Myles Hartsfield/USA TODAY images

Sophomore Myles Hartsfield was moved from safety to cornerback early in spring football practices

Sophomore Ole Miss defensive back Myles Hartsfield embraced his move to cornerback early in spring practices.

Or, more emphatically, he welcomed it with open arms.

Hartsfield signed with the Rebels as a four-star prospect out of Endeavor College Prep in 2016. For most of all of his football career, he was a cornerback. Yet it was through his play at safety in his one season at ECP in 2015 that colleges began to take notice. Hartsfield was ranked the No. 1 prep school safety by 247Sports.com after totaling 29 tackles, two interceptions and seven pass breakups last season.

Hartsfield started all 12 games at ‘rover’ safety as a true freshman at Ole Miss. He finished with 43 total tackles, two tackles for loss and one pass deflection. But looking past the numbers, it was very much an up-and-down year for Hartsfield. 

“I learned a lot from last year,” he said. “I learned from the seniors that graduated. It was a blessing just to be a freshman out there from New Jersey being in the SEC playing safety. Safety and corner, there’s not much difference, it’s just the difference is at corner you’re up close and personal with the wide receiver and everything. Other than that, it’s not a big difference.”

The Rebel defense, as a whole, struggled mightily as Ole Miss limped to a 5-7 record. The Rebels ranked No. 100 or lower nationally in every major statistical category except one (No. 66 in pass efficiency defense).

Ole Miss CB Myles Hartsfield (Photo credit: Petre Thomas)

The speed of the game, as well as the technique and scheme demanded of safety, were still, for the most part, new to Hartsfield. Playing free and loose took time, and his growing pains showed on the field through coverage busts and explosive plays allowed.

According to advanced metrics compiled by Will Gates of SBNation.com, between 2014 and 2016, Ole Miss fell from first to 77th in Defensive S&P+. Ole Miss couldn’t manage to get off the field, playing nearly 100 more snaps than 2014. The Rebels also ranked 120th in Rushing IsoPPP (a measure of explosiveness). Ole Miss allowed nine rushes of 40-plus yards last season.

“I feel like we have a better work ethic this year,” Hartsfield said. “We’re working harder than I felt like we worked last year. This secondary, we’re young. We’ve two or three seniors, maybe, and we’re just ready to work.

“Last year, I can’t even say what it was. We learned from our mistakes. Keep moving on. This year’s a different year. We’re going to show everybody that it was just last year. We’re not going to let it snowball into this year.”

Hartsfield’s move to cornerback was necessitated by an injury to Jalen Julius. Julius, starting opposite fellow sophomore Jaylon Jones, broke his arm in the opening days of spring. Cornerbacks coach Jason Jones, in turn, approached Hartsfield about potentially sliding over.

He hasn’t been back at safety since.

“I wasn’t waiting on it, but I knew I always had to be ready to play corner,” Hartsfield said. “You never know what happens down here in the SEC. You could be playing corner one play and have to play safety. It’s better for me to show everybody that I can play multiple positions.”

“Myles hopped in there and, day one, it looked like he had been at corner his entire life,” Jones said. “He’s the biggest surprise of the spring.”

Ole Miss DB Myles Hartsfield

Ole Miss concluded spring football practices with the annual Grove Bowl game Saturday afternoon. But for the last month-plus, Hartsfield was challenged daily by a talented and deep crop of Rebel wide receivers, led by rising sophomores A.J. Brown and D.K. Metcalf.

“A.J. and D.K., they’re a handful to guard every day,” he said. “You’ve got to come with the right mindset every day in order to guard those two. I feel like they’re some of the best wide receivers in the country. Not even just them two, DaMarkus Lodge and others, they’re great wide receivers and they’re bringing it every day. You’ve got to bring your ‘A’ game every day.”

Jones said Ole Miss recruited Hartsfield as a cornerback. However, a need at safety following the departures of seniors Trae Elston and Mike Hilton meant Hartsfield had a clearer path to a starting position. 

He was on the field as a starter from the very first defensive snap against Florida State in the season-opening game.

“I still remember the first play,” he said. “I had no idea what I was doing. Coach gave us the signals, and coming down and hitting (FSU RB) Dalvin Cook on the first play, I just went crazy. After the game, I got so many texts saying great hit, great hit. I just kept going after that.

“The first game was definitely the worst for me. I was more worried about being on national television for the first time in my life. I was a little timid at first. But once that first game was over and I felt how it was to be in the SEC and a D-I school, I felt more comfortable.”

If Hartsfield has it his way, however, he won’t be going back. 

“I feel like I’m more athletic and a bigger corner than usual,” he said. “I play to my strengths and everything. I’m more comfortable there than safety. I need to get more conditioned. That’s one of the differences in playing corner. You’ve got to be able to run with a wide receiver that’s running a fade and get back on the line and play corner. That and I have to be more technique sound with my feet.”


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