MOBILE, Ala. _ At the end of Tuesday's practices, the Mississippi team gathered in a circle at the middle of UMS-Wright's practice field, raised their hands in unison and screamed, "One, two, three, Mississippi!"
For Aubrey Phillips, the show of state loyalty was cool, even though he didn't move to the Magnolia State and out of Tennessee until this past summer.
"I bleed Mississippi now instead of Tennessee," said Phillips, an offensive tackle from Olive Branch who will be manning the left tackle spot Saturday against Alabama in the Alabama-Mississippi All-Star Classic at Ladd-Peebles Stadium in Mobile. "This is a good feeling because I never got picked for anything. I was happy to make the all-star team."
On Tuesday, Phillips had his hands full, going against a quartet of talented defensive linemen, including Noxubee County's Deontae Skinner, Yazoo City's Fletcher Cox, Philadelphia's Josh Boyd and Itawamba Agricultural School's William Shumpert.
"I think Skinner is the best one of all of them, but all of them are great players," Phillips said. "They bring different things to the table. One's a speed rusher. One has power and one has a real good spin move, so they all have great technique."
As for Phillips, the three-star prospect committed to Tennessee early in the process but he's re-opened his recruitment just a bit since the Volunteers' firing of Phillip Fulmer and hiring of Lane Kiffin.
"I'm still committed, but I'm still taking all of my visits and see what happens," said Phillips, who said he will visit Oklahoma State on Jan. 9, Tennessee on Jan. 16, Ole Miss on Jan. 23 and possibly Florida State before making a final decision. "They just have to show me that they good coaching staffs and great facilities. I want to feel like family when I go there."
As for Kiffin, Phillips said he met with the 33-year-old former Oakland Raiders coach recently.
"He's a cool guy," Phillips said. "He's young, very intense. He'd be a cool coach to play for."
REBELS, TIDE IN CLOSE RACE FOR NORWOOD: d'Iberville, Miss., wide receiver Kevin Norwood can't get away from Noxubee County's Patrick Patterson. Noxubee County beat d'Iberville in the state championship on Saturday night in Jackson. Three days later, Norwood and Patterson were teammates in Mobile and still being compared to one another.
"I really don't know how different we are," Norwood said. "He probably just has more offers than me."
Norwood, a four-star prospect, has plenty of offers, though he said Tuesday he's narrowed his choices to Alabama, Ole Miss and Southern Mississippi. Of those three, two schools lead and it is apparently a close race.
Alabama leads, Norwood said, but Ole Miss "is up there with Alabama. They're neck and neck. I like both of them."
Norwood has scheduled a visit to Ole Miss for Jan. 16. It is his only scheduled official visit so far.
"One of the coaches at Ole Miss (Ron Dickerson Jr.) came down to visit me and he talked to my parents and let them know what Ole Miss is about," Norwood said. "When he was telling me, everything sounded good and he was being real with me. I just feel like if I go to Ole Miss, I'll be comfortable there. That's what I really want."
As for Alabama and USM, Norwood indicated he planned to visit both of those campuses as well.
"They are all great teams," Norwood said. "They're strong and they all came together as a family and finished strong too. They're all great. I just want to be a part of it."
CONNER PLAYING COY: David Conner's body language and facial expressions Tuesday certainly point to a prospect who knows something he's not quite ready to share.
The Batesville (South Panola) three-star defensive back de-committed from Auburn after Tommy Tuberville's resignation and a subsequent commitment to Ole Miss seems inevitable. On Tuesday, Conner said he's "open," but he admitted the Rebels are "at the top."
"I'm still looking," Conner said. "I wouldn't say I'm close, but I'll say it's there. Yeah, it's close."
Asked if any other schools could threaten Ole Miss for his signature, Conner said no other programs are in it right now.
"I haven't been home, so I don't know if anyone's been sending me letters or anything," Conner said. "My mind's open."
Conner said one of Ole Miss' advantages is he is frequently compared to another South Panola product, Ole Miss strong safety Jamarca Sanford.
COX OPENING UP: Cox said Tuesday morning that he's hearing from Mississippi State officials regarding the Bulldogs' ongoing search for Sylvester Croom's replacement.
"They're telling me that everything's going to be OK," the four-star defensive end said. "They're saying they're going to get a new coach and to just wait and see what happens."
However, Cox admitted Tuesday that the feelings he had for Mississippi State when he committed to the Bulldogs during the preseason no longer exist, at least not as strongly as they once did.
"I always looked up to Coach Croom, the way he talked and the way he talked to my mom," Cox said. "Everything about him, I just liked."
These days, Cox seems to be thinking more about two of the Bulldogs' SEC West rivals, Ole Miss and Alabama. Derrick Nix is recruiting Cox for the Rebels, while Bo Davis is working him for the Crimson Tide.
"They don't bring (Mississippi State) up," Cox said. "They're the type of coaches who don't pressure you. They say, 'If you come here, you're going to play.' They're up-front and tell me the truth.
"I like Alabama because it's a nice school. It's a nice place where you can get a nice education. It's a great football program with great coaches. Everything about Alabama is good.
I haven't been up to Ole Miss yet, but I've been meeting with Coach Nix for a long time and he's up front about everything. He's straight up."
Cox, who said he is planning to take official visits to Ole Miss, Alabama, Mississippi State and LSU, next month, said there is some discrepancy about his future position.
"Alabama is going to put me at Jack linebacker," Cox said. "Ole Miss wants to rush me off the end. It really doesn't matter."
RUSSELL ENJOYS WEALTH OF TALENT AT WR: Meridian's Tyler Russell, fresh off an upset of South Panola in the state championship game Friday night in Jackson, was reveling Tuesday in the abundance of talent in Team Mississippi's receiver corps.
"This is an awesome group of wideouts," Russell said. "They picked the best in the state. They're great athletes, too, so they can help you pick up the offense, things like that.
It's the same all year. You just want to go out there and do you best. We're here to compete against Alabama, and they have a good team. We just want to come out here and have fun. In any football game I play in, I want to give my 110 percent, regardless of what kind of game it is. That's what I'm going to do down here. I'm going to play as hard as I can, and hopefully we can get the win."
As for his recruitment, Russell said he remains committed to Mississippi State, pending the Bulldogs' hiring of Croom's successor.
"Right now, I'm trying to wait and see who the coach is going to be," Russell said. "I'm still committed. I don't know what kind of coach they're going to get."
Asked if any other schools are in the mix for his services, Russell said he's "gotten calls from South Carolina, Ole Miss and Alabama right now.
Right now, I'm just trying to see what's the best fit for me. I want to wait and see what the coaching situation's going to be in Starkville, and then I can sit down and talk to the coach and see what kind of offense he brings to the table and go from there."
Russell said Mississippi State officials have told him the Bulldogs hope to have a coach in place by Christmas.
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