Three Coast products will be among Mississippi’s best at noon Saturday when the Magnolia State clashes with Alabama in the 31st edition of the Mississippi-Alabama All-Star Football Game, hosted at Southern Miss’ M.M. Roberts Stadium.
East Central tight end and Mississippi State commit Brad Cumbest will be joined on the offensive side of the ball by St. Stanislaus lineman and Central Arkansas pledge Brandon Tartavoulle, while Gulfport linebacker Karlos Dillard will help anchor the defense.
“It’s a great opportunity to be playing in this game,” Tartavoulle. “I’m representing the whole state of Mississippi so having the opportunity to beat Alabama is a huge accomplishment.
“This is going to be my last high school game so I have to show out.”
Dillard has multiple motivations heading into Saturday’s game.
“I’m looking to have fun. It’s an all-star gamer, but I’m also looking to handle my business,” he said. “I want to show people Coast kids can produce.”
Cumbest was the latest addition to the game and actually only officially found out after playing in last week’s Bernard Blackwell All-Star Classic in Gulfport.
“It’s a blessing, no doubt,” the 6-foot-6, 240-pound senior told the Sun Herald. “I’m going to really enjoy it.
“I take a lot of pride in representing my team and state.”
Saturday’s game is big, but many of the players have been under the spotlight all week during Mississippi’s practice, college recruiters plus talent evaluators flooded Hattiesburg to get one last look at some of the best prospects in the region.
“When you come up here and have SEC commits and Conference USA commits, it’s pretty fun to go against those guys,” Tartavoulle said. “To go against those guys you have to be on a whole different level — I mean a whole different level.
“I feel like I’m holding my own. The SEC guys of course are going to beat you a few times and you’re going to beat them a few times. It’s a back-and-forth thing, but it’s pretty fun.”
Central Arkansas pledge
Tartavoulle felt caught off guard last week when UCA coach — and long-time Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College coach — Steve Campbell left for South Alabama. Less than a week before Tartavoulle had verbally committed to the Bears.
With the change Tartavoulle said he remains committed but has plenty to think about
“I’m still committed to UCA but I had no idea. I felt like I developed a relationship with Coach Campbell and I had no idea he was going to leave,” he said. “I committed to them but I’m definitely reevaluating things right now. I’m just keeping my options open and taking advice from Coach Jordan and some other people.”
In the week since the change, Tartavoulle said new USA offensive line coach Mike Bangston has reached out to him Wednesday and Campbell has been in contact with his coach at SSC, Jeff Jordan.
He said UCA’s new staff has also been in touch to reassure the senior Rockachaw that his commitment will be honored, should he choose to stick with the Bears.
Tartavoulle said Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College offensive line coach Les George has also remained in contact throughout the Bulldogs’ coaching change.
The SSC lineman hopes to visit USA, but a date has not been finalized just yet.
During preparation for last week’s Bernard Blackwell All-Star Classic, plenty of the game’s players vented about being overlooked by recruiters and analysts. Despite playing in the higher profile game, where plenty of the athletes feature high-end four-year offers, Dillard still carries a chip on his shoulder into Saturday.
“I feel like I am one of the best players in the state of Mississippi. I have a lot of nice offers — and I’m blessed to have received all of them — but I feel like I can do better,” he said. “I feel there’s a lot of places that are sleeping on me. I’m just here to show I am a force to be reckoned with.”
Dillard boasts offers from Air Force, Army, Nicholls State, Alcorn State and Jackson State, as well as a number junior college offers.
Two weekends ago Dillard visited Air Force and had an eye-opening experience, he said.
“I really liked it. It’s beautiful,” he said. “I feel at home there. People actually care about you and your future so I’d have a family up there. It’s very far from home, but it’s only about a two or three hour flight.
“It’s different but I feel I can adjust to it.”
Dillard said he’s in no rush to commit to a program and will make his decision when the time is right; however, if he signs with Air Force he’ll be the third Coast product on the Falcons’ roster, joining SSC receiver Corbin Blanchard and St. Martin quarterback Wayne Overman III.
Extra points: Alabama leads the all-time series 22-8, but Mississippi won 28-21 in 2015, the last time the game was played at USM. Alabama won last year’s contest 25-18. The 2015 victory for Mississippi snapped a seven-year skid against the rivals to the East. ... Ocean Springs coach Ryan Ross and Pearl River Central coach Larry Dolan are both on Mississippi’s staff.
31st Mississippi-Alabama All-Star Football Game
Where: M.M. Roberts Stadium, Hattiesburg