In addition to all the duties associated with being the head football coach at a small junior college in the heart of the Mississippi Delta, Steve Miller has learned that perhaps one of his most important tasks is that of being salesman.
When competing against some of the upper-echelon, well-funded junior college programs in the nation for top recruits, Miller and his coaching staff often have to become salesmen and sell the idea of coming to Clarksdale and Coahoma County to the athletes and their families.
What makes it difficult is the fact that some programs will often say various negative things about Clarksdale and Coahoma County to dissuade players from coming here.
“Kids will see only what they see on social media and the news… how Clarksdale would be listed in the state of Mississippi in one of the areas of crime or things that goes on in the community. We get a lot of schools that use that in negative recruiting against us,” Miller said.
But once they arrive on campus and view the town and meet the people, then their sales job is nearly complete.
“It’s all in the eye of the beholder. Once they see it, they believe it,” Miller said.
“I don’t see anything different here than than any other town or city I’ve been in. The people here are great. The hospitality. The support. I can supply a list of businesses and owners that have bent over backwards for us,” he said.
Miller said Clarksdale’s notoriety for blues music has also been a big selling point.
“It’s big with the parents,” he said. “Most of the parents are into that era of being into the blues and that music.”
And Miller believes that sales effort is beginning to pay dividends as he believes he’ll field the most talented team he’s had in his three seasons at Coahoma Community College after bringing in “a great recruiting class.”
Headlining this year’s team are three transfers from Michigan State University and one of Mississippi’s best high school running backs last season who had been an early commit to Texas Christian University.
“We really like to get some Division One kids that need to come back and re-establish themselves in education. Most of them that come back either have a grade issue or a social problem. And they come to junior college and get the opportunity for a second chance,” Miller said.
But it hasn’t been without its lumps this preseason.
Projected starting quarterback Joe Johnson, a freshman from Vicksburg who was rated as the number two quarterback in Mississippi last year, was lost for the season due to injury before he arrived on campus.
Also, Legaryonn Carson will not be academically eligible to play this season although he’s still enrolled at school. The 6-foot-5, 260-pound defensive lineman from Texarkana, Texas, was a four-star prospect and listed among ESPN’s top 300 prospects and had been an early commit to the University of Texas.
Still, Miller is pleased with the talent that he has on the field.
Mississippi’s junior colleges are allowed to have either eight or 10 out-of-state scholarships each season. The number is dependent upon their record the previous season: if a team had a winning season, they’re allowed eight out-of-state players; a losing season results in 10.
This year’s class of 10 out-of-staters featured a mix of transfers and freshmen.
Freshman running back Fabian Franklin was perhaps the top addition as he had originally been set to join TCU. However, he’ll start his career at Coahoma Community College.
Right now, the touted recruit is trying to improve his conditioning and battling dehydration issues during the hot summer practices.
“He’s working on improving his conditioning and he should be ready by game time. But he’s got very, very promising skills,” Miller said of Franklin, who ran for over 3,000 yards in his career and scored 45 touchdowns.
Sophomore Jaylin Jones, out of Bay Springs, is the returning starter after rushing for 261 yards and three touchdowns last season.
“He’s looking to have a great season and is one of the captains of our offense,” Miller said.
The Tigers run out of a pro-style set with two backs, with the spread implemented. They’ll lean on the running game and a ball-control offense.
With the injury to Johnson, the reins to the offense have been handed to transfer Myron Norfleet, who comes to Coahoma after a season at West Hills Community College in California.
The offensive line will feature a new cast as four out of the five starters are expected to be true freshmen. Erick Trask (6’3, 290 pounds from Woodville) is one who has shown promise during the preseason.
“That’s our biggest question mark on our entire football team - that lack of experience, lack of depth and lack of talent on the offensive line,” Miller said.
At receiver, Donnie Corley is expected to lead the way. The 6-foot-2, 186-pound former McDonald’s All-American started two games and played in all 12 during his debut season at Michigan State in 2016. Corley also played defensive back late in the season and was named to the Big Ten All-Freshman Team and earned a spot on the Football Writers Association of America’s Freshman All-America Team as an all-purpose player.
His 453 receiving yards were the most in MSU history by a true freshman, and his 33 catches were second to only running back Sedrick Irvin in 1996. His 496 all-purpose yards were third on the Spartans in 2016, and it included seven plays of 20-plus yards.
“He has a great future in Division One football,” Miller said.
The former top recruit from Detroit was kicked off the team in the spring of 2017 after he and teammates Demetric Vance Jr. and Josh King were charged with sexual assault. The three were charged with numerous counts of sex assault stemming from an incident during a party at a campus apartment in January 2017.
In early June 2018, the trio accepted a plea deal on a charge of seduction in a sexual assault case and were sentenced in a Michigan courtroom to 36 months’ probation and ordered to undergo sex offender treatment. They were also ordered to complete 100 hours of community service and stay off dating apps and websites such as Tinder.
Miller said he and members of his coaching staff have been in contact with the three since the incident first happened. They maintained that relationship during the year that followed and he believes that played a factor in their decision to come to Coahoma County.
“We were the only one that started a relationship in the time where they were going through tough times and comforted them in their time of struggles and showed them that Coahoma doesn’t only care about your playing but about your well-being,” he said.
Corley and Vance have been here since the spring semester and have excelled, Miller said. He said they helped fill sandbags during flooding in Marks this spring and have been assisting youth football teams. Corley is scheduled to graduate this December, while Vance is on track to get his degree this May.
“They both have been part of the Coahoma family for the last six months and they’re very appreciative of the support that they get from the university,” Miller said.
King arrived on campus this summer.
Vance and King are expected to lead a defense that Miller says should be the strength of this year’s squad. The Tigers feature a four-man front, two linebackers and five in the secondary.
“Upfront, we should be really, really fast and explosive with a lot of talent,” he said of his defensive line that will feature King at one defense end position and talented sophomore Tony Bowman.
Miller said there is a lot of recruiters interested in Bowman as the Tunica native had 31 tackles last season, including 12 ½ tackles for loss and five sacks.
“His first step is amazing. Him and Josh King both. They can get behind the offensive lineman in one or two steps,” Miller said. “They’re both great pass rushers.”
Kyle Jones will be another force on the defensive line. The linebacking corps will feature a talented group of freshmen, headlined by Hattiesburg High School’s Will Robinson, who was a first-team All-State selection and played in the Mississippi/Alabama All-Star Game; JaMon O’Neal, a linebacker from Vicksburg recruited by several FCS schools; and Bo Curtis, a Charleston High product who was also a first-team All-State selection.
Vance will lead the secondary as a free safety and will be joined by Deangelo Scales, a top recruit from Starkville High School.
Freshman Chasten Lamb, from Florence, will be the kicker and punter for the Tigers.