By STAN CALDWELL
Sometime in the next few months, Tyler Kittrell will face one of the most difficult decisions of his young life.
He could play college football at a Division I school. He could play college baseball at a Division I school. He could play college football and college baseball at a Division I school. He could sign a pro baseball contract with a seven-figure bonus.
Decisions, decisions. We should all be faced with these "difficult" decisions.
But when you are blessed with the kind of athletic ability that Kittrell has, those are the decisions that you face your senior year of high school.
The Oak Grove High School standout is the leader of the Warrior defense - and is now also an offensive threat - and he has been the ace of the Warriors' pitching staff in baseball the past two seasons.
"He's such a super athlete; he could play any sport," Oak Grove football coach Nevil Barr said. "Basketball, football and, of course, he's a great baseball player."
Kittrell, who is a sturdy 6-foot-3 and weighs 205 pounds, has gotten much of his notoriety in baseball, beginning with his days as one of several area athletes who led Hattiesburg to the Dixie Youth World Series championship in 2000.
"There were a lot of great athletes on that team," Kittrell said. "That was one of the best teams I've been a part of. I think that's where the tradition of wanting it and getting it done got started."
As a sophomore baseball player for Oak Grove in 2006, Kittrell was 9-2 with a 3.75 ERA as a pitcher. He had 69 strikeouts and batted .335.
After starting slowly as a junior last spring, Kittrell came on to finish 8-1 with one key save and 64 strikeouts. He also batted .337 with four home runs and 20 RBIs.
Moreover, his save came in the first game of the Class 5A state championship series and one of his wins came in the winner-take-all finale against Madison Central that gave Oak Grove its ninth state championship.
"He's a tremendous competitor," Oak Grove baseball coach Harry Breland said. "You want him in there in the big ball games. He's going to go out there and make big pitches, and he's going to challenge hitters. He's not going to back down."
Barr sees the same thing on the football field. Last year as a junior, Kittrell had 109 tackles, including 71 solos, from his outside linebacker position. He also had five sacks, three interceptions, three fumble recoveries and nine tackles for loss.
"He's the kind who in the final game in baseball, he wants the ball," Barr said. "He wants to make the final play in football. He's just a great clutch player."
Barr has begun to utilize that clutch ability on offense by devising a special goal-line offense called "heavy," that has elements of the old single-wing.
In the formation, Kittrell lines up in the shotgun and takes the direct snap and he can either run or pass, depending on what the defense does.
He scored the first touchdown of his career against Brandon and added two more scores last week in the Warriors' 42-27 victory over Pascagoula in the first round of the Class 5A playoffs.
"It fires me up to get the opportunity to play offense," Kittrell said. "It was unbelievable (to score that first touchdown). Us defensive guys don't get the chance to score very often."
Barr said the goal-line formation came out the Warriors' failure to punch the ball in the end zone against Hattiesburg
"We had to kick three field goals inside the 20-yard line," Barr said. "We moved a couple of defensive guys in a three-point stance in the backfield, and we feel like if we get Tyler inside the 5-yard-line, he's going to score."
But if Kittrell plays football after this season, it will almost certainly be on defense, probably as a strong safety, or perhaps a bandit linebacker.
That's assuming he plays college ball at all. Right now, Kittrell says his top three college choices are Southern Miss, Ole Miss and Alabama. But lurking in the background is the enticement of major-league baseball.
"From what the scouts have told me, he's got an excellent chance of being drafted pretty high," Breland said. "Last year, he got to where he was more consistent in the strike zone than he was as a sophomore.
"He's always thrown hard, but he's also got two curveballs he can throw and a slider that comes in real handy. And he's been working on a change-up, and when he masters that, he'll be a complete pitcher."
Right now, however, the only thing on Kittrell's mind is tonight's playoff clash against George County, and, in a few weeks, the Alabama-Mississippi All-Star Game, to which he was the only Warrior player selected.
Kittrell knows he has a big decision looming, but it isn't a decision he has to make immediately.
"It's hard to think about that right now," Kittrell said. "I've been putting that off until signing day, then I want to concentrate on baseball, then see what my options are."
Oak Grove, Warriors, MS, Hattiesburg