Coach Houston Nutt's 2009 signing class garnered a Top 20 recruiting ranking.
That's a good sign, but the real question, the important question, is how have they adjusted, in their first year, to the rigors of college football? Many high school superstars have melted into the fabric of college anonymity, never to be heard from again in the football arena.
What it all boils down to is the development of each player on the collegiate level.
The development of the football players, both varsity and newbies, is in the hands of the Ole Miss Strength & Conditioning staff, led by Don Decker. With his oversight, he turns over the freshmen to his assistant, Jason Wilfawn.
Wilfawn is charged with the task of, simply put, getting the first-year players in the college groove – teaching them what it takes to succeed at the next level.
"Every class that comes in here is similar in that they are green and raw, but very eager to please their coaches," said Wilfawn. "Their thought process of what actually goes into competing at this level is much, much different. In high school, the majority of these kids were better than everyone they were competing against. They are here for a reason – because our coaches have seen something special in them.
"Our task is to teach them how to be an athlete on this level and how to learn to work the right way toward that goal. The high school level was not a major challenge to them. They excelled on raw ability, but on this level everyone is good and they have to adjust accordingly, which means hard work. This class came in here ready to work, but they just didn't know how to and how to sustain that level of workload. The difference in them now and when they first came in here, in terms of knowing how to work and knowing how to grind through a workout, is night and day."
Wilfawn works with the freshman class as a whole, but he addresses their needs individually. How much progress have they made? What do they need to keep working on? The following are his comments on each signee in the program, in no particular order, but starting with the redshirts and ending with the frosh who have played in 2009.
OLB Alex Williams: "Alex came in as a 202-pound defensive end. He's very flexible and athletic. We just needed to get him bigger and stronger. He's now 228 pounds and is now benching what he could max when he got here five-seven times. He's come a long way considering he broke his foot in August. I think he can carry 235 pounds easily."
QB Raymond Cotton: "Raymond is very athletic and very strong. He recently broke the school record for quarterbacks in the bench press and we really haven't pushed him yet. He came in at 224 and he's now 230. He's lost body fat and put on lean mass. He's pretty flexible. Raymond has a great future here, we think, based on what he has done in our program and where we see him heading."
TB Tim Simon: "Tim is still in recovery from a devastating knee injury, but he's recently been cleared to lift weights and do upper body work. He's excited about it. We'll work around his rehab and physical therapy. Prior to the injury, he was pretty flexible and fairly strong, but he wasn't a real strong 220-pounder. He wasn't soft by any means, but he knows he's got to get stronger to match that great frame he has."
DT Corey Gaines: "Corey came in under-conditioned. Our main priority has been working on his conditioning. He's got some twitch and pop to him, but he could not do it over and over. He's come a long way in being able to finish practices. He's also leaned up and shown tremendous strength gains, they are coming up very fast."
TE Zaccheus Mason: "Z came in here needing a lot of flexibility work. I work with him one-on-one with a special flexibility program that is different from the other players. He comes in here for his workouts knowing I'm going to grind him and ask him to do things that aren't fun and he has not complained one second. Consequently, we have seen improvements. His ankles, knees and shoulders were very tight, so we had to break all of that loose and build from there. We've still got work to do, but I'm seeing good progress."
WR Ja'Mes Logan: "Ja'Mes bends well and has good movement, but he needs strength work. His upper body strength has increased a lot lately, but he needs to keep going. Ja'Mes is starting to figure out how to grind and push some weight when it gets tough, but that's how they all are to a certain extent. About week five or six, we usually experience a little frustration with the progress we are seeing and then around week seven a light bulb comes on and they start turning the corner and pushing through because they see progress. Ja'Mes is in that group. He's also put on about 20-25 pounds and is up around 195 now."
S Frank Crawford: "I don't know if Frank had ever lifted weights before we got him. When he got here, he was coming off a year of rehab from ACL surgery. His lower body development just wasn't there. He's a very gifted athlete in the way he can move and change directions. He's fluid, but he's got to get stronger. What is encouraging is that he has caught on very quickly with his lift techniques. He didn't have any bad habits to correct. He's come a long way. He's gained 15 pounds since he's gotten here."
CB Ryan Campbell: "He's athletic and can bend. He's very explosive. Ryan's upper body strength is pretty good, but he's like Ja'Mes in that he's had to learn how to push himself and get through the tough times, the heavy lifts and the demands."
TB Korvic Neat: "Korvic is very athletic, but he reported on the weak end of the spectrum. He's worked hard and has gained about 15 pounds and gotten stronger. He's still got work to do, but his bench has jumped substantially."
CB Charles Sawyer: "Charles is very smart and catches on quickly to everything. He's athletic, he bends well and he's very strong for his size. His bench goes up every week and is already in the 300-pound range."
OL Logan Clair: "Logan has changed his body and now looks like a Division-I lineman. He's squatting over 500 pounds and cleaning over 300 pounds. He can do reps with 300 pounds in the clean. His bench is almost 400 and will be there soon. He weighs about 320 now. He's getting there. The redshirt year for him was a good idea."
OL Micheal Brown: "Mike came in at 316 pounds and was too heavy. We've cut a lot of body fat off him. Now he's around 296 and building back up with lean mass. He has learned how to grind and is starting to push a lot of heavy weights around. You see a lot of high school linemen who just think bigger, bigger, bigger and they don't put on good weight. Mike did that, but now he's correcting it."
WR/S Terrell Grant: "Very strong kid. He's a lot like Pat Patterson in strength levels and size – around 210-215 pounds. He bends well. We need to work on his speed and quickness. We have already started that process and are seeing results."
S Dele Junaid: "Dele is getting bigger and stronger real quickly. He came in not understanding what it took to play at this level, but he's starting to figure it out. He's already benching close to 300 pounds."
OL Emmanuel McCray: "I like all these young offensive linemen. Emmanuel benches about 350 pounds and is going to be very strong. He's seeing if he pushes himself how big and strong he can be. He's buying in and seeing results. He's doing reps with 325 pounds in the squat, which is really good for him. I think he is going to be real good. He bends well, he's driven and he's bright. He hates to fail."
OL Chris Gill: "He's the kind of walk-on you like to see coming into your program. He bends well, he's around 280 pounds, which is up about 10 pounds of good weight. Chris is very smart and his bench is up around 350 pounds."
Freshmen Who Have Played in 2009 -
WR Jesse Grandy: "His biggest issue is strength. We've all seen Jesse move – he can fly. We think he's going to get faster as he gets stronger because he's not running with much power. He's put on some weight and is doing extra lifting. He knows what it takes and he's trying to get there."
OT Bobby Massie: "He bends well and moves well. Bobby is pretty strong but he's not John Jerry strong yet. He's strong for a freshman OL. He's getting his technique down now and will start to see benefits from that. I'm excited to get a full offseason out of him and see where we can take him."
WR Pat Patterson: "Big, strong, physical and with a world of potential. I'm anxious to do more speed and quickness work with him."
OLB Joel Kight/MLB D.T. Shackelford: "I'm going to talk about them together because they are very similar. They both bend very well and they both came here ahead of the normal freshman curve. They are both strong and bench 350-pounds plus. They are both dynamic in the squat and power clean for freshmen. Again, I'm very excited about having them in the offseason because the kids who are playing we are not pushing as hard. We want them fresh for games. Those two really excite me."
PK Andrew Ritter: "Andrew is on the kicker program which is a modified version of what we do with our skill players in-season. He works hard and has good flexibility. There are no worries with him."
P Tyler Campbell: "Tyler is very strong. If you watch him lift, you will think he's a linebacker, but at the same time he's a little tight and we are doing extra flexibility work with him to loosen him up a little more."
TB Rodney Scott: "Extremely strong. Naturally strong. He benches 350 pounds weighing 199. He's got twitch and pop. The only chink in his armor is he's a little tight because he's wound so tight. We are doing extra flexibility stuff with him each session."
(Greyshirts Evan Swindall and Mike Marry were not allowed to work with the strength staff or use the athletic department facilities first semester, but they are now working out with the team during Cotton Bowl practices. We have no report on them at this time.)
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