Highlights from East Central win over Moss Point
The South Alabama football staff is loaded with ties to South Mississippi and those connections were on display in the month of June.
The Jaguars picked up verbal commitments from four high school players from the state’s southernmost six counties — East Central linebacker Zach Jones, Hancock offensive lineman Christian Sapp, Gulfport offensive lineman J.T. Zakkak and Long Beach offensive lineman Andrew McMillan.
It should come as no surprise that USA, which is the first FBS program to offer each of the four players, has made an increased focus on the region. Jaguars head coach Steve Campbell once held the same job at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College from 2004-13, and tight ends coach Chad Huff, who was also once the head coach at MGCCC, was a football star at East Central.
USA has also picked up pledges from four community college players in South Mississippi — Pearl River CC defensive tackle D’ezekius Chapman, PRCC cornerback Darrell Luter, Mississippi Gulf Coast CC defensive tackle Tylan Jones and PRCC safety Ronald Baker.
Each of the four high school players committed shortly after receiving their scholarship offers, but McMillan had the most unusual experience of announcing his pledge.
The day after picking up his South Alabama offer following a USA camp on June 7, he hashed out his options on a flight to France.
“I was talking with my mom and my best friend,” he said. “We kept talking about it and I felt like it was a really good decision.”
He was just outside Paris and ready to start his vacation when he communicated to the USA staff that he was ready to commit.
“I had a feeling I was going to miss out on the opportunity,” McMillan said. “A lot of guys want to get a bigger school, but I really like South Alabama and the atmosphere.”
McMillan, who had also been hearing from Southern Miss and Louisiana-Monroe, checks in at 6-foot-3, 290 pounds.
McMillan, Sapp and Zakkak were at the same USA camp when they received their offers, and the staff provided incentive for all three to make a quick decision.
“They were only taking three offensive linemen,” the 6-3, 290-pound Zakkak said. “It was already the school I was interested in and wanted to go to. I really love the coaching staff and especially Coach Campbell.
“I know they’re in a rebuilding stage, but they’ll be a top program in a few years.”
It turned out that all three of those offensive line offers were picked up by Coast players with Sapp joining in the mix.
Sapp, who is originally from Texas, is the biggest of the bunch, weighing in at 6-2, 320 pounds.
All three linemen were encouraged by what they heard from Campbell, who is a former offensive lineman at Southeastern Louisiana and Troy.
“Campbell is very lineman-oriented,” Sapp said. “I’m confident that he’ll make me grow as a player. He has a really good system going. Everything about it caught my attention.”
Jones was the first of the four players to commit to USA back on June 3, just two days after he picked up the offer.
If he follows through and signs with South Alabama, he would become the fourth ECHS product to sign with the program since 2018, joining running back Tony Brown and two offensive linemen — Wyatt Green and Conner Estes.
“Just visiting the campus and looking at everything, it was right for me,” Jones said. “The coaches were awesome and welcoming. I had a lot of fun and it felt like home, where I wanted to be.”
As a junior at ECHS, the 6-foot-2, 220-pound Jones stepped up as a play-making linebacker with 89 tackles and three interceptions.
Jones, who runs a 4.7 in the 40-yard dash, will continue to listen if other programs want to talk.
“Anybody can offer me if they want to,” he said. “But I’m for sure a South Alabama commit. That’s where I want to be.”
With Chad Huff’s brother, Mike, serving on the East Central staff it seems likely that the Hornets will keep sending players to Mobile.
“I’m real excited with all the Mississippi boys going to South Alabama,” Jones said.