Whitney, other area standouts narrow their college options

Sunday, January 27, 2002

Jackson all-state running back Mario Whitney is no longer a "Missouri Volunteer."

After the speedy Indian gave Mizzou an oral commitment prior to his all-state senior season, Whitney wavered on his word when Tennessee, which vied for the national championship late in the college season, entered the picture. Whitney planned an official visit to Volunteer Country and said in November he was only 50 percent sure about signing with Missouri.

Good news for Missouri coach Gary Pinkel and Tiger fans. Whitney never made his visit to Knoxville, Tenn., and will sign with Missouri on Feb. 6.

During his senior year, Whitney rushed for 2,782 yards and scored 43 touchdowns as Jackson went 12-1, reaching the Class 5A semifinals for the first time. Considered by many recruiting experts to be among the elite running back and receiving prospects in the country, Whitney broke the Missouri high school single-game rushing record with a 463-yard performance against Parkway North.

"He knew in his heart he gave them a commitment last spring and he needed to honor it," Jackson coach Carl Gross said.

Gross may have at least one other Division I player in his senior class. Offensive tackle Travis Dambach, the SEMO North Conference Lineman of the Year, is making an official visit to Kansas this weekend and the Jayhawks are reportedly prepared to offer a scholarship.

"After his senior season, everyone that watched film of him really liked him," said Gross, who added that Southeast Missouri, Southern Illinois and Southwest Missouri are also pursuing the 6-foot-5, 270-pound Dambach, who was a second-team all-state pick.

Other Indians who will likely play at the college level are all-state linebacker Seth Harrell, who may forego scholarship offers to try and walk-on at Missouri, fullback/linebacker Brad Berry, tight end/linebacker Seth McDowell, lineman Pete Ressler and receiver/defensive back Justin Thompson. The latter two are considering Division III Washington University.

Colleges also have their eyes on a number of players off a Cape Central team that went 7-5 and reached the Class 4A quarterfinals for the second straight year. Most coveted is defensive tackle Chris Smith, who is quick despite 315 pounds on a 6-foot-2 frame.

Smith, who turned in an all-state senior season, has yet to take his ACT and is considering several options.

"We've talked closely to a lot of powerful junior college programs in Kansas," said Cape Central coach Lawrence Brookins. "Butler and Garden City are known for grabbing kids and getting them through the first couple of years and transferring them out to major programs."

Missouri, Eastern Illinois and others have shown high interest in Smith. He willvisit EIU next weekend.

Central Missouri, Southeast and Lindenwood are showing interest in running back/receiver/defensive back Marcus Klund.

Other Tigers who are receiving interest are defensive back Marland Heard, kicker Chris Jones, receiver Andrew Eaton and defensive lineman Justin Wells.

"The top five or six are just now lining up visits, both official and unofficial, in the next two or three weeks," Brookins said.

Recruiters are also showing interest in juniors Monroe Hicks, an all-state safety, and linebacker Jeremiah Dukes.

MVC tourney begins Monday

The six-team Mississippi Valley Conference Tournament begins Monday at Chaffee High School.

The conference will feature round-robin games Monday, Tuesday and Thursday, and will be capped by placement games Saturday. The championship will be at 5:30 p.m.

Pool A will consist of top-seeded Meadow Heights, No. 4 Oak Ridge and No. 6 Zalma, while Pool B will contain No. 2 Marquand, No. 3 Leopold and No. 5 Chaffee.

The conference will also hold a junior varsity tournament, with the championship scheduled for 4 p.m. Saturday.

jbreer@semissourian.com

(573)335-6611, extension 124

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