Almost three weeks ago, Ole Miss acknowledged interest in former Oregon quarterback Jeremiah Masoli. But with three scholarship quarterbacks already on the roster, including redshirt freshman Raymond Cotton, there was no room.
Then head coach Houston Nutt, along with three players, took to Hoover, Ala. for SEC Media Days. Rumors were widely circulating of Cotton's possible transfer, widely surrounding his role in the offense behind current starter Nathan Stanley.
When Cotton ultimately decided to transfer, Ole Miss was suddenly in a tight spot. Stanley and junior college transfer Randall Mackey were the only quarterbacks left, and with just two weeks until players report, no less.
Masoli's checkered past has been well-documented. So much so, Sports Illustrated, who was the first to report his commitment to Ole Miss Sunday, ran a detailed piece centered on Masoli's account of each of his past incidents. He's hired a public relations firm to help rebuild his image, paired with an official site detailing his every move since his dismissal from Oregon.
"I made a few very poor decisions in the past year, and I apologize to my family, friends and fans for them," read one of Masoli's entries on www.jeremiahmasoli.net. "But I am not the person who has been portrayed in many media stories."
He now has a chance to prove as much. Ole Miss needed Masoli, but probably not as much as he needed Ole Miss. Other schools were involved (most notably West Virginia and Kansas State), but every report that has surfaced over the last week has indicated a wide lead for Ole Miss.
His re-recruitment came full circle when he visited Ole Miss over the weekend. From all indications, including those from sources, the trip couldn't have gone any better, especially with Kentrell Lockett and Jerell Powe, far and away the team's leaders this season, as his hosts.
He toured every inch of the Ole Miss campus, before returning to San Francisco Sunday morning. He saw the facilities and shook hands with every important member of the Rebel football program. This wasn't an ordinary official visit. As he'll do every day on the practice fields over the coming months, he was proving himself.
This is his shot.
"I left campus this morning and have to say that the people at Ole Miss, from Coach Nutt to the administration, have been kind and understanding," Masoli posted on his site. "I worried that the bad publicity from Oregon might make them think badly of me. But I hope the Sports Illustrated story and my visit there convince them that I'm not the person who's been portrayed in many stories.
"I'd also like to thank the people at the University of Oregon who said good things about me to the people at Mississippi."
He'll arrive in Oxford later this week as a walk-on. His every move, both on and off the field, will be carefully watched by coaches, teammates, fans and media alike. There's no room for error, as Nutt has made known.
"I felt like he needed us a whole lot more than we needed him," Nutt said to SI's Andy Staples. "He'll be under the highest of scrutiny."
His talent is undeniable. Masoli passed for 3,891 yards, rushed for 1,368 more, and accounted for 51 overall touchdowns in his two years as Oregon's starter. He's applied and is awaiting acceptance into Ole Miss' graduate school program, where he plans to major in parks and recreation management.
But he won't be handed the starting job. Stanley has endeared himself to his teammates since an impressive spring, and has carried it over into the offseason. He's developed a team-first mentality, as has Mackey, making the pair stiff competition for Masoli the minute he takes his first snaps on the practice fields.
Still, when the season opens against Jacksonville State Sept. 4, all eyes will be on the much-maligned Masoli, a risk/reward gamble that could go a long way in determining Ole Miss' success this season.
"I like Ole Miss because I want the opportunity to play football at the highest levels of Division-I," Masoli posted on his site. "The SEC is a great conference and I'd love to experience the competition here. Coach Nutt has been encouraging and a straight shooter.
"If Ole Miss allows me to enroll, I know exactly what is expected of me."
The writing on the wall, that Jeremiah Masoli would become a Rebel, came true Sunday afternoon.
The Ole Miss football team just got better.