interceptions returned for touchdowns on defense. He's developed a reputation among high school coaches as a receiver with good hands, speed to break a long run and a precise route-runner who comes out of breaks quick. Defensively, he's known for his man coverage in the open field and his physical cover skills at the line of scrimmage.

Then there's the return game, where opponents are all but forced to kick away from Brassell.

"You just have to have good vision and you can't think about taking the big hit," Brassell said, flashing a smile. "Don't be scared to take a lick and just go."

More importantly, Brassell is focused on taking advantage of the opportunities he's being presented. He's on pace to qualify academically, and he's intent on not letting his support system down.

"Really, what I hear every day is, 'Don't waste your talent. Go somewhere where you know you're going to play,'" Brassell said. "A lot of people had talent that came through here and didn't go anywhere. They're still here. I really want to just do something with myself. That's what I'm trying to do."

"He's worked very hard in the offseason," Pogue said. "He's worked very hard in the weight room. He's had some good positive leadership for us and if there ever was a kid who could have done that, it could have been him, but he chose to keep himself grounded and really worked on it. I fully expect him to have an outstanding senior year."

Brassell admitted that it's "hard" not to get caught up in the adulation surrounding him these days. However, he said, "You just have to be the same guy you've always been."

That's where his mother, Sonya Smith, comes in.

"She's on me 24-7," Brassell said, laughing. "She just really wants me to do good, make it somewhere and do something with my life. She's still here. She's still trying to go to school and take care of me and my two (younger) sisters."

Brassell said he plans to camp at Ole Miss and Alabama this summer. As for an announcement, he's got a plan. First, however, South Panola has to do what it's always done -- win. If the Tigers make it to Mississippi's Class 6A state title game in Jackson in December, Brassell said he'll make his college choice known that day.

"We have a pretty good chance to go back to back," Brassell said.

BRASSELL ON THREE EARLY FAVORITES:

On Southern Cal: "They've always been a winning team. They've got great tradition, and I've always liked them since Reggie Bush came from there. They've had a lot of great players come from there. I've talked to (USC assistant) Coach O (Ed Orgeron) a couple of times. He's cool, fun to talk to."

On Alabama: "I went to their spring game. It was exciting. There were a lot of fans. (Alabama coaches) have told me about the ways that they could use me and how it'd be nice to have me over and all that."

On Ole Miss: "I talk to Coach (Ron) Dickerson, the receivers coach, a lot. Me and him have a good relationship. Their offense is fun and they run the Wildcat and we run it, too, so I'm familiar with that."

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