End of an era for Vicksburg football Former coach Alonzo Stevens bids farewell to final class of college signees

Published 11:25 am Thursday, February 2, 2012

On national signing day on Wednesday, former Vicksburg High football coach Alonzo Stevens said goodbye to his final five players to sign college letters of intent.

Three landed with East Mississippi Community College, including the prolific passing duo of quarterback Cameron Cooksey and A.J. Stamps.

Cooksey, a 6-foot-2 quarterback, and Stamps, a 6-foot-1 wide receiver, signed with East Mississippi, which won the National Junior College Athletic Association championship in December. They were joined by outside linebacker Eli Brown.

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Hinds Community College signed two Gator linemen, tackles Norman Price (6-foot-4, 300 pounds) and Jeramey Hill (6-foot-3, 260 pounds).

Stevens, who retired in December after 11 years as Vicksburg’s coach and another 20 as an assistant at Vicksburg and Alcorn State, was elated to see his last class sign with successful programs.

“This is it, and I’m very proud today,” Stevens said. “These guys have a lot of football left. Not only do I think they will be successful at the junior college level, but they will be able to move on to another level. I think Mississippi State, Ole Miss and Southern Miss all missed out.”

For most of the 2011 season, Cooksey was one of the national leaders in passing. He took nearly every career and season passing record for Warren County in the process. In 2011, he completed 229 of 418 passes for 3,245 yards with 38 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.

Despite impressive numbers and a good showing at last July’s Mel Kiper Jr.’s National 7-on-7 Championships in Virginia, Cooksey did not get a single Division I offer.

Instead, he landed with the reigning national champions. Cooksey hopes to follow the path of former starting quarterback Bo Wallace to the Southeastern Conference. Wallace signed in December with Ole Miss.

“I definitely thought about how he (Wallace) succeeded in his one year at East Mississippi and is now at Ole Miss,” Cooksey said. “It shows me a path to the next level.”

Just eight years ago, East Mississippi was a laughingstock in the MACJC. A big infusion of contributions and the hiring of former Pearl River assistant Buddy Stephens changed all of that.

“I was really impressed with what I saw at East,” Cooksey said. “I was offered pretty early by Mississippi Delta, but I always had East as my first choice. Their facilities are top notch and I also like the coaches.”

A sparkling new stadium and modern fieldhouse were big selling points for Stamps and Brown as well.

“East Mississippi was a better fit for me than Gulf Coast,” Stamps said. “The football facilities are tremendous and I was able to build a good relationship with the coaching staff.”

Like Cooksey, Stamps rewrote many of the Warren County receiving records in his three years with the Gators. In 2011, he caught a county-record 77 passes for 1,219 yards and 19 touchdowns. He was also a standout in the defensive secondary with two interceptions. He said either side of the ball is okay.

Stamps drew some late interest from Ole Miss and Texas Tech, but has yet to make a qualifying score on the ACT.

Injuries and a coaching change hindered Price’s path to the Division I level. The smart and athletic tackle missed five games last season with knee and ankle injuries. Price still drew a lot of interest from coach Hugh Freeze’s Arkansas State program. Freeze was later hired at Ole Miss to replace Houston Nutt.

Price said Hinds, which made the MACJC playoffs, was a good fit.

“I probably could have signed with one of the bigger schools, but I didn’t want to sit and wait,” Price said. “I feel like I need to tone up some things because I missed those five games. I want to come into Hinds, get focused and be an asset to the team.”

Hill had a scholarship offer to Mississippi Delta, but he felt he needed more time to recover from a torn rotator cuff.

“I’ll take a grayshirt year at Hinds and that will allow me to fully heal and be ready by the following fall,” Hill said. “Hinds has shown a lot of progression with its program and they are in line to win a championship.”

The one changeup on signing day was Port Gibson safety Adarius Barnes, who signed with Louisiana Tech despite being verbally committed to Mississippi State for most of the season. Port Gibson coach Lynn Lang said Barnes will help the Bulldogs.

“He’s dynamic, fast and very athletic,” Lang said. “He’s definitely going to bring his speed to the table. We’re getting the program back to where it needs to be and I feel that Adarius is paving the way for our next group behind him.”