Signing Day means more to many this year

Coach Ed Orgeron is set to sign one of the nation's top classes Wednesday. Steve Holeman in soccer will also sign a top class, including Hannah Weatherly of Tupelo.

Wednesday's a big day for a lot of folks. Signing Day always is.

There are several signing days each year but only one that makes everything else in life stop for a day – and actually the month leading up to it. Football Signing Day has a life of its own at Ole Miss. Always has as long as I can remember.

Used to be that mostly a group of men would gather at the UMAA Administrative Building, sit around, and wait for Ken Cooper or Steve Sloan or Billy Brewer to sign names on the chalkboard. I don't know if those type proceedings went all the way back to Coach Vaught or not.

Ole Miss was credited by many as the school that started all this interest and hype that is football recruiting. I'm sure Alabama or Auburn or Tennessee or LSU fans would disagree and think they wrote the book.

But it was Ole Miss. Don't let them tell you any different.

It's grown today to a sport all its own. Winning the headlines and TV coverage every day for a month before Signing Day (or whenever a player commits) is as important to some fans as beating LSU in the fall.

No headline all year will be as important to some fans as Thursday's. If Ole Miss is declared the winner, the three-touchdown loss at MSU in the Egg Bowl will be a faded memory – although that egg is still sitting under glass 90 miles from here, at least until November.

I think some of it has to do with the fact that many just know this year's recruiting class will mean Sugar Bowl. Add another one like it next year, and it's national title. There seems to be more excitement surrounding this class than any since Sloan hauled in a couple of top 10 or 20s, which later meant nothing since he was let go after five straight losing seasons.

So the parties will roll and the drinks will pour and the euphoria will be like few we've seen here in, well, a year anyway, since the last Signing Day. But last year's celebration was tainted from the opening bell as Derek Pegues' announcement for State put a damper on an otherwise fairly fine February day.

Wednesday will indeed be an exciting day for Ole Miss fans, just like Signing Day has been for decades. But for my family, it's even bigger than usual.

All sports here but football and soccer have two signing periods – fall and spring. Football and soccer ink their recruits and commitments on the same day in February.

So on Wednesday while folks get excited and celebrate a top signing class by Ed Orgeron and staff, our family will also be toasting the signing by Steve Holeman and staff of Hannah Weatherly from Tupelo High.

Hannah is a senior and one of the state's top soccer players. She's one of the best to ever sign from the state of Mississippi to play at Ole Miss. It's all been well-documented for a long time, and folks in the know say so.

She's been an Ole Miss girl all her life, too. No football player who signs Wednesday could possibly be any more excited about playing for the red and blue than Hannah.

Her dad, Shan, my first cousin, is an Ole Miss alum as is her mother, Kevin. Hannah's Uncle Jimmy, then of Pontotoc, played quarterback for the Rebels in the 60s.

You think Chris Strong's commitment is early, Hannah committed to Ole Miss the summer after her sophomore year of high school. She's waited a year and a half since then to sign.

But Hannah committed to Ole Miss way before that. She's been coming to Ole Miss games in lots of sports for years. It's in her blood. It's who she is.

So the little girl, along with big brother Brandon, we watched grow up, the one who used to sit in the north end zone with friends and dangle her feet off the walkway as she watched and cheered for the football Rebs, waiting at game's end for a sweatband or a chinstrap to fly into the stands as a keeper, will officially sign on and sign up for her Ole Miss.

The one I've seen at men's and women's basketball games, at baseball games, at tennis matches – and, of course, at soccer games practically all her life.

The one who, when asked if she wanted to think about her options before committing to Ole Miss back in the summer of 2004, basically said, "Why should I wait and think about it when this is where I've always wanted to be?"

So Wednesday Hannah Weatherly, who has worked so hard and had so much support at becoming an all-star soccer player, will officially become an Ole Miss Rebel – something she's actually been all her life.

It isn't always the case that a student-athlete gets to live his or her dreams out before our very eyes. But that's what will happen in this case on Wednesday.

And as I've told Hannah and her family jokingly but truthfully, Ole Miss soccer, a championship program already deserving of it, will probably get a little more ink in these spaces starting this fall.

Congrats, Hannah, and welcome to Ole Miss – the place you've always wanted to be, the place you've had in your heart all along. Now let's win some more championships.

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