Hammond signs with Mississippi State, leads class of 7 Gadsden City signees
Wed. February 06, 2013 at 11:00 p.m. | By Nick Johnston Sports Writer
Gadsden City High School senior B.J. Hammond reveals he will attend Mississippi State University during the school’s national signing day program Wednesday. (Photo by Marc Golden | Gadsden Times)
Gadsden City’s B.J. Hammond had a little fun with the crowd Wednesday on college football’s national signing day.
Hammond, a 6-foot-4 wide receiver for the Titans, lined up Mississippi State, Kentucky, Louisville and Southern Miss hats in front of him. One-by-one, he removed each out of sight before emerging with the Kentucky hat.
“I will be attending the University of Ken...,” he said before pausing, smiling and saying “I mean Mississippi State,” as he put on a Bulldogs hat.
Hammond, a Rivals.com 3-star athlete and rated the No. 13 prospect in the state of Alabama by ESPN, committed to Mississippi State last summer and was one of seven Titans on Wednesday to sign NCAA National Letters of Intent in the high school auditorium.
Also signing were defensive lineman Finesse Middleton (Louisville), defensive lineman Rodney Edwards (Tennessee State), linebacker Blake Worthy (Alabama State), offensive tackle Khalid Cannon (Yale) and wide receivers LeGerald Malone and Jordan Veasy, who both inked with Faulkner.
Hammond was slowed by an injury during 2012, in which he caught 15 passes for 278 yards and two touchdowns. Mississippi State never wavered, and neither did Hammond. “I committed to them in June and loyalty means everything to me,” said Hammond, who had off-season knee surgery. “I think I made the right decision. I have a perfect opportunity to come in and play as a true freshman. They had six receivers leave, so I’m ready to take on the challenge.”
Hammond said he did take other official visits, but not before letting the Mississippi State coaches know. In all, Hammond estimated he received 20 offers to play at the next level.
“Coach Dan Mullen told me, he said don’t come here if you don’t want to be a hard worker. I signed up for hard work, and that’s why I’m going to Mississippi State.”
Former Gadsden City coach Joe Billingsley, who resigned in November after seven seasons with the Titans, said Hammond “matured” more during the 2012 season than any other player on the team.
“The biggest thing about B.J. is his athleticism. It’s unlimited,” Billingsley said. “He’s a high-character kid and once he gets in that environment of all the people that are guiding him through the education and athletic process, I fully expect him to excel and may even be a surprise to some people.”
Middleton was an early enrollee at Louisville, meaning he already is on campus and will go through spring practice with the Cardinals. Middleton, who had 57 tackles and 12 stops for a loss in his senior season, addressed the crowd via phone and his mother, Johnjalene Woods, also spoke.
“I am so excited, just ecstatic,” Woods said. “He’s really made me a proud mom.”
Woods was impressed with Louisville head coach Charlie Strong. “He’s a great person, first off, and he’s an excellent football coach,” she said.
Edwards chose Tennessee State over Murray State, Southern Miss and Middle Tennessee State. “They told me I had a great opportunity to come in and play soon,” said Edwards, who made 53 tackles and 81⁄2 for a loss. “The recruiting process is fun, but it’s business at the same time. I’m relieved, but it was fun.”
Billingsley said along with being a solid football player, Edwards has the right attitude and a “charm” about him.
“Everybody loves Rodney,” Billingsley said. “He comes to practice every day with a smile on his face.”
Worthy’s signing with Alabama State was somewhat of a surprise. Most of the speculation had him going to Kentucky or Southern Miss, but he liked what he saw in Montgomery.
“When I went down there I just fell in love with it,” said Worthy, adding that Gadsden City defensive coordinator Ali Smith had encouraged him to visit his alma mater.
Worthy had 48 tackles in 2012.
“He played hurt most of the year and had surgery after the season,” Billingsley said. “He elected to play the season, and that speaks to his character.
Cannon signed with Yale after also considering Harvard, Samford, Navy and Louisiana Lafayette.
Malone and Veasy decided to stick together at Faulkner. Both have a shot at early playing time. “I have a chance to play my freshman year,” said Malone, a 5-foot-7, 155-pound speedster who also considered UAB, Troy, Arkansas State and Shorter. “They said if I do what I’m supposed to do I could start on kick return and punt return. And I could rotate in at running back and wide receiver.”
Malone and Veasy tied for a team-high four receiving touchdowns last season.
“I’m looking forward to trying to win an NAIA championship,” Veasy said.
Veasy also held offers from Tennessee State, Tennessee Chattanooga and Samford.
The seven signees bring the total number of Gadsden City athletes who have had the opportunity to play at the next level to 44 — all under Billingsley’s tutiledge since the school opened after consolidation. The crop that signed Wednesday is special to the former football coach.
“They have seen the ups and downs of the Gadsden City football program probably more than any class,” Billingsley said. “We were really successful when they were ninth graders and 10th graders. Probably, year before last, we were a little bit further away from what we normally are. Last year, we go down to the last minute in four games and we don’t get it done.
“It’s been some hills and valleys with these guys, but we’ve cried and laughed and celebrated and been mad. Not that any of the other classes don’t have a special place to me. This is my last class at Gadsden City, we’ve been through a lot together, so ultimately this kind of right now may be my favorite class.”