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EX-JESUIT STAR TO CHECK OUT MISSISSIPPI STATE

The SEC school offered tailback Kevin Valenti a preferred walk-on position.

Only three months ago, Kevin Valenti's career appeared destined for some obscure college football outpost. Now, the ex-Jesuit tailback may be headed for college football's mecca.

Or more specifically, the Southeastern Conference.

Valenti, whose 1,600 rushing yards led Hillsborough County in the 2006 regular season, leaves this morning for Starkville, Miss., where he will contemplate whether to accept Mississippi State's offer to join the team as a preferred walk-on.

If he doesn't like it, he'll shoot over to Thibodaux, La., where he said a partial scholarship offer from Division I-AA Nicholls State awaits.

"Three months ago, I thought I was going up to the frozen tundra of New York and playing Division III," said Valenti, whose size (5 feet 10, 182 pounds) didn't exactly woo recruiters.

"It's kind of crazy. Right now, honestly, I'm leaning a little toward Mississippi State."

The backfield workhorse for Jesuit, Valenti ran for all 121 of his team's yards in a one-quarter district tiebreaker win against Palmetto on Oct. 30. Four nights later, he ran for 165 yards and three touchdowns in a 35-17 triumph against rival Tampa Catholic.

But until hooking up with Tyrone Keys, an MSU Hall of Famer and local philanthropist, Valenti said he was receiving overtures only from places such as Division III Union (N.Y.) College and DePauw (Ind.) University.

An ex-Chicago Bears defensive end, Keys is founder of All Sports Community Service, a non-profit organization headquartered next to Jesuit's campus that helps local youngsters get into college. Keys and Jesuit junior varsity coach Mike McEnany were college roommates.

"I told him to drop off his film, and when I first saw him I just thought it was some youngster," Keys said. "When you see him you don't realize that was the same guy that was bruising people all over the football field. I had to call him back and apologize."

Keys will accompany Valenti and his father on this week's trip to Starkville. Valenti said MSU has indicated it wants to try him at safety, but the Times' first-team all-county pick remains hopeful he can get a crack at tailback.

Nicholls State, which runs the triple option, may be more inclined to give Valenti an opportunity in the backfield. Keys, who e-mailed video of Valenti to Thibodaux, said a partial scholarship from the Colonels became available when they recently lost a tailback.

"If I like it (at MSU), I'm just going to stay and report," Valenti said. "But if not, I think we're just going to go on down to Louisiana and take their offer."

Joey Knight can be reached at (813) 226-3350 or jknight@sptimes.com.

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