By Leslie N. Dees
The Star Herald
More than 25 years ago, Junior Graham and Paul Dees played football together at Ethel High School and when they became high school football coaches, they were friendly opponents.
On Saturday, they will be on the same side of the field coaching Mississippi's best high school football players in the Alabama-Mississippi All-Star Classic in Montgomery, Ala., at the Cramton Bowl.
Graham, Eupora head coach, and Dees, Ethel head coach, were selected by their fellow members of the Mississippi Association of Coaches and had to meet certain criteria to be chosen.
"This game is a real honor but it's special – Paul is a childhood friend of mine," Graham, who will serve as the head coach of the all-stars. "We played ball together and we've never had the opportunity to coach together."
Dees, who will coach wide receivers and special teams, said it means a lot to him to be nominated by his fellow coaches for the task.
"I'm getting to not only coach the best players in the state but I'm also getting to coach with two of my best friends (Graham and Ridgeland Titans head coach Kenny Burton)," Dees said. "This is probably the only time we will ever coach together."
While coaching the best in Mississippi is a great honor, it also comes with a lot of work.
Dees said since the staff had been selected they have met several times for film evaluation of players as well as making phone calls and attending summer seven-on-seven games to scout players.
"We sought out to find the best kids that we could," Dees said. "There are a lot of good high school football players in the state."
Dees said the roster has some Division 1 football commitments, noting The Clarion-Ledger's Dandy Dozen selection Scott Austin, from Biloxi, has plans to be a Mississippi State Bulldog and Eupora's Derrick Jones has Ole Miss in his sights.
The Mississippi squad hasn't come home the victor in recent years and both coaches hope that the team's hard work at practice this week pays off with a victory.
"It's a great honor to be around these guys for a week and be able to mold them into a team and get them to execute as a team," Graham said. "We have a busy week ahead but it should be fun and productive."
Two-a-day practices began on Tuesday morning.
Graham said he is looking forward to working with the all-star staff and picking their brains during the week.
"I'm really excited about Paul coaching the wide receivers cause I know the type of guy he is," Graham said. "He's got a great offensive mind. He's coaching one of my own (Jones).
In addition to Graham, Dees and Burton, the staff consists of Starkville's Jamie Mitchell, Broad Street's Demaris Mitchell, Clinton's Judd Boswell and Nanih Waiya's Tate Hanna. South Panola' Lance Pogue will serve as scout coach and Howard McNeill will serve as the administrative coach.
The game kicks off at noon and will be televised, check local listings.