Day 7: Turkey Calls, Winding Roads and Last Chance U.
The road trip made it to the tiny campus of Eastern Mississippi Community College, where a Patriots star got his start
The billionaire Falcons owner turned the franchise around using the business principles that were behind his Home Depot success.
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ATLANTA to SCOOBA, Miss. — Our first stop of the day was Scooba, Mississippi, to visit East Mississippi Community College. That’s where Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount played for two years before transferring to Oregon. Getting to the tiny town (pop. 732) was not easy. It was a four-hour drive from Atlanta, but the last 45 minutes or so were spent on winding, one-lane rural state highways. Cell service went in and out, so Google Maps was an unreliable navigator. Luckily, Jenny had step-by-step directions written out from EMCC’s offensive coordinator, who knew we might have a little bit of trouble finding him.
After passing about eight Baptist churches, we finally arrived. At the intersection marking the town’s limits, six hedges that spelled out “Scooba,” and a sign commemorated the town as the birthplace of World Champion Turkey Caller Jack Lewis Dudley. Ah, yes, Dudley, quite a legend. Scooba is a one-flashing-red-stoplight kind of town, and the EMCC campus is also tiny, about one square mile. The big news around town is the upcoming opening of a Dollar General store. It’s probably safe to say that Matt Ryan’s high school’s campus in Philadelphia is larger than all of Scooba.
You might be familiar with the EMCC Lions if you watch the Netflix series Last Chance U. Blount played at EMCC in 2006 and ’07, before it was a dominant JUCO program and the subject of a TV series. Blount left for Oregon before current head coach Buddy Stephens arrived to lead the program to three NJCAA national championships. When Blount was at EMCC, he played in a stadium that looks smaller than an average high school field, with just seven rows of bleachers on the home side. That field still exists today, but the team hardly ever uses it, even as a practice field. In Blount’s day, uniforms came in three varieties: red, black, white, and just one helmet. Today, there’s a new football stadium that seats 5,000, and the team wears Adidas uniforms in 10 varieties with six different helmets. Because of the attention from the Netflix series, EMCC has had to expand its bookstore staff in order to fulfill the influx of online apparel orders.
Blount’s old dorm, Sullivan Hall, is located directly across the street from the old field, and right next to the weight room, meaning Blount’s daily commute was about 500 feet each way. Offensive coordinator Marcus Wood pointed out that when players like Blount come to Scooba, they know there won’t be any distractions. The campus is even separated by gender. Girls’ dorms on one half, guys’ dorms on the other.
Sullivan Hall, where Blount lived during his time here at EMCC. Field, dorm & weight room are all within 500 feet of each other. pic.twitter.com/fHVRVcqG1s— The MMQB (@theMMQB) January 29, 2017
Blount is one of many EMCC alums in the NFL, including Zadarius Smith (Baltimore), Quinton Dial (San Francisco), Jarran Reed (Seattle) and Denico Autry (Oakland). It’s not uncommon for a Division-I college player who had trouble his first year to transfer to EMCC, and then back to a Division-I program. Ole Miss quarterback Chad Kelly played here in 2014. Wood told us that EMCC outscored opponents so dramatically that year that Kelly only played in the second half of five games.
Blount’s coach while he was at EMCC, Roger Carr, is no longer with the program, but current Lions players follow Blount’s career closely. Quarterback Vijay Miller, 19, and team manager Kialur Armstrong, also 19, were hanging out outside their dorm building near the center of campus on Sunday afternoon. We asked them what they think of Blount coming up through EMCC. Miller talked about feeling inspired by starting out at the same place that Blount started. “He played at East Mississippi, now I am playing at East Mississippi. It makes me think that I can do great things from here.”
Our next stop is Tuscaloosa, Alabama, for a look at a Patriots player’s offseason workout.