James Carmon wasn't quite sure what to make of the coach with the Southern accent on the other end of the line.
Carmon's SAT score prevented him from playing Division I football as a freshman, so the City standout was looking for other opportunities. Steve Campbell, the head football coach at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, called Carmon two years ago to present one such option.
"I thought, 'What is he talking about? I'm not going to no Mississippi,'" Carmon recalled. "But my mother made me go. I wasn't going to show up. But she told me to go there and it would be better to get out of the state."
Carmon followed his mother's advice and enrolled at MGCCC. Earlier this week, Carmon -- the No. 7 junior college player in the country -- decided to stay a couple more years in the Magnolia State. The 6-foot-7, 365-pound defensive tackle committed to Mississippi State, picking the Bulldogs over Alabama, Ole Miss, Southern Miss, Penn State, South Florida, Tennessee, Memphis, and Coastal Carolina."It feels good because I never thought it would be like this," Carmon said. "Growing up in Baltimore, Maryland, a lot of kids don't get the chance to play in the SEC, the best conference in the country, for the next two years. But it really shocked me. It worked out well going to junior college and playing for my coach, Steve Campbell. It all worked out on the field."
According to Carmon, Campbell contacted Edmondson coach Dante Jones two years ago to see if he knew of any unsigned linemen in the area. Jones recommended Carmon to Campbell, and after digging up some senior film, the MGCCC coach was sold. It took some convincing, but Carmon made the journey down south and began his adjustment period.
"Oh yeah, it was real tough," Carmon said. "I wasn't used to it. It's a slow pace in Mississippi. I didn't have a car, and I really wasn't used to that. It was real hot, and I wasn't used to the heat. But I got used to [everything] after that first summer and I just rolled with it. I wasn't going to give up."
Carmon, one of just a few MGCCC players that wasn't from the south, made a big impact right away. He helped Gulf Coast to a 10-2 record and a No. 4 ranking as a freshman, garnering scholarship offers from almost "every SEC school but Vanderbilt and Kentucky."
The former City star followed that up with a strong sophomore season, recording 42 tackles, five sacks and two fumble recoveries while facing constant double-teams. He eventually pared his list of schools to the two in-state rivals, making an official visit to Ole Miss earlier this fall and then visiting Mississippi State last weekend for the Egg Bowl.
"Ole Miss didn't compare with Mississippi State," Carmon said. "Mississippi State is just a better place for me. They treat their players straight. They let you know what's going on. They're not going to beat around the bush. ... So they expect me to be an impact player as soon as I get there."
Carmon will join a program that finished 5-7 this season, its first with Dan Mullen as coach. Two of Carmon's MGCCC teammates have also committed to MSU. Coming off the Bulldogs' upset win over the Rebels last week, there's a lot of excitement for Carmon about his future in Mississippi.
"I never pictured that [I'd go to college in the South]," Carmon said. "I figured I'd be up north. I never thought I'd be down south in the SEC ... but it feels good."
Baltimore Sun photos of James Carmon by Gene Sweeney Jr. (2006) and Jed Kirschbaum (2007).