Members of the East Mississippi Community College football team are reaping the rewards from a record-breaking season.
Sophomores Pat Shed (University of Alabama at Birmingham), John Rice (Western Michigan), Alvin Ellis and Gabe Poe (West Alabama) signed scholarships earlier this week to continue their football careers.
Each of the players had a key role in helping EMCC (11-1) win its first MACJC state title, win the Mississippi Bowl in Biloxi, and finish the season No. 4 in the final NJCAA/JC Football.com poll.
Shed paced the Lions” rushing attack with 821 yards and 10 touchdowns. The former Starkville High standout also caught 27 passed for 383 yards and two touchdowns.
The 5-foot-9, 175-pounder also considered Arkansas State, Louisiana-Lafayette, Louisiana-Monroe, Southern Miss, and Tennessee-Martin.
“It means a lot (to sign with a four-year school) because the coaches saw how hard I worked, liked how I play, and gave me an opportunity to prove that despite my size I can compete with 300-pounders and 290-pounders,” Shed said. “I showed that size doesn”t really matter. It is all about the love for the game and dedication and commitment.”
Shed said he picked UAB because it was close to home so his family members will be able to come watch him play.
Shed was one of six junior college players who signed Wednesday with UAB. EMCC defensive back T.J. Ballou will join Shed with the Blazers.
“We”re excited about the six guys we”ve signed today and think we”ve helped ourselves in some areas,” UAB coach Neil Callaway said in a press release. “Anytime we sign a junior college player, we expect them to come in and compete for a starting position.”
Ellis and Poe will have a chance to help coach Bobby Wallace and West Alabama build on an 8-5 season and a trip to the second round of the Division II playoffs. It was the Tigers” second appearance in the playoffs.
Rice, who couldn”t be reached for comment, is a former standout at East Oktibbeha High. The 6-1, 280-pound defensive lineman had 59 career total tackles (44 solos), including four tackles for loss (7 yards) and two and a half sacks.
As starting nose guard this season, Rice had 38 total tackles (28 solos), including two tackles for loss (5 yards) and one and a half sacks. He also two forced fumbles and recovered one fumble.
Western Michigan, which is in the Mid-American Conference, went 5-7 and 4-4 in the MAC this season.
Ellis, a 5-10, 210-pound linebacker, is a former standout at Columbus High. He tied with Jermayne Lett for the team lead in solo tackles (65) and led the team with 100 overall tackles. He also had two tackles for loss, five sacks, and four pass breakups.
Ellis also considered Arkansas Tech, West Texas A&M, Arkansas Southern, and Henderson State.
“I was confused at first and I didn”t know where I wanted to go, but then I narrowed it down,” Ellis said. “West Alabama has three senior linebackers who are leaving, so I felt I could come in and start right away and make an impact.”
Ellis said he also liked that West Alabama has a major in physical therapy, which is what he is majoring in, and that it is close to home so his family can come watch him play.
Ellis said he hopes to grow as much at West Alabama as he did at EMCC.
“I have grown tremendously,” Ellis said. “The growing process has taught me how to be more responsible. I am expecting bigger and better things. The fact that I am getting my education paid for is motivating me.”
Poe, a former standout at West Oktibbeha, filled in for Ellis and had more than 20 tackles in a 75-71 victory against Mississippi Gulf Coast C.C. in the MACJC state title game. He considered Henderson State and West Texas A&M as well as Delta State and Shaw University (N.C.). Like Ellis, he said West Alabama was appealing because it is close to home.
“The school has a good environment, the football program is coming up, and I saw a lot of positive things there,” said Poe, a 5-9, 210-pound linebacker. “They have a lot of good educational programs in my field (physical therapy).”
Poe isn”t the biggest linebacker at the junior college level, but he said his passion for the game helped him realize an opportunity to continue his football career at a four-year school.
“I played hard and relentlessly when the opportunity was given to me,” Poe said. “I stepped up and made plays when asked and just showed great heart and played with enthusiasm and showed leadership. I think that is what the other coaches recognized, and they want me to bring that same effort and talent to their team.”
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.