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January 26, 2011

South Panola honored by town, state

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Dallas Jackson is the Senior Analyst for RivalsHigh. Email him your question, comment or story ideas to DallasJ@Yahoo-Inc.com and follow him on Twitter.

BATESVILLE, Miss. - The South Panola football team didn't earn a trip to Washington, D.C., for its RivalsHigh national championship.

The Tigers, however, are well known in the nation's capital.

"When I go to Washington to ask for funds, it is the first thing Senators ask me about," Batesville Mayor Jerry Autrey said. "They all ask and they all want to talk about the Tigers. It is pretty neat."

South Panola was the talk of Batesville Tuesday as the team was recognized in two ceremonies at the school.

The team was honored with the RivalsHigh trophy at a ceremony with the student body and teachers in the morning. Then the seniors were lauded in a lunchtime event in the cafeteria for a few hundred local fans and parents.

"It is a good feeling to have all these people come and support us," Mississippi Mr. Football Qyendarius Griffin said. "The town has supported us all year so I wouldn't expect anything else."

The players were treated like stars, signing national championship pictures in autograph lines before being cited in resolutions from the school board and a commendation by the mayor.

On Wednesday, the team will travel to the state capital in Jackson to be honored on the floor of the state senate, including a resolution announcing it is South Panola Tiger Day in the state.

"It is a great honor," head coach Lance Pogue said. "To be recognized as national champions is amazing and all of these accolades and opportunities are great for the kids.

"Most of our kids don't have cars and some haven't been much past Oxford except for our football games. Being able to be honored by the mayor and at the Senate is outstanding."

The honors are not lost on the players.

"All of this attention is pretty unbelievable," senior defensive lineman Taylor Rotenberry said. "Coach laid it out in front of us to start the season and told us what could be done and we went out and got it."

South Panola was declared the national champion by RivalsHigh, MaxPreps and USA Today.

"Success and winning is all these kids know," Pogue said. "Most of them were born right when the school won its first title and has been winning them ever since. This group took those expectations and went to the next level."

The Tigers outscored opponents, 687-117, on the season and only twice played games where the margin of victory was less than 30 points. This despite playing one of the more demanding schedules nationally.

South Panola had to fight perception off the field as much as its opposition on it this year.

"For whatever reason, the public does not perceive Mississippi as a good football state," Pogue said. "It was almost like we had to do a little more, work a little harder, prove something extra to some folks before they believed in us.

"This state has the players and the coaches. We have two SEC schools, a Conference USA school and one of the best Junior College leagues in the nation and those rosters are full of in-state kids. We have quality football here."

The type worthy of celebrating.

"We are living Friday Night Lights," Autrey said. "We are so proud of these boys."

PLAYING THE WAITING GAME

RivalsHigh reported on Tuesday that fans of Alabama, Ole Miss and Mississippi State will have to continue to wait for a decision from South Panola wide receiver Nickolas Brassell.

Brassell is not the only player from South Panola preparing to continue his football career as Kendrick Market has committed to Mississippi State and Qyendarius Griffin has declared for Louisiana-Lafayette.

There are still others who are playing a waiting game of their own.

Taylor Rotenberry, a 6-foot-2 defensive lineman, is scheduled to take an official visit to Ole Miss this weekend in the hopes of a scholarship offer.

"Whether I get an offer or preferred walk-on will be sorted out this weekend," he said. "I am hoping to get an offer but we will see."

Rotenberry is not the only player on the roster who is getting nervous as National Signing Day approaches.

Marcus Henry, a receiver who played opposite Brassell all season, has been courted by several schools but none have offered yet.

"Marcus is a guy who we think can play at the next level," defensive backs coach Jaime Easley said. "Memphis and Southern Miss are both in on him and we hope one pulls the trigger here soon."

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