| By Myra Bean
Two North Panola junior football players will have a chance to showcase their talent before national scouts.
Bruce Wilbourn, wide receiver, and Templeton Hardy, defensive tackle, have been invited to participate in the U.S. Army All-American combine to be held the week prior to the All-American Bowl game on January 6.
The combine will showcase the talents of 500 of the top juniors in the country in all positions and is held in conjunction with the U.S. Army All-American game January 4 through 6.
Wilbourn, 6’1", 190 pounds, said he was shocked when head coach Vincent Johnson told him about the invitation to participate.
"I never thought I would do something like that," he said.
Wilbourn was one of the main receivers for North Panola and had 38 receptions for 12 touchdowns. He rushed for one touchdown.
He averaged 18.3 yards per reception and had a total of 997 all-purpose yards. On punt returns he averaged 21.4 yards per return. On kickoff returns, he averaged 26 yards per return.
Johnson described Wilbourn as humble and very physical.
"He is blessed with the ability to run, jump and think exceptionally well – some of the major attributes of being an athlete," Johnson said.
Since Johnson told Wilbourn about his participation in the combine, Johnson said Wilbourn has been working very hard with the desire to be the best.
"I have been very impressed with his athletic skills and ability," Johnson said. "He has been working unbelievably hard."
Johnson did not become head coach of North Panola until July of this year and did not know the players when he arrived.
Johnson said Wilbourn exceeded his expectations on the football field this past season.
"Many times we could lean on him and he was not arrogant with it," Johnson said. "He was very humble."
Johnson recalled a couple of games when Wilbourn was injured, but still showed up to play.
Wilbourn said he feels ready for the combine and is doing what he has to do to get prepared. That includes practicing twice a day, during school and afterwards working in the weightroom getting stronger.
"I have been working on my footwork," he said. Wilbourn runs a 4.5 second 40-yard dash.
"Coach said it could be better if I ran right," Wilbourn said, laughing.
Wilbourn looks forward to seeing how he ranks with the rest of the high school players who hail from 40 states.
"I will get a first hand look at how some of the best players perform," he said.
Wilbourn likes being ranked as one of the top 500 juniors in the nation, but said it is a lot of hard work.
Another goal of Wilbourn’s on his first trip to San Antonio is to help his local team.
"I hope the scouts will see we have a lot of good athletes at this school," he said. "Maybe they will come down and watch some of our up and coming athletes."
Hardy is a 6’4", 300-pound defensive lineman who also played on the offensive line for North Panola. He registered 105 solo tackles this year and 43 assists. He had 28 tackles for loss yards.
Hardy had nine sacks on the season and returned an interception for a touchdown. He caused three fumbles and recovered four.
Hardy said he was excited to be picked to participate in the combine, but at first did not know what that meant.
"My first thought was I was real happy," Hardy said. "It’s the first time I ever did something like this. Now to go to a big place I have never been before, I was real excited."
Hardy looks forward to participating in the Combine and getting his name out for the colleges to see.
"This will be a good chance for me to go somewhere and make it big," Hardy said.
According to Hardy, he hopes to learn some new defensive moves to help him make more tackles for the Cougar defense next year. As for the offense, he hopes to learn more blocking moves so he can screen the running back to make more touchdowns.
His goals include leaving Como, going to a bigger place and making it big.
"So I can give back to the community," Hardy said.
Johnson described Hardy as "very physical."
"The sky’s the limit on how strong he could be," Johnson said. "He hasn’t tapped into his potential yet."
Hardy has learned a lot, according to Johnson, and is getting stronger.
"He will be a whole lot better than what he was last year," Johnson added. "He’s naturally strong at 300 pounds. That’s scary. He’s a lineman that runs the 40 in less than five seconds. He made tackles down the line of scrimmage like a linebacker."
Johnson has his own hopes for these two players at the Combine.
He hopes they will develop more leadership skills. With Wilbourn on offense and Hardy on defense, Johnson hopes they will be able to implement their knowledge into the Cougar football scheme.
"They will be in the midst of the best of the best athletes," Johnson said. "They will go against athletes of the same or better skills and they will see where they stand with the best in the country."
According to Johnson, the combine players getting a chance to see the best 80 players on the field will be incentive for them to play harder.
On hand to evaluate athletes at the Combine will be Tom Lemming, the nation’s most respected recruiting analyst, and , according to the U.S. Army All American Bowl website.
Also all NCAA Division 1-A coaches will have access to testing information and performance analysis.
"The U.S. Army National Combine was created so athletes can prove themselves to a national audience," according to the website. "This event will allow the nation’s top recruiting analysts and scouts a first look on who will be populating their top 100 lists."
The combine is the only national combined modeled after the NFL combine in Indianapolis. Created and designed by NFL and collegiate coaches, the National Combine gives the nation’s top underclassmen the opportunity to showcase their football skills and earn national recognition among football’s most elite recruiting experts and analysts.
The event consists of traditional combine and football skills testing, seminar and break-out sessions focusing on leadership, team-building and the college-recruiting process.
A list of areas to be tested are height, weight, wingspan, reach, bench press (optional), vertical jump, pro-agility and 40-yard dash.
One other Mississippi participant is Triveon Lawrence, running back of Ocean Springs.
"I am excited to get the chance to watch some of the best in the nation play high school football and to see how my guys do in situations like that," Johnson said.