Port Gibson’s Shanks soon to be an Aztec|[2/2/05]

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 2, 2005

College coaches are always looking for hidden gems, so when Ray Peterson heard about a promising wide receiver named Tobias Shanks he took a side trip to Port Gibson while visiting his hometown of New Orleans.

The San Diego State assistant coach had seen a highlight tape of Shanks, but he wanted to check him out in person and see if the video matched the real thing.

It didn’t take long to confirm his suspicions.

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“When (Peterson) came down, he happened to come to basketball practice. And that joker jumped from the free throw line and dunked on two people, and they were like, ‘Yeah, he’s for real,'” Port Gibson football coach Harry Brown said with a laugh, recalling Peterson’s first visit to see Shanks.

Shanks eventually visited the San Diego State campus and liked what he saw. This morning, he made good on an earlier verbal commitment by signing a letter of intent to play for the Aztecs.

“I fell in love with the school on my official visit,” said Shanks, who played wide receiver and free safety at Port Gibson and was recruited as an athlete. “They have a very nice campus, the weather was beautiful, they have a good football program and they play a lot of top-ranked teams.”

Several Mississippi schools, including Mississippi Valley State and nearby Alcorn State, recruited Shanks. Brown sent a highlight tape to several schools, and San Diego State was one of the first to bite.

“I was very shocked. Especially when they flew in to see me,” Shanks said.

After an official visit that included a meeting with San Diego State baseball coach and former San Diego Padres star Tony Gwynn, Shanks was sold.

It didn’t take long to convince his family, either. While some relatives wanted him to stay closer to home, Shanks said they were very supportive of his decision.

Coincidentally, one family member already knew a good deal about the school. Shanks’ cousin, Austin, was a defensive back for the Aztecs in the early 1980s.

“Everyone in my family was very proud of me. I got the whole family’s support,” he said, adding that the distance between Mississippi and California wasn’t a big factor. “Everyone’s worried about leaving home. You’ve got to become a man someday, why not at San Diego?”

Shanks wasn’t the only Vicksburg-area player to sign today.

Hinds AHS star Austin Divinity signed with Southern Miss, while Louisiana Tech mined the junior college ranks for a pair of defensive backs. Former Vicksburg High star D’Eldrick Taylor and ex-Port Gibson standout Melvin Ellis both agreed to become Bulldogs.

“I’ve been waiting on this opportunity for two years,” Ellis said. “They lost all of their DBs and I’ll have a chance to start and help them out as soon as I come in.”