SCOOBA – With the recent official signings of undrafted rookie free agents Chauncey Rivers and Kirk Merritt by National Football League teams, five-time national champion East Mississippi Community College currently has 14 former players listed among the NFL's 32 team rosters.
Rivers, a defensive lineman from Mississippi State, was picked up by the Baltimore Ravens, while Merritt, a wide receiver out of Arkansas State, signed with the Miami Dolphins. Previously, former EMCC and MSU teammates Tyre Phillips and Brian Cole II were selected in the third and seventh rounds of last month's NFL Draft by the Ravens and Minnesota Vikings, respectively.
Rivers, who transferred to East Mississippi from the University of Georgia, led EMCC's 2016 MACJC championship team with eight quarterback sacks in addition to topping all Lions defensive linemen with 45 total tackles. For the year, he totaled 12.5 tackles for loss, three pass breakups and a forced fumble.
A Georgia native out of Stone Mountain's Stephenson High School, Rivers capped his three-year Mississippi State career by earning All-SEC second-team honors as a 13-game starter at defensive end this past season. He led MSU's defensive linemen with 43 total stops, including a team-high eight tackles for loss with five sacks.
A 2020 NFLPA Collegiate Bowl participant, Rivers graduated from MSU in December 2018 with a degree in interdisciplinary studies.
Merritt, out of Destrehan, Louisiana, transferred to EMCC for the 2017 season following prior stops at Texas A&M and Oregon. As a member of the Lions' 11-1 national championship team, he was selected NJCAA All-Region 23 and MACJC All-State First Team as both a wide receiver and kick returner. Along with leading EMCC with 52 receptions in 2017, Merritt averaged 32.8 yards on six kickoff returns as well as 14.9 yards on 15 punt returns for the year.
Merritt concluded his collegiate career as a two-time selection to the All-Sun Belt Conference First Team at Arkansas State. For his A-State career as a two-year starter, he caught 153 passes for 1,811 receiving yards and 19 touchdowns. After recording 83 receptions for 1,005 yards and seven touchdowns as a junior, Merritt followed with 70 catches for 806 yards and 12 scores during his senior season with the Red Wolves.
Merritt is currently pursuing his master's degree in sports administration.
In addition to Phillips and Cole being drafted and with Rivers and Merritt signing free agent deals, former EMCC All-America offensive lineman Avery Gennesy agreed to terms with the Tennessee Titans last month following recent professional playing stints with the Houston Roughnecks of the XFL and the Atlanta Legends of the now-defunct Alliance of American Football (AAF).
Following two seasons at EMCC as a member of the Lions' 2013 national championship team, Gennesy completed his college career at Texas A&M. The Southaven product had previously earned NFL roster spots with the Jacksonville Jaguars, Cleveland Browns and Denver Broncos.
Among the 14 former East Mississippi football players who all starred for 13th-year EMCC head coach Buddy Stephens and are presently affiliated with NFL teams, nine entered the professional ranks following collegiate stints at Southeastern Conference member schools, including four Mississippi State alums and a pair of Ole Miss products.
Headlining East Mississippi's current stable of NFL players is a veteran foursome comprised of SEC products and current NFL defensive starters Denico Autry (Indianapolis Colts/Mississippi State), Za'Darius Smith (Green Bay Packers/Kentucky), Jarran Reed (Seattle Seahawks/Alabama) and D.J. Jones (San Francisco 49ers/Ole Miss). Smith, a 2012 NJCAA All-American for EMCC, participated in this year's NFL Pro Bowl in Orlando, Florida, while Jones was a member of the 2019 NFC champion San Francisco 49ers that competed in Super Bowl LIV in Miami.
With a total of eight players chosen in the annual NFL Draft during the past eight years under Stephens' guidance, EMCC has now had two players drafted the same year twice in the past four years. In 2017, Jones went in the sixth round to the 49ers while current Indianapolis Colts quarterback Chad Kelly, out of Ole Miss, was the NFL's "Mr. Irrelevant" pick as the league's final draft selection by the Denver Broncos.
Other young, rising talent currently in the NFL ranks by way of the Scooba campus include Dakota Allen, who was drafted last year by the Los Angeles Rams and is now a member of the Jacksonville Jaguars, along with wide receiver John Franklin III (Tampa Bay Buccaneers), defensive back C.J. Reavis (Atlanta Falcons) and wide receiver Damion Willis (Cincinnati Bengals).
Contact: David Rosinski, EMCC Sports Information Director