Mississippi has historically been known as a state that produces great athletes that have gone on to play on the highest level.
Bolivar County is one of the counties in the state that has nurtured some great sports figures that have either played or coached on the highest levels of their sport. As I was researching, the list of great players and coaches that have made an impact on a national level from Bolivar County is long. This story features a few of those players and coaches.
Dave “Boo” Ferriss: A native of Shaw and a graduate of Shaw High School, attended college at Mississippi State University where he was the first full scholarship baseball player in the school’s history. He played at MSU from 1939-42. He played in the Minor Leagues in Greensboro, NC and was in the Army Air Corps. In 1945, he was called up by the Boston Red Sox. In his rookie year in 1945, he tossed 22 1/3 scoreless innings to start his career and won his first eight starts. Ferriss finished that season with a 21-10 record and a 2.96 ERA. He finished fourth in the MVP voting. In 1946, he went 25-6 and led the American League in winning percentage with a .806 mark. He had a 3.25 ERA and tossed a complete game shutout in game three of the 1946 World Series against St. Louis as Boston won the game 4-0.
Injuries ended up cutting Ferriss’ Major League career short, but he finished with a career record of 65-30 with a 3.64 ERA in 144 games. After his time at Boston, he came to Cleveland and ended up being the head baseball coach at Delta State University where he is considered the architect of the program. Ferriss posted a career record of 639-387-8 in 26 years as the skipper with four Gulf South Conference Championships and three NCAA Division II World Series Appearances. Ferriss is in the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and the Boston Red Sox Hall of Fame. The award for the best collegiate baseball player in Mississippi at a four-year school is named “The Ferriss Trophy” in honor of Ferriss.
Kevin Rogers: Cleveland native Kevin Rogers, who graduated from Cleveland High School and played college baseball at Mississippi Delta Community College, was drafted in the ninth round of the 1988 MLB Draft by the San Francisco Giants and was eventually called up to the squad in 1992. He had a good run in the Major Leagues from 1992-94 as he pitched out of the bullpen for the Giants. He had his best season in 1993 when he went 2-2 with a 2.68 ERA in 64 games. He gave up 71 hits with 62 strikeouts and 28 walks in 80.2 innings of work. His production played a key role in the Giants going 103-59 that year. Even though injuries hampered his career, he pitched in 79 games and had a 3.17 career ERA with opponents hitting just .249 against him. A number of Hall of Famers struggled against him including Craig Biggio (2-for-9, .222 avg.), Mike Piazza (1-for-5,.200 avg.), Ozzie Smith (1-for-5, .200 avg.), Barry Larkin (1-for-7,.143 avg.) and Eddie Murray (0-for-2, .000 avg.).
Matthew Duff: Duff grew up in Alligator, graduated from Lee Academy, and pitched on the collegiate level at Mississippi Delta Community College and Ole Miss. After a few years in the minors, Duff got his shot in the Majors to pitch for the St. Louis Cardinals in 2002. In that season, he pitched in seven games and threw 5.2 innings with four strikeouts and gave up just three his with eight walks. One of Duff’s strikeouts came against Gary Sheffield who he struck out looking on Aug. 3, 2002. Sheffield was a nine-time all-star that hit 509 home runs with 1,676 RBIs and a career .292 batting average.
Margaret Wade: Coach Wade is considered the mother of modern women’s college basketball. As head women’s basketball coach of the Delta State University Lady Statesmen, she guided them to the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women National Championship in 1975, 76 and 77. The success of the Lady Statesmen drew national attention, and they were instrumental in putting women’s basketball on the map. Wade coached at DSU for six years and posted a record of 157-23. Wade played high school basketball and graduated from Cleveland High School and played college basketball at DSU. Wade’s basketball career at DSU was cut short after 1932 as the university decided to disband the program, because it was deemed too tough for young ladies. After DSU, Wade played amateur basketball for the Tupelo Red Wings. After her playing days came to a close, she went into coaching and came back to Cleveland High School where she had a long run by leading the Lady Wildcats to three straight trips to the Mississippi State finals. After CHS, she went to DSU where she became an instructor. In 1972, she would be asked to be the head coach when DSU’s administration decided to start the women’s program back up. She has been inducted into the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame, the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame and the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame. The award for the best women’s college basketball player in the country is named in her honor as it is titled “The Wade Trophy.”
Denise Taylor: Taylor, who is from Cleveland and graduated from East Side High School, has had a great career in basketball. Taylor played college basketball at Texas Southern University for four years. After her collegiate playing days, she went into coaching as she was an assistant coach for TSU and Lamar University and head coach at American International College and Northeastern Illinois University. Her experience enabled here to be named the head coach of the Utah Starzz in the WNBA in 1997 as she was the team’s first head coach. After one season in the WNBA, she was named the head women’s basketball coach at Jackson State University where she led the program for 11 years.
Johnny O’Bryant: O’Bryant, who is a native from Cleveland and graduated high school at East Side High School, played college basketball at Louisiana State University. After his playing days at LSU, O’Bryant was selected in the second round of the 2014 NBA Draft by the Milwaukee Bucks. O’Bryant had a solid four-year NBA career with the Bucks, the Denver Nuggets and Charlotte Hornets. He played in 147 career games with 19 starts. Out of those 147 games, he racked up double figures in points 11 times and scored a career high of 16 points on Jan. 2, 2018 when he went 7-of-9 from the floor to help lead the Hornets in their 131-111 win over the Sacramento Kings. In his career, he played in one playoff game as he scored six points with three rebounds in a 120-66 loss to the Chicago Bulls in game six of the first round of the Eastern Conference Playoffs on Apr. 30, 2015. For his career in the NBA, he averaged 3.5 points and 2.4 rebounds per game. O’Bryant is currently on the Lokomotiv Kuban basketball team in Krasnodar, Russia in the VTB United League as he played in 10 games this year and averaged 13.8 points per game.
Ken Lucas: Lucas, a Cleveland native and a graduate of East Side High School, played college football at Ole Miss and was taken in the second round of the 2001 NFL Draft by the Seattle Seahawks. Lucas proved he belonged in the NFL as he had a successful nine-year career that saw him play in 138 games with 112 starts at cornerback for the Seahawks and the Carolina Panthers. Lucas’ production during his career was instrumental in the Seahawks making the playoffs in 2003 and 2004 and the Panthers making the playoffs in 2005 and 2008. The 2004 and 2005 seasons were special years for Lucas as he recorded six interceptions in each of those years for the Seahawks and Panthers respectively. In 2005, Lucas also had two interceptions in the playoffs for the Panthers as the team advanced to the NFC Title game. Lucas finished his career with 533 tackles, 110 passes defended and 25 interceptions. Lucas’ 110 passes defended put him tied for 40th all-time in NFL history with Deon Grant.
Floyd “Porkchop” Womack: Womack, a Cleveland native that graduated from East Side High School, played college football at Mississippi State University and was drafted in the fourth round of the 2001 NFL Draft by the Seattle Seahawks. Womack was a hardworking, reliable offensive lineman in the NFL that authored an excellent 11-year career with eight of those years in Seattle, two in Cleveland and one in Arizona. Womack and Lucas were teammates in Seattle from 2001-04. Womack, along with Lucas, played an instrumental role in Seattle going to the NFL Playoffs in 2003 and 2004. The next year in 2005, Lucas ended up in Carolina while Womack stayed at Seattle. Seattle and Carolina met up in the NFC Title game with Womack and the Seahawks winning 34-13 to advance to the Super Bowl against the Pittsburgh Steelers where they lost 21-10. Womack’s final year on the field in the NFL came in 2010 when he played in 16 games with 15 starts in Cleveland. He signed with Arizona in 2011, but injuries prevented him from playing. In his career, Womack played 120 games with 71 starts on the offensive line.
Dorsett Davis: Davis, a graduate of East High School, played college football at Mississippi Delta Community College and Mississippi State University. He was a towering force as he stood 6’5” and weighed over 300 pounds of pure muscle. His abilities didn’t go unnoticed as he was drafted in the third round of the 2002 NFL Draft. He ended up playing for the Broncos in 2003 as he played in 14 games and recorded 16 total tackles. Injuries cut his career short as 2003 was his lone season in the NFL.
Fred Barnett: Barnett, a native of Gunnison who graduated from Rosedale High School and played college football at Arkansas State University, was picked up in the third round of the 1990 NFL Draft by the Philadelphia Eagles. Barnett proved to be an excellent wide receiver as he played eight years in the NFL with the first six at Philadelphia and the final two at Miami. He played a key role in the Eagles going to the playoffs in 1990, 1992 and 95. Barnett had three seasons of 60 or more receptions and two seasons of 1,000 or more yards receiving. Barnett had his best statistical seasons in 1992 and 1994. He caught 67 passes for 1,083 yards with six touchdowns in 92, and he caught 78 passes for 1,127 yards with five touchdowns in 94. His career high in touchdown catches came in his rookie year of 1990 when he crossed the end zone eight times. Barnett finished his career with 361 receptions for 5,362 yards with 32 touchdowns.
Tim Barnett: Barnett, Fred Barnett’s cousin, is a native of Gunnison that graduated from Rosedale High School and played college football at Jackson State University. Barnett was picked up in the third round of the 1991 NFL Draft by the Kansas City Chiefs. Barnett played for the Chiefs for three years and caught 82 passes for 1,188 yards with 10 touchdowns in 44 games. He played a key role in the Chiefs going to the playoffs each year. The Chiefs advanced to the AFC Title game in the 1993 season where they lost to the Bills 30-13.
Pat Coleman: Coleman, a graduate of Cleveland High School who played college football at Ole Miss, was picked up in the ninth round of the 1990 NFL Draft by the Houston Oilers. He ended up having a five-year NFL career as he played one year for the New England Patriots and four years for the Oilers as a wide receiver. Coleman had his best year statistically in 1994 as he caught 20 passes for 298 yards with a touchdown. He played a key role in the Oilers going to the playoffs in 1991 as he caught 11 passes for 138 yards.He also contributed to the Oilers going to playoffs in 1992 and 93. He finished his career in the NFL with 42 catches for 575 yards with two touchdowns in 52 games.
John Eubanks: Eubanks, a graduate of Cleveland High School who played college football at the University of Southern Mississippi, was signed by the Washington Redskins as an undrafted free agent in 2006. Eubanks played in the NFL for two seasons as a defensive back for the Redskins as he saw action in seven games and recorded seven total tackles. He also played in the Canadian Football League.
Kevin Henry: Henry is a native of Mound Bayou that graduated from John F. Kennedy High School and played college football at Mississippi State University, was picked up in the fourth round of the 1993 NFL Draft by the Pittsburgh Steelers. The defensive end proved his worth as he had a solid eight-year career with the Steelers. He played a key role in the team making five trips to the playoffs over his eight years. Henry’s most memorable season came in 1995 when the Steelers won the AFC Championship and advanced to the Super Bowl against the Dallas Cowboys where they lost 27-17. Statistically, he had his best year in 1997 when he recorded 51 tackles with 4.5 sacks and an interception in 16 games. For his career, he played in 117 games with 81 starts and recorded 235 total tackles with 14 careers sacks, eight passes defended and two interceptions.
Michael Adams: Adams is from Shelby and graduated from Broad Street High School and played college football at Arkansas State University, was drafted by the New Orleans Saints in the third round of the 1987 NFL Draft. The defensive back played in the NFL for three seasons with the first two coming in New Orleans, followed by the final season at Phoenix. Adams played in 15 games with three starts in his career. He returned four kicks for 52 yards and a punt for 19 yards. He returned a kick for 19 yards for the Saints in their 44-10 loss to the Minnesota Vikings on Jan. 3, 1988 in the NFC Wild Card Game in the playoffs.
Mildrette Netter: Netter, who graduated from Rosedale High School, competed in track and field at Alcorn State University and was a three-time All-SWAC and All-NAIA performer. She competed on the USA Track and Field Olympic team in 1968 and 72 and was part of the 4×100-meter relay team that won the gold medal at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City, Mexico. She is a member of SWAC Hall of Fame and the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame.
By Andy Collier
Sports Editor, The Bolivar Bullet