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Mississippi authors score with book on football legends

Sean Smith
USM President, Dr. Joe Paul introduces Neil White and Rick Cleveland to the OLLI audience.

The University of Southern Mississippi’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) recently hosted a literary celebration with football fans and book enthusiasts cheering for more. The special presentation featured renowned Mississippi authors Rick Cleveland and Neil White, who shared their latest collaboration, “The Mississippi Football Book,” at both the Hattiesburg and Gulf Park campuses.
On Tuesday, Sept. 12, in Hattiesburg and Wednesday, Sept. 13, in Gulf Park, the OLLI event brought together an eclectic audience of football fans, literature lovers, and the curious minds of the community. The free presentations were met with enthusiasm as attendees delved into the rich array of Mississippi’s football history.
“The Mississippi Football Book” is a literary gem for football fans, offering a deep dive into the lives and legacies of over 100 legendary players, coaches, and teams. Beyond that, the book’s records section has over 500 notable figures from Mississippi football.
Rick Cleveland, a native of Hattiesburg and a resident of Jackson, Mississippi, is a sports columnist and journalist with an impressive career. With a journalism degree from USM, Cleveland has been named Mississippi Sportswriter of the Year 14 times, from his first award in 1973 to his most recent in 2023.
Cleveland emphasized the book’s significance.
“Football is the biggest thing in the community,” Cleveland said. “It is an important part of our culture.”
Neil White, hailing from Oxford, Mississippi, has made his mark as an author and owner of Nautilus Publishing, writes essays, and teaches memoir writing. His New York Times bestselling memoir, “In the Sanctuary of Outcasts,” garnered widespread acclaim. White’s literary prowess extends to his impressive portfolio of over 50 books, including memoirs co-authored with football greats such as Robert Khayat and Larry Csonka.
White highlighted the importance of his latest project with Cleveland.
“It has a lot of firsts that many people don’t know about,” White said. “Rick wrote about the first high school football game, and I wrote about the first black college game, which the average football fan doesn’t know about and marks the beginning of something unique in the football world.”
OLLI, a vibrant community of active adults united by their love of lifelong learning, provided an inclusive and enriching environment for this special event. And the presentations by Cleveland and White served as a testament to OLLI’s unwavering commitment to fostering intellectual curiosity and exploration among its members.
This unique event celebrated Mississippi’s rich football heritage and showcased the literary talent that thrives within the state. Through “The Mississippi Football Book,” Cleveland and White have immortalized the football legends, ensuring their stories will continue to captivate and inspire future generations.

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