By Robert Wilson
Many high school football fans haven’t heard about Park Place Christian Academy senior wide receiver Josh Sykes. He plays at a small private school (graduating class of 40) on a football team that won only three games.
The 6-foot-3, 162-pound Sykes caught 39 passes for 767 yards and 13 touchdowns despite starting quarterback Bryson Shupe missing the last four games with a hip injury. Sykes, also a free safety, was the second leading tackler on his team with 60 tackles, 4 interceptions (one for a TD), 3 caused fumbles and 1 fumble recovery. He also returned two kickoffs for TDs.
Despite putting up big numbers, Sykes hasn’t gotten much attention from the media or college coaches.
Sykes’ situation is exactly why the Magnolia State North-South All-Star Game was created by CEO Kiery Stribling this year.
The game is scheduled for Thursday at noon at East Central Community College in Decatur and will be livestreamed on the Magnolia All-Star Game YouTube Channel.
The game will be the first in Mississippi to have players from both the MHSAA and the MAIS.
“The players will have the opportunity to play one more game to cap off their senior year with the spotlight solely on them throughout the state,” Stribling said. “Also, making the game special is the fact that the coaching staffs are representation of not only the top legendary high school head coaches but showcasing the hot, young coordinators, position coaches, travel 7-on-7 coaches, former professional athletes and top trainers in the state for they all have major impacts with the development of our student athletes in the Magnolia state and deserve to all have the platform to be celebrated as well for their greatness.”
The game has brought together a talented receiver like Sykes and one of Mississippi’s all-time best receivers in Shay Hodge, a former standout at Morton High and Ole Miss and former pro receiver and now owner of Hodge Performance. Hodge is coaching the receivers on the South team.
“I love the kid. He’s coachable, athletic, and likeable,” Hodge said. “He’s a ‘yes sir, no sir’ kid and fitting right in with all the other public school kids. Josh has the best ball skills on the team. His basketball skills (Sykes is the leading scorer on Park Place’s basketball team this season which won its first 14 games before losing this week without Sykes) show up on the field. When we went through a selection committee with the coaches, Josh was one of the guys a lot of coaches liked. I’m happy he was selected and gets to show everybody what he can do.”
“Josh’s ball skills and athleticism immediately jumped off the screen when I saw his film,” said South head coach Kris Thigpen from Terry High. “(Park Place) Coach (Doug) Elkins spoke highly of him also as a player and a person. I like that he’s a multi-sport athlete and this week his competitive drive has shown in practice.”
“This will be a great week for Josh to get exposure,” Elkins said. “Josh has worked hard and deserved a chance to be seen. He has done a great job day in and day out. Josh never came off the field for us. He was on every team we had. Josh was our go to guy on offense. He has great ball skills and good speed. And Josh was great on special teams.”
Park Place assistant principal and assistant athletic Bobby Barrett, a former Delta State quarterback who coached football at Forest Hill, Wingfield, and Central Hinds for a combined 42 years, loves Sykes and sees a bright future for him.
“Josh makes plays when you need him to,” Barrett said. “He can jump like crazy. He has long arms and has football speed. He will speed up to catch you and ran away from you if he needs to. Josh is also a great safety and will knock your chin strap loose. He’s a hitter and a great returner too.”
Sykes not only can play basketball, but he is a standout in track and field in the high jump, triple jump and long jump and has been offered by Meridian Community College.
Sykes only offer in football is East Central CC, but Barrett says that will change soon.
“Josh is a sleeper,” Barrett said. “All he needs is a chance. He’s going to make someone a great player.”