Offensive tackle Conner Estes has become one of the rare members of the East Central football program to receive an FBS offer over the last two decades.
The rising senior received a scholarship offer from Arkansas State on Monday and Southern Miss on Wednesday morning.
The 6-foot-5 1/2, 285-pound Estes had been in talks with Arkansas State, Nicholls State, East Mississippi CC and Mississippi Gulf Coast CC in recent weeks, but the new offers were unexpected.
"I'm on top of the world," Estes said Wednesday. "I was surprised by both of them."
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Count East Central head coach Seth Smith among those who weren't surprised by this week's developments.
"I thought all along that we had one of the biggest secrets in the South in Conner because of his size," Smith said. "He's power-cleaned 345. He's got size. He's a hard-working, humble kid. I'm not surprised he's getting offers. The only thing that surprised me is that he is just now getting offers."
The only two other East Central players to receive FBS offers (formerly Division 1A) out of high school over the last two decades were tight end Wayne Smith, who received a USM offer in 1996, and kicker Ryan Guardia, who graduated from East Central in 2003 and played at New Mexico State. Smith attended Mississippi Gulf Coast CC and later signed with Louisiana-Monroe.
Estes had talked previously with the Arkansas State staff, but the Southern Miss offer came out of the blue.
"I haven't even talked to them until this morning," Estes said. "It was very surprising."
Smith said that USM tight ends coach Desmond Lindsey had already planned to visit Estes in Hurley on Thursday, but he decided to go ahead and make his offer over the phone on Wednesday.
Estes said that he hasn't decided on an a timetable for a decision.
"I haven't really put much thought into it," he said. "It's all pretty new to me."
Estes is part of an East Central offensive line that's put up big numbers on the ground. The Hornets rushed for 3,946 yards and 39 touchdowns last season, finishing 7-5.
"He moves very well for a big guy," Smith said. "He runs a 5.3 in the 40-yard dash. When you're that big, that's pretty good."
Smith expects Estes, who has yet to make an official visit to a college, will continue to play tackle at the next level.
"I think he'll probably play tackle because I don't think he's done growing," Smith said. "I think his dad is 6-7. I won't be surprised if he grows another inch."
Smith describes Estes as an "excellent student" who has a good ACT score. He plans to graduate in December and start college in January.
The offers for Estes are rare for an East Central football program that has made significant progress under Smith, who is entering his fourth year on the job.
"We've still got to continue to get a lot better as a program," Smith said. "We've been blessed over the last couple of years.
"We have good players. It's a matter of these colleges seeing them. When they come to see Conner, they can come see the other kids. Conner will be one of many."
Estes is one of at least 17 high school football players in the state's southernmost six counties who have at least one FCS scholarship offer.