POPLARVILLE, MS (WLOX) - POPLARVILLE - Pearl River Community College will induct five new members into its Sports Hall of Fame here Saturday (Oct. 17) as part of the college's 2015 homecoming celebration.
The list includes football standout Demetrius Byrd of Miami, Fla., an All-American wide receiver for the Wildcats (2005-07) who helped the team win back-to-back MACJC state championships. He went on to have a stellar collegiate career at LSU and was a seventh round draft pick of the San Diego Chargers in 2009.
Other football inductees include star defensive lineman Frank Harry Jr. (2004-05) of Angie, La. who earned All-American honors in 2005 and was a two-time all-MACJC and all-Region 23 section for two seasons, and quarterback Gene Estapa (1970-72) of Bay St. Louis, who was an all-state and an honorable mention All-American for the Wildcats.
The other inductees include All-American and All-State pitcher Craig Rodriguez (2004-06) of Sugar Land, Texas, who led the Wildcats to a MACJC state championship, and softball star Baleigh Volking Ford (2008-10) of Enterprise, who was All-State and All-Region 23 for two straight years while leading the Lady Wildcats to a state championship.
Induction ceremonies for the Sports Hall of Fame members will be held at 8:45 a.m. Oct. 17 at the Technology Center on the PRCC campus.
All five will be recognized before PRCC-Northeast football game at Dobie Holden Stadium.
Following an outstanding high school career, Byrd signed with Florida International University but opted to play at PRCC instead.
"My (high school) coach knew I wanted to go somewhere that threw the football and he suggested Dodge City (Kansas) and Pearl River," said Byrd. "Dodge City was too far for me, so he called coach (Tim) Hatten and the rest is history."
And what a history it was.
In two years as a Wildcat, Byrd caught 87 passes for 1,433 yards and 12 touchdowns. After leading the team to two state titles and a first-team All-American selection, he was rated the No. 8 JuCo wide receiver in the country in 2006.
"We ran the greatest offense I ever played on," said Byrd. "We had Jimmy Oliver my freshman year. He could throw it now."
It wasn't all a bed of roses for Byrd when he first arrived at PRCC.
"Pearl River was a big step for me but it was also a culture shock," he said. "I am used to a fast-paced life and when I found my way to Poplarville… Well, I called my mom and told her 'I am ready to come home. I can't do this.' She encouraged me to stay. In the end, I really loved it there. My teammates were like brothers to me."
After his LSU career, Byrd was injured in a serious car accident just before the NFL draft. The Charges took him with the 224th overall selection but released him in 2010.
Byrd, 29, graduated from LSU with a general studies degree and three minors – communications, social work and sports studies.
Today, he works as an independent insurance agent in Miami, Fla., and as a personal trainer. In the future, he desires to be a high school football coach.
Frank Harry Jr.
As defensive linemen go, Frank Harry has to rank as one of the best to ever don the Wildcat uniform. He wasn't just a two-time all-MACJC and all-Region 23 section for two seasons, he was ranked as one of the top defensive recruits in the country.
At Varnado (La.) High School, the 6-foot-3, 270-pound Harry played both ways at tackle. Former PRCC assistant coach John Creech spotted Harry at a Southern Miss football camp.
"Coach Creech asked me what school I went to and what size shoe did I wear," said Harry. "They followed up with me later on. They offered me a scholarship and had never seen me play."
They did see Harry play in the Louisiana all-star game where he made several tackles and sacks. "After the game, coach Hatten told me I would make one heckuva Wildcat."
Indeed he did. He bulked up at 6-4, 280 pounds and became a force on the defensive line.
He later signed with South Florida, got homesick and transferred to Southern University in Baton Rouge, La. Following his college career, he signed with the Minnesota Vikings as free agent, but a knee injury ended his playing career.
"Pearl River was some of the best times in my life," said Harry. "I actually cried when I left there because it was home. Poplarville was a small town just like my hometown. I got along with everybody. The friends I made there 11 years ago I still have today."
Today, Harry is a sheriff's deputy in East Baton Rouge.
Estapa quarterbacked a PRCC football team in 1971 that finished the season with a 9-1 record. He played two seasons under coaches John Russell and J.C. Arban.
He prepped at Bay St. Louis under Coach J.E. Loiacano, another former PRCC star in the Sports Hall of Fame.
"Pearl River was the only scholarship offer I had because I played hampered by injuries my senior year in high school," said Estapa. "As a freshman, I saw limited playing time but I started as the place-kicker."
As a sophomore, he came into his own as the team's quarterback with such talented teammates as Mike Harvison, Mike Harrison, Jerry Purvis and Nate Fairconnetue.
"I really look at Pearl River as my home college experience," said Estapa. "Winning was so awesome. We only lost three games in two years. It was a fun place to play. The coaches were all on the same page, it was fun to be in the meetings. It made for a really good atmosphere.
"I made relationships with guys there who I stay in contact with today."
Estapa and eight of his teammates in 1971 played in the Mississippi JuCo All-Star game. He had college offers from Cincinnati, Vermont, Delta State, Cincinnati and Southeastern Louisiana. He opted to stay close to home at Southeastern where he learned the girls outnumbered the boys 4-to-1 at the time. "We liked that," he said.
He carved his name into the Southeastern passing record books and was voted the team's most valuable player for the 1972 season.
Estapa currently lives in Houston and works with Compaq and Hewlett-Packard as a manufacturing operations manager. He has three children and seven grandchildren, with two more on the way.
"I am very proud and fortunate to have played at such a nationally-prominent football program like Pearl River," said Estapa. "My time there remains a significant highlight in my life."
Baleigh Volking Ford
Baleigh wasn't just a fine softball player for the Lady Wildcats but she was also an outstanding student. During her time at PRCC, she was an active member of Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society, and served as an officer her sophomore year.
She was awarded PRCC female athlete of the year in 2010.
During her freshman year at PRCC, when the Lady Wildcats finished with a 30-16 record, they hit .345 as a team with a school record 28 home runs.
The following year, Volking, a shortstop, was a force on the diamond. She hit .459 with six home runs, leading the Lady Wildcats to a state championship. "She was definitely one of the top players in the state that year," said her coach Leigh White.
As a high school standout at Enterprise, she had her mind made up she was going to play for Coach White.
"I knew Coach White when she was younger. My mom played with her in church-league ball. That's why I wanted to go play for her," she said.
She continued her education at USM, where she graduated with highest honors and a B.S. in biological sciences. She was accepted as one of 15 Mississippi students into the physician's assistant program at Mississippi College and plans to graduate in December.
She married Britt Ford in May 2013.
PRCC won its second-ever MACJC state championship in Rodriguez's freshman season and back-to-back MACJC South Division titles in 2004 and 2005, while winning a record 27 straight games during the 2005 season.
In that 2005 season, under coach Jay Artigues, Rodriguez was instrumental in the team's 45-12 record. He was the team's No. 1 starter, posting a team-best 10-2 record. He also had four saves in 18 appearances and 2.21 earned-run-average. He struck out 110 batters while walking only 23 in 78 innings of work.
Rodriguez came to Pearl River following an outstanding high school career at St. Pius X in Houston, Texas, where he had a 22-11 record. He was also a .275 career hitter with eight home runs and 45 RBIs. He twice pitched in the state championship game, helping St. Pius to the 5A title in 2003.
However, he was not unfamiliar with this area.
"My mom is from Picayune and my dad played baseball at Southern Miss," said Rodriguez. "I would go to Southern Miss baseball camps and that is where I ran into Coach (Jay) Artigues. He recruited me to Pearl River."
Following his career at PRCC, he signed a scholarship with Ole Miss. In two years with the Rebels, he had a 7-5 record while appearing in 41 games. In 2006, Rodriguez was the winning pitcher in the SEC Tournament championship game against Vanderbilt, and was the winning pitcher in Game 1 of the NCAA Super Regional against Miami.
In 2007, he was the winning pitcher in relief at the Oxford NCAA Regional championship game against Sam Houston State, sending them to another NCAA Super Regional.
He was drafted in the 28th round of the 2007 major-league draft by the Colorado Rockies. He played three years of professional baseball – two with the Rockies and one with the Kansas City Royals before retiring due to an arm injury.
Today, Rodriguez lives in Sugar Land where he gives baseball lessons to local youngsters.