- Dave Hooker, Reporter, RecruitingNation
While Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze may be the lynchpin to Ole Miss' recruiting in Memphis, Maurice Harris will play a key role as well.
Like Freeze, Harris has ties to Memphis. Both coached successful high school programs there before taking the college route. Now it's up to Freeze and Harris, Ole Miss' tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator, to work those relationships to help the Rebels recruit successfully just up the road from Oxford, Miss.
"It's been pretty good," Harris said of recruiting Tennessee prospects during a recent radio on WNML in Knoxville. "Guys are responding. I would say we've had a bunch of top guys on our campus from Tennessee, especially the West Tennessee area. ... Coaches feel comfortable with me. Therefore, they'll tell their players about me and Coach Freeze."
Recruiting in the area has some challenges. Prospects have often found themselves in the middle of recruiting scandals associated with accepting money to choose a particular school. Harris is pained by the problems his former hometown schools have faced.
"I'm disappointed more so because I don't think it's the player more so than it's the people that surround that player," Harris said. "You've got several individuals that see the opportunity to benefit financially and they prey on these young men."
More could be coming as prospects take notice of a potential turnaround at Ole Miss. The Rebels are 4-3 and 1-2 in the SEC. Two of the Rebels' losses have come against ranked teams. The Rebels were 2-10 last season which led to Houston Nutt's departure and the hiring of Freeze.
"As the season has started, more and more guys are starting to listen to us," Harris said. "I don't place blame on anybody but the past couple of years we struggled (in recruiting). I think these recruits want to see if we're going to be able to turn it around. ... They can see a change in the way our guys play. They play with enthusiasm. They play physical. That's been able to help us out in recruiting
"Some of these so-called top prospects are starting to call us back now as opposed to us always reaching out to them. It has had a big effect as far as guys having an open ear to us."
Harris, as per NCAA rules, can't name specific prospects, but two of those top prospects he's referring to are surely ESPN 150 safety Antonio Conner from Batesville (Miss.) South Panola and ESPN 300 athlete Ashton Shumpert from Fulton (Miss.) Itawamba. Both have shown strong interest in Ole Miss.
Ole Miss, however, will also recruit outside its borders. The Rebels have commitments from prospects in Texas, Florida, Alabama and Georgia. For an immediate fix, the Rebels can tap into the strong group of junior college in Mississippi.
"If we can't find our need in Mississippi, we don't have a problem going outside of Mississippi," Harris said. "Our goal is to develop a high school student first. ... If there's a need we'll go the junior college route, but we don't typically try to build our program around junior college players."
There's more recruiting competition in Mississippi than in recent memory since Mississippi State has had recent success. The Bulldogs have won the last three games against the Rebels in the series. That has helped Mississippi State land ten of the top 21 prospects in the state while Ole Miss has six.
"If we're beating those guys, more than likely we're winning the recruiting battle in the state," Harris said.
If not, there's always Memphis.