Southern Miss

Southern Miss was first to offer this Biloxi football star and his stock is rising

The 2018 campaign was Elijah Sabbatini’s first full season with the Biloxi football varsity squad, but you wouldn’t have known it if you watched him take the field as a sophomore.

His impact was immediate in a 42-7 win over St. Stanislaus in the season opener. He had eight tackles and a 40-yard interception return as a defensive back and a 37-yard kickoff return on special teams.

Sabbatini’s sophomore season finished with 88 total tackles, three blocked field goals, an interception and 330 all-purpose yards.

While it was obvious to Biloxi head coach Katlan French and the rest of his staff that Sabbatini had a bright future ahead of him, it was stunning how quickly he adjusted to Class 6A high school football.

“It was very surprising to be honest,” French said. “We knew what he was capable of, but he hadn’t played a lot of football because he had injuries early. Last year, the toughness and physicality he brought to the table as a sophomore was very surprising and good for us. He was arguably our best defensive player.”

That play on the field grabbed the attention of top FBS programs and Southern Miss became the first to offer him a scholarship in late January. UAB, South Alabama and Nicholls have since followed with their own offers while Mississippi State, Auburn and Tulane have stopped by to chat with him.

The first offer from USM hit Sabbatini with a jolt.

“It was my first year playing varsity and it just kind of hit me,” he said. “It was just a wake up call. It’s like a dream.”

After being listed at 6-foot-1, 185 pounds as a sophomore, he now checks in at 195 pounds after spending plenty of time in the weight room over the spring.

It’s not often that a high school football player hits his weight goal prior to his junior year, but that’s where Sabbatini stands. He’s already a physically mature football player who runs the 40-yard dash in 4.5 seconds.

“I think he’s around the right mark,” French said. “On the next level, he’ll get bigger. For us, I think he’s good where he’s at. The bigger he gets, the stronger he gets as well. The speed will stay with him.

“There’s no doubt that he trains hard and works hard. He also comes from a good family.”

Sabbatini’s grandfather, Charles, is a volunteer assistant for the Indians who worked previously on the staff at Biloxi under former head coach John Shannon. He also has experience as a defensive coordinator on the Division I level at Nicholls State.

Considering Sabbatini comes from a football family, it’s easy to understand where that high football IQ comes from.

“He really listens, that’s the biggest thing,” French said. “He takes in coaching, corrects mistakes. He’ll do it to a T, almost exactly how you tell him how to do it. He goes out there and gets it done. That’s one of the biggest things about him – his ability to be coached.”

While Sabbatini appears to be a natural as a defensive back, he could eventually find himself in one of a variety of roles. This season, he will see more touches on offense as a running back.

French says that college coaches have asked repeatedly where he sees him playing on the next level.

“I just don’t know,” he said. “We’re going to find out this year. We’ll be putting the ball in his hands a lot and get a lot of film on offense. We’ll see his ability with the ball in hands.

“What I tell college coaches is, ‘You need to get him on campus and figure out what to do with him.’ No. 1, he’s just an athlete. That’s going to be a hard decision.”

While college coaches have indicated to Sabbatini that they can see him as a standout in the secondary on defense, he looks forward to showing off his skills this season at running back.

“I’ve loved offense ever since I was little,” he said. “It’s my favorite.”

As a running back, Sabbatini sees himself bringing versatility to the position.

“I can catch the ball because I used to play receiver,” he said. “I believe I could be an Alvin Kamara-type running back.”

Biloxi will open the 2019 season on Aug. 23 with a home game against Greene County.

Patrick Magee is a sports writer who has covered South Mississippi for much of the last two decades. From Southern Miss to high schools, he stays on top of it all.