August 6, 2018 11:00:35 AM
Editor's Note: This is the latest installment in a series that will feature some of the area's top prep football players. These players are expected to receive the most attention from college coaches/scouts. The Dispatch will profile a player each day leading up to the start of the regular season Friday, Aug. 17.
STARKVILLE -- Jalil Clemons is rated as a three-star defensive end, the 37th-best in the nation at his position, according to 247 Sports.
That service's composite rankings have 21 players of all positions from the state of Mississippi ahead of him.
Those associated with the Starkville High School football program think that's a disgrace.
The Yellow Jackets are confident they have a future standout on the edge of their front seven. Clemons' goals for his senior season suggest he has high expectations, too.
"I want the sack record for Starkville and to win a state championship," Clemons said. "It's nothing but 12 sacks; I had 11 last year. I was supposed to have 13."
The school's sack record is 13, set by Lorenzo Dantzler in 2014. Dantzler is now a Texas-San Antonio Roadrunner by way of Southern Mississippi and East Mississippi Community College. Clemons had 11 sacks last season as part of a campaign that featured 22 tackles for a loss, which was second only to linebacker Zach Edwards.
There is reason to believe Clemons will threaten the sack record this year, and more reason than just the benefit of added experience.
"My ball get off is better, I'm coming off the ball better," he said.
If Clemons eclipses Dantzler's record, it would be just another point in coach Chris Jones' case against Clemons' current recruiting ranking.
"I think he's the most underrated defensive football player in the state of Mississippi," Jones said. "The kid is special with ball get off. He's such a technician. I know a lot of kids that have the size and all that stuff. Jalil's a really good football player, making plays and doing it right.
"A lot of those guys are just running around making plays, no scheme. Jalil, he does it right. He uses his hands. He's fitting the scheme and making plays."
Jones struggles to explain Clemons' ranking. He suggested Clemons' size -- 6-foot-3 and 240 pounds -- as one reason. Of the 36 defensive ends ranked ahead of him, only one is shorter and only four are lighter. Still, it wasn't enough to scare Tennessee away, which Clemons committed to on June 24 over many offers from Power 5 conferences.
"I don't think it's a lack of size. I don't understand that," Jones said. "But his so called lack of size, he can get away with a whole bunch of stuff because he's a great technician. He's so great with his hands and feet, I think he's so underrated because he's on a team full of really good players in a year with a lot of really good players in Mississippi."
Starkville's new defensive line coach, Milton Talbert, played for Alabama from 2006-2009. Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt received his break in college football in 2007, when he started his career as an off-field defensive assistant at Alabama.
Talbert may give Clemons a hard time about being on opposite sides of the Third Saturday in October rivalry, but Clemons pointed out Talbert's experience with Pruitt in describing their fit.
"He'll look good at Rocky Top in that orange," Jones said. "At a place that's known for defensive linemen, and defensive ends in particular, he's going to bring them back. He's fitting what they have in mind."
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter @Brett_Hudson
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