Last countdown, dead period begin

Getting committed recruits signed, sealed and delivered will be the final straw of a year of non-stop recruiting by the Ole Miss coaches. The effort has been worth it as Coach Ed Orgeron and staff have apparently put together a high nationally-ranked class. Read about it inside.

When the ink had barely dried on the papers of the 2005 recruits, Rebel Football Coach Ed Orgeron made a not-so-subtle statement that has stuck in my mind the past 12 months.

"We will do a lot better when we have had a full year to put together a class," he declared.

Turns out, barring any last-minute defections which don't appear to be on the horizon, that could be the understatement of the year.

As this is being written, with a couple of prospects still hanging in the balance, Coach O and company have - despite being two or three coaches short during a lot of the stretch run of recruiting and despite having a 3-8 record to recruit off of - a class basically sewn up that is currently ranked number 9 in the country by

What adjectives can you use to describe that effort? Tireless? Relentless? Obssessed? Superlative? All those fit.

Even though O came to Ole Miss with the reputation of being a cracker jack recruiter, I have to admit I thought the class would suffer with the coaching changes coming when they did and the record the 2005 team posted.

Didn't happen. As is the case in every recruiting season, there were "losses," but the "wins" far outweigh them. The "gets" are much more impressive than the "misses."

It all started just a couple of days after signing day 2005 when Terry Levy and Kendrick Lewis gave their verbals to Ole Miss before most other staffs had even started formulating a gameplan for 2006 recruiting. That didn't necessarily send a shock wave through the college football world, but it sent a message to Rebel fans and served notice that this guy leading our program meant business and the hype over his recruiting ability was warranted.

During the excitement of "new" names popping up on the Reb recruiting radar on a regular basis, we almost - I said almost - took for granted 5-star DT Jerrell Powe and 4-star OL John Jerry, who were stashed away at Hargrave. While we, as fans, tend to kind of forget early commitments, it was clear to astute observers that the foundation for the 2006 class was as good as anyone's. I mean, how many times in years past have we had a 5-star recruit, a defensive tackle no less, wrapped up and sealed with nearly a year to go before the next signing day? And the talk from Hargrave is that Jerry is just as good at his respective position as Powe is at his. Awesome.

In no particular order, the Rebs then went about trying to secure two or three quarterbacks. Then OC Noel Mazzone targeted, and got commitments from, California record-holder Michael Herrick and Texas gunslinger Nick Stephens. And the staff, wisely, started eyeing a JUCO star, Brent Schaeffer, to take the helm while those youngsters matured. Stephens has since jumped ship to UT, but Herrick held firm and the Rebs, despite changing OCs, landed Schaeffer, the mercurial 5-star who resurrected a troubled career at College of the Canyons with an All-American JUCO season. For the team's needs, and for his vast talent, Schaeffer has rightfully been declared the number one target at any position. With our QB situation as it is, that is hard to argue, no offense to Mr. Powe or some others on the list.

In the early stages, the various summer camps also produced the likes of WR Shay Hodge, a pure athlete the coaches fell in love with during one of their camps.

JUCO big bodies Aubrey McPhadden and Korey Raymond also cast their lots with the Rebels. Even though it appears Raymond will not be able to attend Ole Miss due to academic deficiencies, getting their nods of approval were like them - big. Their commitments helped with the momentum of the class.

We needed an instant shot of maturity and brutishness (is that a word?) on the OL. Enter JUCO Corey Actis, who is expected to take over the center slot in spring. Ditto on the DL - welcome, Hayward Howard.

Kind of lost in the shuffle are the commitments of such standouts as Jamal Harvey, Jonathan Cornell, Kentrell Lockett and Rory Johnson - all excellent athletes with a big upside.

The Memphis connection - thanks mostly to recently-named TE Coach Hugh Freeze, who went from the administrative side of the staff to being on the field - kicked in with Greg Hardy, Cecil Frison, LaDerrick Vaughn and Cassius Vaughn. Again, players with a solid, if not more, collegiate upside. I like speed and I like rangy athletes. We get both with these four.

A pair of my personal favorites are WR Markeith Summers and LB Allen Walker from Olive Branch. Why? Because unlike most of the others, I actually got to see them play in person, not on tape. In person, they look like the kind of players we have been facing all these years. Guys you look at and instantly say "athlete." Guys who other big schools coveted. Guys who have only scratched the surface of their ability and development. Personally, I can't wait to see them after a short time in our program. When S&C Coach Aaron Ausmus and his staff get them involved in their workouts, you will see a blossoming with them - and several others - that will leave your eyes bugged out. Book it.

Need a big tight end for instant help? How about Jason Hawkins, a 6-4, 255-pounder with JUCO experience and some age on him? Need a young fullback to go with sophomore Jason Cook? How about Reggie Hicks, a low center of gravity bulldozer? Need speed? How about Dexter McCluster?

And no, I'm not forgetting two of the crown jewels in this class - Meridian RBs Derrick Davis and Cordera Eason, two of the most prolific ground gainers in Mississippi history in AAAAA football. Cordera is, well, a manchild. And Derrick? Some say he was better than Eason before his knee injury. A full recovery from that and you know the final outcome - the Rebel backfield will be in good hands for several years.

We must also not forget the other "recruiting" job the coaches did when they "got back" All-American LB Patrick Willis and jack-of-all-trades junior Robert Lane. One was considering a pro career, the other was considering a transfer due to wanting to fulfill his dream of playing more QB on the collegiate level. Both decided Ole Miss was best for them and no names that will be on our signing day list are bigger. We already know their value - no recruiting guesswork needed.

Not every player on the expected list for Wednesday will be a superstar. Never are. Not every player will qualify academically. Never do.

But anyone who follows recruiting and looks at this class objectively would have to say "mission accomplished, coaches."

Recruiting is like every game. It's never perfect. You win some, you lose some. Some get rained out. We could use a couple of more offensive linemen. It happens.

But I will take a year like this one has shaped up to be every year from now until I'm pushing up daisies and will laugh all the way to the win column.

In fact, considering the circumstances or not, I wouldn't have guessed this much success and wouldn't have hoped for more.

In February of 2005, Ed Orgeron made a rather bold statement about having a full year to recruit. In February of 2006, he apparently backed it up.

Well done, very well done.

OM Spirit Top Stories