Getting Acquainted

Junior college players aren't signed to sit. More often than not, they're brought in to compete for a starting job or to at least provide depth at need positions.

Wesley Pendleton gets it.

While he may be new to the program, the 5-foot-11, 181-pound cornerback is already an upperclassman, expected to push for a spot on the first-team defense during spring practices in March.

Ole Miss was a disappointing 4-8 (1-7 SEC) in 2010. One of its glaring weaknesses was its secondary. Ole Miss ranked 10th in the SEC in passing yards allowed and last in scoring defense. Starters Jeremy McGee and Johnny Brown graduated. Tony Grimes was kicked off the team.

"A lot of people say they didn't bring in a juco guy for nothing," he said. "I plan on doing whatever I need to do to get that starting position."

Pendleton had 11 pass break-ups and three interceptions at Copiah-Lincoln Community College last season. He was targeted early by Ole Miss, and made a priority in December, when he signed a national letter of intent.

Pendleton is expected to compete for a starting job in the spring
Courtesy: Ben Garrett
His greatest asset has always been his speed. While at CLCC, he was named an NJCAA All-American in track. He's been clocked at 4.3 in the 40-yard dash, 10.49 in the 100-meter, 21.03 in the 200 and 48.9 in the 400.

"I can use my speed to be more aggressive on the line," said Pendleton, who is now working on adding four pounds. "Because I have makeup speed, I can make up if I do miss out there. I can go catch them.

"I'm trying to work on my size. They've been putting me on better weight stuff to get me bigger, because I came in a little undersized. But I'm gaining weight by the day."

Return on Investment:

Philander Moore has no specified position offensively. He can play wide receiver or running back.

But Moore was recruited mostly because of his abilities in the return game. A standout athlete from Blinn Community College in Austin, Texas, Moore set a school record for kickoffs returned for touchdowns over his final junior college season.

He was named an NJCAA All-American, and earned first team All-Conference honors.

"It's different being a returner, because you're not told what to do," Moore said. "You're given a direction -- to the right, left or up the middle -- but the style of my running is free. You don't have to think about what you're doing. You catch the ball, you make somebody miss. You're not thinking at all. You just do it."

Moore, at 5-foot-10, 180 pounds, heads into the spring as the frontrunner to handle kick return and punt return duties. Jesse Grandy manned those positions primarily last season. However, he has since decided to transfer.

"(Special teams) Coach (James) Shibest does a good job in our schemes," Moore said. "One of the good things about being at Blinn was we ran the exact same scheme that we run here. I've been told I have really good vision. I can see where everybody is on the field without having to look that way. Coach Shibest talked to me and told me I'd have a really good chance to earn a spot out here."

But Moore isn't restricted to special teams. Actually, he could see time at running back. Ole Miss failed to sign a running back in the signing class of 2011. Of those returning, two -- Brandon Bolden and Enrique Davis -- are seniors.

Nicholas spent two seasons at ASA College in New York City
Courtesy: Ben Garrett
Moore said he is working on his flexibility more than anything this offseason. He's trying to get faster and gain more quickness laterally.

"I hope to be all over the field," Moore said. "Every day, I'm doing a little bit extra conditioning. We've got a stable of running backs. All of them are great. We're going to have to split up time. I'm going to be all over the field. I hope we can have enough time for everybody."

Armed and Ready:

Ivan Nicholas, like Pendleton, is a welcome addition to the Ole Miss secondary.

A safety, Nicholas spent two seasons playing football at ASA College in New York City. He and fellow Ole Miss signee, defensive lineman Gilbert Pena, both played the only two seasons in the history of the ASA program, which began in 2009.

He's eager to get back on the football field, and push for time at safety, his natural position. Nicholas is a native of Jacksonville, Fla. He counts being closer to home as a blessing.

"Some goals are to try and come in, be effective in the system, try to make an impact to help this program get to where we need to be as a better SEC defense," he said. "I've always been known as a hitter. I come downhill well, very aggressive. I just try to make a big play."

Nicholas said the decision to sign with Ole Miss was easy. From his desire to play in the SEC to the opportunity for immediate playing time, it was the perfect fit.

"When I actually spoke with (Head) Coach (Houston) Nutt, his character pretty much drew me in. And also, the SEC is a big conference and big opportunity to showcase my talent," he said.

Nicholas, whose older brother Stephen plays for the Atlanta Falcons, signed with South Florida, where Stephen played out of high school. But he did not make qualifying scores academically. He opted for junior college in New York.

"The main lesson I learned from my brother is hard work pays off," he said. "He told me to never stop working. I don't care how high you get, the best never stop getting better. That's one thing I pretty much learned from his experience."

Nicholas earned first-team All-Northeast Conference honors this past season after posting 50 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss, and 2.0 quarterback sacks at ASA.

"I plan to come in and work hard. I know it won't be handed to me, but I'm up for the challenge," he said.

OM Spirit Top Stories