Rebel Uprising

In a well publicized and controversial declaration made during his inaugural season at Ole Miss, head coach Ed Orgeron expressed his intention to tap into the Memphis prospect market at Tennessee's expense. He made good on his threat by landing five-star O-lineman Michael Oher in the Class of 2005, and now three years later the Rebels are expanding their reach.

There was nothing shocking about Oher's decision to sign with Mississippi — although Tennessee made a strong run at the big blocker — as the way was paved long before Orgeron ever arrived in Oxford. Oher lived with a former Rebel basketball player and University of Mississippi alumni.

Besides Memphis has always been a mixed bag for the Vols when it came to recruiting. Its location makes for sharply divided allegiances between fans of the hometown Memphis Tigers as well as border hugging Ole Miss Rebels, Arkansas Razorbacks and Mississippi State Bulldogs.

With the exception of the infamous Bama booster years, the Vols have gotten their fair share of the top football talent from the Bluff City, but the task is more difficult with Memphis getting better under former Vol Tommy West, Ole Miss being more determined under Orgeron to make its mark in the state's largest city, Arkansas gaining stature as defending SEC East champions as well as the ongoing Heisman campaign of All American running back Darren McFadden. Additionally, the fact Mississippi State has the SEC's only black head coach plays well in the homes of many minority athletes.

Throw in such big game hunters as Notre Dame, Florida, Texas, LSU and USC stalking Memphis talent and the task of defending home turf becomes that much more daunting for Phillip Fulmer & Co. True to his word Orgeron is still recruiting prospects and influencing parents in the Bluff City in 2007 and has the Rebels in serious contention for Memphis Woodale linebacker Marion Walls, Arlington offensive lineman Alex Hurst and Woodale D-lineman Dontari Poe.

But now they are moving further east into west and middle Tennessee having offered Humboldt LB/TE Elijah Epperson, Somerville Fayette-Ware DE Ricky Holloway, Brentwood LB Chris Jordan, Lewisburg LB Donta' Hightower, Murfreesboro OL David Spurlock, Nashville, Antioch D-lineman Michael McAdoo and Columbia wide receiver DeMario Williams.

From those groups Tennessee has extended offers to Walls, Holloway, Jordan, Spurlock and McAdoo. It has also offered Alcoa safety Brian Sommer as have the Rebels whose encroachment into Tennessee turf continues unabated.

However the most damaging blow struck by the Rebels was their recent commitment from Jackson Central-Merry linebacker Gavin Hardin. The 6-foot-4, 240-pound athlete, who runs a 4.5 and could play defensive end, is rated the nation's No. 9 strong-side LB by Scout.com and is one of only three four-star prospects from Tennessee in Scout's most recent ratings. Jordan and Montgomery Bell O-lineman Preston Bailey are the others.

UT commitments Ben Bartholomew and Aaron Douglas are listed as three stars. Bartholomew is the No. 4 ranked fullback and Douglas is the No. 17 rated tight end. Also listed as three stars are Cordova's Barrett Jones, the No. 28 rated O-lineman, Smyrna's Rodriguez Wilks, the No. 56 wide receiver and Walls, the No. 11 SS LB.

As things currently stand the Rebels have offered more Tennessee prospects than the Vols have, but UT is taking dead aim at some of the Magnolia State's real standouts including five-star WR DeAndre Brown of Ocean Springs, who doesn't list Ole Miss among his five favorites. UT has also offered D-lineman Willie Packer of Moss Point.

UT offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe came away with one of the biggest prizes (and surprises) when his staff at Ole Miss signed a lightly regarded linebacker from Humboldt named Patrick Willis, who went on to earn All-American honors and was taken in the first round of April's NFL Draft.

Which just goes to show the most haunting misses are often the prospects that were never offered.


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