By Tony Tsoukalas / Sports Writer
The Meridian Star
Three local athletes will participate in the annual Alabama-Mississippi Classic on Saturday at noon in Montgomery, Ala. West Lauderdale linebacker JarKeith Ruffin, Meridian defensive lineman JaQarius Scott and Quitman center Chris Berry were all selected to represent Mississippi in the 26th annual game between the two states.
Alabama leads Mississippi 18-7 in the 25 previous meetings dating back to 1988. The Mississippi All-Stars will look to stop a four-game losing streak to Alabama this season and win back some pride between the two states.
“We didn't win state this year like we had wanted to,” Scott said. “Beating Alabama in this game would mean a lot to me. Winning this game would almost make up for not winning state this year.”
Scott is the lone representative on Meridian and was an anchor on both offensive and defensive line for the Wildcats. Head coach Larry Weems is glad Scott will have the opportunity to play in the game, but said he wishes he didn't have to lose the senior next year.
“He was an outstanding guy for us to have,” Weems said. “Every year he has been with us, he has played hard. He's a tough kid, he's an effort kid and he has got a great attitude. I just wish he wasn't a senior.”
Weems said Scott was a leader both on and off the field for the Wildcats and expects him to carry that leadership into the college game next season. Scott had the opportunity to practice with the state's best players during the week and said he hopes to pick up a few things from his new teammates in order to better his game. The lineman is currently being recruited by Miles College in Birmingham as well as others at the next level.
“It's just an honor to play with the best athletes in the whole entire star,” Scott said. “It's great to get to come out here and compete against the best.”
Though only spending one year at West Lauderdale after transferring from Nashville, Tenn., Ruffin was one of the lone bright spots in the Knight's 2-8 season. Ruffin played primarily on defense for the Knights this season, but took snaps on the offensive side of the ball as well. West Lauderdale head coach Stan McCain said, the 6-foot-3, 242-pound athlete could play just about anywhere on the field.
“He can do what he wants to do on the field,” McCain said. “He can run, he can hit. When it comes down to it, we could have even probably put him in at quarterback.
“He's really a great athlete. He was one of those guys you had to watch in practice, because he was so much bigger than everybody else. He's got a world of potential, and he is all-out when he plays.”
Ruffin has received interest from Vanderbilt, Louisiana Tech, Southern University and Southern Mississippi. Ruffin said he plans to take official visits to Southern University and Vanderbilt.
The defensive standout had the chance to practice with the state's premiere athletes and said the reps have been beneficial in improving his game.
“The best guy I have gone up against is Deon Mix,” Ruffin said. “He's a big guy. I like going up against the best guys, because it makes me better.”
All the attention in Quitman was placed on standout quarterback Franklin Jones this season. Meanwhile, center Chris Berry quietly led the way blocking for the Panther's rushing attack. The senior lineman is the first Quitman player to be selected for the Alabama-Mississippi Classic.
“He was huge for us leading the front,” Quitman head coach Steve Bynum said. “He is a great player and we are going to miss him.”
Berry started the last three years at center for the Panthers. Bynum said he has seen growth in the 6-3, 275-pound lineman's play and thinks he will be able to translate his skills into the next level.
“The main thing I've seen is an increase in his aggressiveness from last year,” Bynum said. “He is growing up and maturing. He is starting to be more confident in his ability and starting to get after folks.”
Berry has received interest from all the Mississippi junior college teams as well as some Division II schools.
“He is a kid who has taken care of his business and will get a scholarship from someone,” Bynum said. “I see him moving forward and playing several more years.”