Under coach Tony Vance, the Hattiesburg football program has sent 48 players to play college football in the last six years. This year, the Tigers had 12 players sign, as eight more joined the four that inked in December by putting pen to paper Wednesday.
“The success of our program has been the success of our players,” Hattiesburg coach Tony Vance said. “Most of the credit goes to those young men.”
Drexlan Allen (Jackson State), Darius Ruffin (Northwest CC), Rasheim Jordan (Pearl River CC), Gayden Hence (Pearl River), Chris Turner (Pearl River), Eric Handy (Pearl River), Jadarrius Perkins (Mississippi Gulf Coast CC) and Tadrian Leflore (Gulf Coast) were all celebrated during Hattiesburg’s National Signing Day ceremony Wednesday.
Senior running back Drexlan Allen was the last of the group to make a decision.
“As soon as I sat in that seat, that’s when I finally decided,” he said.
In his head, Allen was going back and forth between Jackson State and the junior college route, but he ultimately chose the four-year school path. Allen said he’s been open-minded about the process since he announced his decommitment from Florida Atlantic after the season ended, but that didn’t mean the process wasn’t stressful.
“It’s a whole lot of weight off my shoulders, I promise,” Allen said. “You want to be recruited, but until it’s time and you’re deciding and figuring out in your head where you’re going to play football, it’s really stressful. I finally made my decision.”
The 5-foot-10 running back totaled more than 2,700 rushing yards and 45 touchdowns during his four-year career at Hattiesburg. After two seasons of more than 600 yards in each his sophomore and junior years, he rushed for 1,277 yards and 18 scores as a senior.
He had a lot of interest from Mississippi junior colleges, but Copiah-Lincoln Community College was his top choice if he opted not to attend Jackson State. In the end, Jackson State was calling his name.
“There were a lot of schools coming in and out,” he said. “Basically, all of them were telling me the same thing. If I chose to go JUCO, it was where I wanted to actually be, because everybody said I was going to play. It just had to feel like home if I was going JUCO.”
Ruffin, who had 2,500 career receiving yards and 22 touchdowns, signed with Northwest Wednesday, and he’s ready to prove he can play at the next level. The 5-10 receiver could end up being a major steal for the Rangers’ football program, but Ruffin has been discounted for a while now because of his size.
“A lot of people said I wasn’t recruited because I wasn’t tall enough playing the receiver position,” Ruffin said. “I feel like all my life I’ve proved them wrong and I’m going to continue to prove them wrong each and every day with my hard work and dedication.”
As a senior, he had 1,221 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns on 59 grabs, and he had 991 yards and five touchdowns on 60 receptions the year prior.
Ruffin said he thinks he could play anywhere, but Northwest was the best fit for him, he said. He couldn’t imagine a better way to celebrate his big day either.
“It just feels great to come in front of people who care about me and put in the work with me to get to this point,” Ruffin said. “In that seat, my heart was beating out of my chest, but it’s just how it goes. I love being here, I love Hattiesburg and it’s a great day.”
After he thanked his family, he told a story about being in the stands at D.I. Patrick Stadium as a kid and watching players like Tony Bridges play in a Tigers’ uniform. He idolized those players, and he knew that’s where he wanted to be when he got to the varsity level.
Like Ruffin, Bridges went the junior college route before playing at Ole Miss. That’s the same path Ruffin wants to take through Northwest.
“I’ve had Hattiesburg High in my heart for a long time,” Ruffin said. “Just sitting in the stands and watching the caliber of a player like (Tony Bridges), just inspired me. I kind of knew him personally so I would go speak to him. I’d go home and think about being on that stage one day and getting to play here in front of a great crowd. It feels great to come back and be able to do this in front of the people I love.
“Hopefully when I make it, wherever I go, I’ll come back and give back to the community and the kids.”
This senior group went winless during their freshmen football days, but in their three years at the varsity level, the class went 36-5 overall with a state championship appearance.