NCF On The Trail: Ole Miss Rebels

Recruiting changing in up-tempo era 

August, 25, 2014
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The SEC, a league that is known for its hard-nose, physical style of play is slowly transforming into a spread-offense, up-tempo league. It's a change that hasn't happened overnight and teams like Alabama, LSU, Georgia, with their pro-style offenses, will always have their imprint on the toughest league in all of college football.

With fast-paced offenses such as Auburn, Missouri, Ole Miss and Texas A&M having much success over the last few years, it's forcing defenses to change their philosophy on who they recruit to defend against these spread attacks.

The 6-foot-3, 245-pound middle linebackers are dwindling and replacing them are hybrid linebackers that can rush the passer and run sideline-to-sideline. There are 23 outside linebackers committed to SEC schools currently, all but one, Darrell Williams, weigh less than 220 pounds. There are only four inside linebackers committed to SEC schools.

Joshua McMillon announcement

August, 22, 2014
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Four-star linebacker Joshua McMillon, ranked No. 163 in the ESPN 300, is set to make his college decision. The 6-foot-3, 249-pound linebacker has big names Alabama, Oklahoma, Ole Miss and Vanderbilt in the mix. Tune in at 11 a.m. ET for the announcement.

 

Early Offer: The chase for Campbell 

August, 20, 2014
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The Early Offer is RecruitingNation's regular feature, giving you a daily dose of recruiting news across the country. Today’s offerings: Five-star George Campbell has committed and decommitted from Michigan and listed Florida and LSU as teams he’s really high on. But as he gets closer to his decision, don’t be surprised if another team emerges. Plus, ESPN Grade could be a positive recruiting tool for Alabama, UCLA, Ohio State and Stanford, and we continue our tour of the top recruiting happenings on social media.


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Early Offer: Tough weekend for Tide 

August, 17, 2014
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The Early Offer is RecruitingNation's regular feature, giving you a daily dose of recruiting news across the country. Today’s offerings: Alabama doesn’t lose too many recruiting battles, but the Crimson Tide suffered not just one but two stinging defeats over the weekend. Plus, Wisconsin’s classes never grab national headlines but the 2015 class is a good one, and we continue our tour of the top recruiting happenings on social media.


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Just a month ago, it looked as if the top ranked defensive lineman in Mississippi for 2016 was set to leave the state and play for national power Alabama. How quickly things change. After an Aug. 15 unofficial visit to Oxford, Mississippi, ESPN Junior 300 No. 120 Bentio Jones has decided to flip from the Crimson Tide to Ole Miss.


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The Early Offer is RecruitingNation's regular feature, giving you a daily dose of recruiting news across the country. Today’s offerings: Michigan fans have had to stomach some serious ups and downs with the 2015 recruiting cycle, but Wolverine fans looking for positive news can look at the job they've done locally. Plus, Oklahoma is looking to load up at running back and our daily tour of the top recruiting happenings on social media.

[+] EnlargeMike Weber
Tom Hauck for Student SportsRunning back Mike Weber was a big in-state commitment for Michigan.
1. Michigan fans have had to endure an up-and-down recruiting cycle so far in 2015. Early on it looked like the Wolverines were in position to pass Ohio State as the best class in the B1G. But when elite prospects such as running back Damien Harris and athlete George Campbell decommitted, Michigan slid to around the No. 20 range in the class rankings. There’s a chance Michigan could stay there if things don’t go well on the field this season, but if you’re looking for a positive spin on things, take a look at how the Wolverines have done in state in 2015. When ESPN 300 running back Mike Weber committed late last week, it gave Michigan pledges from three of the top four players in-state. Included in that list is Michigan’s top-ranked player, ESPN 300 athlete Brian Cole.

2. Few schools can match the running back tradition Oklahoma has, and with the question marks surrounding Joe Mixon’s future in Norman, the Sooners have made landing multiple running backs a priority in the 2015 class. The good news is that ESPN 300 rusher Rodney Anderson is already on board, and he should fit the Sooners' offense well with his ability to make big plays in the passing game and on the ground. But also keep an eye on OU with ESPN 300 running backs Tyreik Gray and Soso Jamabo. Both are expected to take official visits and could be excellent complements to Anderson in the class.

3. One of the best prospects in the 2016 class has made a commitment to play in the Under Armour All-America Game. Quarterback Malik Henry, the No. 2 player in the ESPN Junior 300 and the top-passer in the 2016 class, announced via Twitter he’s playing in the annual all-star game. Henry recently listed a final four of Notre Dame, UCLA, Ohio State and Florida State.

#FlashbackFriday
Ten years ago today, highly coveted receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey out of Silver Springs (Maryland) McDonogh went public with his commitment to Maryland. The Terps beat out Alabama and North Carolina for his commitment, and even back then in high school he was known as a speedster. He was timed by his high school coach at 4.38 seconds in the 40-yard dash. At Maryland, he improved his speed -- including a school-reported 4.23-second time in the 40 -- and become one of the ACC's best receivers. He finished his career second in school history in career receiving yards, third in receptions and tied for third in touchdown catches. After running a 4.3 40-time at the NFL combine, Heyward-Bey was selected by the Oakland Raiders as the seventh overall pick in the 2009 draft. He spent four years with the Raiders, one year with the Indianapolis Colts and is now with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Social Studies
Social media continues to be one of the most amazing windows into how a school recruits. More and more of those involved with the recruiting process are posting the mailings they receive from schools for the entire world to see. And the mailing from Florida State that was posted on Facebook by Butler (Kansas) Community College coach Troy Morrell caught my attention. For all of the success the Noles have had with high school targets, it’s easy to forget they’ve had plenty of success with two-year prospects also. This mailer highlights some of those success stories, including Tank Carradine and Markus White, who played for Morrell at Butler.

 
ESPN 300 safety Cameron Ordway surprised some observers when he tweeted Thursday he was going to stretch the recruiting process out some. In July, he tweeted he was going to announce his decision in mid-August between Tennessee, Ole Miss, Alabama, Auburn, Florida State, LSU, Michigan, Notre Dame, Ohio State and Penn State. The Vols are still projected as the team to beat with Ordway.
You can sign all the four- and five-star recruits in the world, but none of that matters if you're not able to fill your needs. RecruitingNation takes a look at 2015 recruits who most fill the needs of each of the SEC schools.


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ESPN 300: SEC's must-get recruits 

July, 30, 2014
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The SEC already has commitments from 77 prospects in the ESPN 300, but there are still several key targets available. Whether it's a current commit, a position of need or just the best available player, here is a look at the top must-get recruits for each SEC team.


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5-star George Campbell narrows list 

July, 28, 2014
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Five-star athlete George Campbell, a former Michigan recruit, has seen his recruitment skyrocket after backing off his pledge to the Wolverines back in December. Now, the No. 10-ranked prospect has decided to narrow his choices of colleges to 10.


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The Early Offer is RecruitingNation's regular feature, giving you a dose of recruiting in the mornings. Today's offerings: ESPN.com conducted a survey of the top 300 2015 football recruits, and throughout the week it's been exploring the results. This includes a look at how recruits are open to playing with gay teammates and how they would support unionization, stipends and an expanded College Football Playoff.

So which schools scored with recruits for the best food, top facilities, greatest campus atmosphere and coolest uniforms?


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While recruiting remains a marathon and not a sprint, recent trends have shown that it is never too early to look ahead. With the release of the ESPN Junior 300 it is a perfect time to see which programs are having early success. With roughly 10 percent of the prospects in the ESPN Junior 300 committed well over a year and a half before national signing day for the Class of 2016, plenty is still to be determined. Here are five programs, in alphabetical order, standing out early for the 2016 class:


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When a football coaching staff signs one of the top few recruits at any position, it's cause for celebration. Therefore, grabbing two of the top three prospects at that position might warrant an Animal House-style party.

Between 2006, when ESPN began assembling recruit rankings, and 2013, individual programs managed to sign at least two of the top three players at a position 16 times. In many cases, one -- and sometimes both -- of those players became instant stars as true freshmen. Think Taylor Mays and Joe McKnight at USC, De'Anthony Thomas at Oregon, Laremy Tunsil at Ole Miss and Sean Spence at Miami.

This was a relatively unique occurrence up until 2014, when it happened five times -- with four of the five instances occurring in the SEC: twice at Alabama, which signed the top two players at both center (No. 1 Josh Casher and No. 2 J.C. Hassenauer) and outside linebacker (No. 1 Christian Miller and No. 2 Rashaan Evans), plus at LSU (with No. 1 and 3 wide receivers Malachi Dupre and Trey Quinn) and Florida (with No. 2 and 3 defensive tackles Gerald Willis and Thomas Holley).

Clemson was the other school to accomplish the feat in 2014, signing No. 2 and 3 receiving tight ends Milan Richard and Cannon Smith.

In some of these cases -- particularly at LSU, which lost the vast majority of its receiving production from 2013 -- expectations are high that the star signees can immediately become valuable contributors as true freshmen. The Tigers have multiple alternatives at receiver, including Travin Dural and John Diarse, but Dupre and Quinn might rank among the leading contenders for playing time.

Judging by the long list of Freshman All-America and freshman all-conference honors won by those who previously signed as part of such a dynamic duo, perhaps it's not such a long shot that at least one of the newcomers will make a similar instant impact.

2006

Safety | USC
No. 2 Taylor Mays, No. 3 Antwine Perez

Mays appeared in all 13 games -- starting the last 12 at free safety after Josh Pinkard suffered a season-ending injury in the opener -- in 2006 and led the Trojans with three interceptions. Mays was fifth on the team with 62 tackles and tied for second with six passes defended, ending the season as Pac-10 Co-Freshman of the Year and as a member of multiple Freshman All-America teams. Perez played in seven games and recorded three tackles.

2007

Center | Auburn
No. 1 Ryan Pugh, No. 3 Chaz Ramsey

Pugh started six of Auburn's final nine games at left tackle and appeared in eight games overall. He also backed up Jason Bosley at center and earned Coaches' All-SEC Freshman team honors after the season. Like Pugh, Ramsey appeared for the first time in Week 4 and went on to start nine of the Tigers' last 10 games at right guard. He also made the Coaches' All-SEC Freshman team.

Running back | USC
No. 1 Joe McKnight, No. 2 Marc Tyler

McKnight played in all 13 games in 2007, ranked third on the team with 540 rushing yards and scored three touchdowns. He also caught 23 passes for 203 yards and a touchdown and served as the Trojans' primary punt returner, with his 8.4 yards per return helping him earn a All-Pac-10 honorable mention nod. Tyler redshirted in 2007 while recuperating from a high school leg injury.

2008

Inside linebacker | Ohio State
No. 1 Etienne Sabino, No. 2 Andrew Sweat

Sabino played in all 13 games and notched six tackles. He notched the only touchdown in the Buckeyes' 16-3 win against Purdue by returning a blocked punt 20 yards for a score. Sweat appeared in the last nine games and recorded five tackles, also contributing mostly on special teams.

Outside linebacker | Miami
No. 1 Arthur Brown, No. 2 Sean Spence, No. 3 Ramon Buchanan

Not only did Miami sign ESPN's top three outside linebacker prospects in 2008, it also signed No. 5 Jordan Futch. That's an outstanding haul for one year. At any rate, Spence emerged as the key member of this group from the get-go, ranking third on the team with 65 tackles and leading the Hurricanes with 9.5 tackles for a loss in 2008. He was ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year and made multiple Freshman All-America teams. Brown (who later transferred to Kansas State) played in 11 games as a freshman, notching four tackles and shifting from outside to inside linebacker. Buchanan had six tackles in nine games, playing mostly on special teams and also contributing at safety and linebacker.

Offensive tackle | Ohio State
No. 2 Michael Brewster, No. 3 J.B. Shugarts

Brewster played in 12 of the Buckeyes' 13 games in 2008 and started the last 10 at center, earning Freshman All-America honors in the process. Shugarts appeared in seven games at offensive tackle and missed six other games with a shoulder surgery that required offseason surgery.

Safety | Florida
No. 1 Will Hill, No. 2 Dee Finley

Hill played in 13 games and ranked sixth on the team with 48 tackles. He also picked off two passes and notched 1.5 sacks. He made the SEC All-Freshman team and led the Gators with 22 tackles on special teams. Finley did not qualify academically and spent the 2008 season at Milford Academy prep school. He eventually enrolled at Florida and shifted from safety to linebacker, but transferred away from Gainesville in 2011.

2009

Safety | South Carolina
No. 2 Stephon Gilmore, No. 3 DeVonte Holloman

Early enrollee Gilmore started all 13 games at cornerback, ranking fifth on the team with 56 tackles. He tied for the team lead with nine passes defended and ranked second with eight pass breakups, adding six tackles for a loss, three sacks, two fumble recoveries, two forced fumbles and an interception. The Freshman All-SEC and Freshman All-America honoree also averaged 10.1 yards per return as a punt return man. Another early enrollee, Hollomon also played in every game, notching 30 tackles, an interception (which he returned 54 yards against rival Clemson) and a tackle for a loss.

2010

Athlete | Florida
No. 1 Ronald Powell, No. 2 Matt Elam

Powell played in 13 games at strongside linebacker and recorded 25 tackles, three tackles for a loss and a sack en route to winning Freshman All-SEC honors. Elam also played in all 13 games, mostly on special teams and at defensive back, and notched 22 tackles, two tackles for a loss and a sack.

Defensive tackle | Florida
No. 1 Dominique Easley, No. 3 Sharrif Floyd

Easley recorded four tackles in six games. Floyd played in all 13 games, earning Coaches' Freshman All-SEC honors by making 23 tackles and 6.5 tackles for a loss.

Wide receiver | Texas
No. 2 Mike Davis, No. 3 Darius White

Davis ranked second on the team with 478 receiving yards and 47 receptions (a record for a Texas freshman). He became one of only three receivers in Longhorns history to post multiple 100-yard games as a freshman. White appeared in 10 games in 2010, but caught just one pass for 5 yards and eventually transferred to Missouri after two seasons, citing a need for a fresh start.

2011

Athlete | Oregon
No. 1 De'Anthony Thomas, No. 2 Devon Blackmon

The speedy Thomas earned Pac-12 Co-Offensive Freshman of the Year honors and was named an All-Pac-12 kick returner and a Freshman All-American. He was the only player in the nation to post at least 400 yards rushing, receiving and kick returning in 2011, ranking as the Ducks' second-leading receiver (595 yards on 46 catches) and third-leading rusher (608 yards and seven touchdowns). His 983 kickoff return yards ranked second in school history. Blackmon redshirted in 2011 and appeared in two games in 2012 before announcing his plan to transfer. He played at Riverside City College before signing with BYU as a juco transfer in 2014.

2012

Defensive end | Florida State
No. 1 Mario Edwards, No. 3 Chris Casher

Edwards became the only freshman to start all season for a loaded FSU defense when he replaced the injured Tank Carradine in the ACC Championship Game. He also started in the Orange Bowl win over Northern Illinois. In all, Edwards finished the season with 17 tackles, 2.5 tackles for a loss and 1.5 sacks. Casher played in two early games before suffering a season-ending injury and taking a redshirt in 2012.

2013

Offensive guard | Michigan
No. 2 David Dawson, No. 3 Patrick Kugler

Dawson and Kugler both redshirted in 2013. Dawson practiced during the spring at left guard and left tackle, while Kugler is among the candidates to start at center this fall.

Offensive tackle | Ole Miss
No. 1 Laremy Tunsil, No. 3 Austin Golson

Tunsil immediately became one of the better offensive tackles in the SEC, earning second-team All-SEC and Freshman All-America honors in 2013. He played in 12 games and started nine at left tackle, making him one of only two true full-time freshman starters at the position in the FBS. Tunsil allowed just one sack all season. Golson played in 12 games, mostly at guard, before missing the Rebels' bowl game because of shoulder surgery. He transferred to Auburn this summer, citing a family illness as the reason he wanted to move closer to his Alabama home.

Safety | USC
No. 1 Su'a Cravens, No. 3 Leon McQuay III

A 2013 early enrollee, Cravens started 13 games at strong safety, ranked eighth on the team with 52 tackles and tied for second with four interceptions. He made multiple Freshman All-America teams and earned an All-Pac-12 honorable mention nod after the season. McQuay played in all 14 games, picked off one pass and recorded 19 tackles.
The Opening has become a breeding ground for future SEC players over the years. It started in 2011 as a football camp for the nation’s top recruits and has grown every year since. For those who haven’t heard of it or know little about it, here’s a fan’s guide to the event.

This year is no different in terms of SEC participation as 37 of the 162 invitees have already committed to SEC schools.

[+] EnlargeLandon Collins
Ryan A. Miller/Icon SMILandon Collins starred at The Opening before becoming a star for Alabama at safety.
SEC commitments by school

Alabama: 10
Texas A&M: 7
Georgia: 5
Florida: 4
LSU: 3
Mississippi State: 2
South Carolina: 2
Tennessee: 2
Kentucky: 1
Missouri: 1

The event will be broadcast on ESPN’s family of networks and gives you a chance to see the future of your school. Don’t believe me? Just look at some of the past participants to come through who are now making noise on Saturdays in the SEC.

Vadal Alexander (2011): If there were any doubts about Alexander before The Opening, he answered them with his performance. He rarely got beat in the one-on-one drills and used his strength to overpower opposing defensive linemen. It was that same strength that helped him early at LSU, and he’s expected to start up front for the third straight season. He and left tackle La'El Collins form a menacing tandem on the left side for the Tigers.

Landon Collins (2011): Collins stole the show at the inaugural camp. He won the SPARQ national championship with a high score of 143.76 and was a beast all week in the 7-on-7 competition. He didn’t make the type of impact he was hoping for as a freshman at Alabama, but he emerged last season with 69 tackles, two interceptions and two fumbles forced. He’s one of the top safeties in the country and projected to be a first-round draft pick.

Vernon Hargreaves III (2012): The week didn’t last long for Hargreaves, who injured his ankle on the first day, but he did run a 4.42 40-yard dash and a 4.1 shuttle before bowing out. That speed and athleticism was evident this past season, as the Florida freshman emerged as one of the top cornerbacks in the SEC. He finished with 38 tackles, three interceptions, and was among the league leaders in passes defended with 14.

O.J. Howard (2012): Tight ends don’t typically stand out at The Opening, but Howard isn’t your typical tight end. He measured in at 6-foot-6, 220 pounds, ran a 4.49 40-yard dash and dominated 7-on-7 play with his combination of size and speed. Unlike teammate and fellow Opening alum Derrick Henry, Howard endured a slow start to his Alabama career, but the expectations are high heading into this season.

Laquon Treadwell (2012): Treadwell might not have tested as well as some of his peers, but once he got on the field, he caught everything thrown his way. He showed the ability to make a catch under duress in traffic, and if the ball was in his vicinity, he was coming down with it. That held true at Ole Miss, where he led all SEC freshman with 72 receptions and finished with 608 yards and five touchdowns.
The Early Offer is RecruitingNation's regular feature, giving you a dose of recruiting in the mornings. Today’s offerings: RecruitingNation released its latest edition of the class rankings on Wednesday and it was no surprise to see Alabama, Clemson, Texas A&M, Penn State and Auburn round out the top five. But who are a few teams to keep an eye on that are outside the top 15? How about Mississippi State, TCU and Arkansas? All three programs have gotten off to good starts and could surprise folks come signing day.

Mississippi State off to fast start


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videoOn Monday, we went in-depth on just how many coaches were impacted this offseason when Mack Brown resigned. The ripple effect of the Texas coaching shakeup touched 103 coaches and 47 college programs. If you missed that story, click here to check it out.

If 103 sounds like a big number, just imagine how many recruits each and every one of those coaches would've affected. And not just the 2014 prospects who were forced to scramble before signing day -- these coaching changes have long-term implications for the Class of 2015 and beyond.

[+] EnlargeDamarkus Lodge
Miller Safrit/ESPNWide receiver DaMarkus Lodge has closed the door on Texas after the coaching change and will likely choose from Texas A&M, Baylor and Ole Miss.
DaMarkus Lodge is just one example, and proof that it only takes one assistant coach to completely change a kid's plans.

The ESPN 300 standout from Cedar Hill, Texas, is the state's No. 1 wide receiver prospect. When he announces his decision on June 20, most expect he'll be choosing from Texas A&M, Baylor and Ole Miss.

What most don't know is just how close he came to committing to Texas last year.

Ever since attending Texas' 36-20 win over Oklahoma in the Red River Rivalry in October, Lodge was sold. He and his parents visited Texas again in November, for at least their third time since the spring. Lodge had every intention of leaving that weekend visit as a Longhorn.

"It was actually about to happen," Lodge said last month. "I was going to commit."

Darrell Wyatt had everything to do with that. Texas' now-former co-offensive coordinator and receivers coach had a remarkably strong bond with Lodge and was one of the first to offer him a scholarship. Wyatt's advantage was unmistakable: He had coached Lodge's personal trainer, David Robinson, while an assistant at Oklahoma. Robinson, the co-owner of Quick Twitch Training in Dallas, swore by Wyatt's expertise.

"Everything D-Rob is telling me, that's what he said they were teaching at Texas," Lodge said. "I was already ahead of the guys who were there and the guys who were coming in. I knew I was going to come in there and play for sure."

Lodge says his parents were on board with him making that November commitment. But for some reason, which even Lodge can't explain today, right when he was on the cusp of making the pledge, his gut said no.

"I was about to do it, about to pull the trigger, and something was telling me in my head, 'Don't do it. Just wait,'" he said. "So I told them never mind."

A month later, Brown announced his resignation. Lodge was glad he'd held off, but he was especially troubled to learn Wyatt was not going to be retained by new coach Charlie Strong. That was the game-changer.

"He was like a dad to me," Lodge said. "I was kind of heartbroken. I used to talk to Wyatt three times a week. [Texas] would've had me."

Texas' new coaches visited Cedar Hill several times this spring in the hopes of re-sparking his interest. Is there any chance they can still sway him to follow through on his old plans of becoming a Longhorn?

"Not at all. Not at all," he said. "For me, that door is just not open. I think they know they really lost me with the whole staff change."

But there's one more door that has yet to open. Wyatt remains unemployed. Lodge has no idea why.

While he says he would hate to decommit from his June 20 choice later on, Lodge is not afraid to admit it: Wyatt is still the one person who can change his mind.

"I wonder where Coach Wyatt is going to go," Lodge said. "If he goes to one of the schools that I'm looking at, or if he picks up another job, then I'm probably already 90 percent with him.

"I can't wait to see where he goes. If he goes to one of these big programs, I'm probably with him. I really wanted to be coached by him for the next four years. Wherever he ends up ... it's going to be crazy."

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