How is Amite producing some of the best football players in the country, and who's next?

How is Amite producing some of the best football players in the country, and who's next?


Off I-55, around 70 miles from New Orleans sits the little town of Amite. Their top commodity used to be oysters. At its height, five oyster houses called Amite home. Now there’s only one. 

With the fall of the oyster industry something else has emerged. Something big that this small town can rely on. That something was never more obvious or bigger than this.

Former Amite High receiver Devonta Smith made the biggest catch in college football last year. His touchdown delivered a national championship to Alabama. It had many across America taking a closer look at the football talent in tiny Amite.

"I don’t know what it is. I don’t know if it’s something in the water. I don’t know if it’s something in the way we feed people over there. But there’s always been a tremendous amount of talent in Amite," said Gov. John Bel Edwards.

Edwards started at quarterback for Amite back in the 80s. He’s witnessed first-hand the talent produced by the Warriors.

"The football game in Amite on Friday night, that’s where everybody goes. That’s the only thing in town. And you know you’re going to see a good football team, and they’re going to win a vast majority of their games," said Edwards.

Ishmael Sopsher is "literally" the next big thing coming out of Amite. Recruiting services rank the 6’f5", 280 pounder the No.1 defensive tackle in the country. His prowess on the gridiron caught the eyes of elite coaches before Ishmael even enrolled at Amite High.

"Coach Saban was the first college coach to ever talk to me. It was my eighth-grade year, going into my ninth-grade year. It was my first time going to camp. He was just amazed how big I was and how good I was," said Amite defensive lineman Ishmael Sopsher.

Some say Ishmael’s talents are once-in-a-generation. His on-field demeanor earned Sopsher the nickname Humble Beast.

"Ishmael is not that rah-rah, he’s not that kid. He comes to work, whatever needs to be done. Whether is 2 hours, 2 hours and 30 minutes. He just comes to do his job, and doesn’t make a whole lot of noise about it, and goes about his business," said Amite Head Coach Zephaniah Powell.

While every big-time school wants Ishmael’s services, his coach believes he’s destined to play beyond Saturdays.

"When you have guys like Ed Orgeron, Nick Saban, Urban Meyer come here," said Powell. "They’re not recruiting Saturday talent. They recruit Sunday talent. With Sunday talent you see them in the Final Four, college playoff, playing for a national championship. That’s what Ishmael has, Sunday talent."

But for now, Sopsher needs to find a landing spot for the next three to four years. LSU’s recruitment started in middle school.

"Our relationship is getting better and better every time. We talk a lot, and text a lot. I’ve been knowing Coach O since my eighth-grade year. As a kid he always told me I was going to be great. So I can never forget that," said Sopsher.

Ed Orgeron stays in constant contact with Sopsher, and so does the Purple and Gold faithful.

"I get that almost every day. I look on my social media, everybody come here, go there. It’ll be really nice playing for the home state, but I’m up for grabs right now, my recruitment is open. So anybody can get me," said Sopsher.

Even the governor has a few thoughts on where the "Humble Beast" should call home in 2019.

"Obviously talented, works hard. I couldn’t be happier for him. I know he’s going to have plenty of opportunities. It’s my sincere desire that he stay in state," said a smiling Edwards.

Orgeron has preached on protecting Louisiana’s borders, and not letting talent like Sopsher escape the state. He needs these five-star recruits and victories in the fall, or fans will starting calling for his ouster.

"He probably has the only job in Louisiana that is more of a pressure cooker than I have. It’s tough to be the head coach of the LSU football team," said Edwards.

That pressure cooker of recruiting can also get to the governor when Coach Saban raids your hometown for players.

"We’re proud to have him from Amite, but at the same time I get ribbed a lot because he left my hometown and went to Alabama and had a great season. I wish him well, but somewhat disappointed he didn’t play in Louisiana," said Edwards.

Smith never won "it all" in the Dome. But with the Humble Beast" optimism is sky-high that 14 years of futility will come to an end.

It’s state championship or nothing. We came close 2015, semi-finals 2016, lost last year in the quarterfinals to Lutcher. We’ve been close. We have been there. It’s now or never," said Powell.

"We know that we’re fielding teams that probably should win, and somehow they haven’t put it all together. But that just makes us more excited and determined next year to get it done," said Edwards.

Copyright 2018 WVUE. All rights reserved.

Published at Sat, 12 May 2018 02:17:00 +0000

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