February 6, 2008

Nutt makes a large recruiting haul

Ole Miss signed 29 prospects on Wednesday and currently has the No. 22 ranked recruiting class under first year head coach Houston Nutt.

To get to a Top 25 class, Nutt has to finish with a flurry and he did just that after being rated in the 40's at one point. Leading the charge was the signing of two top prospects from Hargrave Military Academy that were among the best in the country. Five star Enrique Davis, the top ranked prep school player in the country, pulled a shocker when he picked the Rebels over Auburn and Tennessee. It was a major shock to Auburn, who had recruited Davis for years and signed him last year before Davis headed off to Hargrave. Added to that was four-star Andrew Harris, a 6-foot-4, 195 pound speedster who committed to the Rebels on Monday.

Another major "get" for Ole Miss was three-star quarterback Nathan Stanley. Stanley had a host of offers and waited until signing day to announce for Ole Miss. He gives the Rebels a second quarterback, joining Chris Wilkes, which was a major objective for Nutt and his current quarterback depleted roster.

While Nutt hit on most of targets, the commitment list did change and he missed out on a few prospects whom he would have liked to have added, but were not major targets. Late Tuesday, longtime linebacker commitment Gavin Hardin switched to Miami and as the day wore on on Wednesday, the Rebels efforts to land a couple of Arkansas committed four-star players - Matt Hall and De'Anthony Curtis - fell short. They also came up short on Khiry Battle. Nutt also saw another commitment, tight end prospect Jamal Mosley, decide to head off to Oklahoma State. Another target, Leonard Johnson, who the Rebels recruited hard, decided to cast his lot with Iowa State.

However, Nutt was quick to go to his alternate list, inking Bastrop three-star athlete Randall Mackey, three star defensive back Rudy Wilson from Hargrave, and two-star running back Adnre Sterling who rushed for over 2,700 yards last year in Knoxville.

A couple of commitments apparently feel victim to numbers - Baldwyn's Dominique Davenport signed with Delta State and tight end prospect Dudley LaPorte came of the commitment list and apparently is headed to Utah State. Bud Barksdale, who is expected to have difficulty meeting NCAA initial academic eligibility requirements, opted for Southern Miss on late Wednesday.

The major of long time commitments held true to their verbal pledge. That included Wilkes, Derrick Herman, Demareo Marr, Brandon Sanders, Kermit Tyler, and Horatio Willams. All of those players had been recruited, offered and committed under the previous staff.

But the class ended up with Nutt's stamp on it, as about 10 players on the commitment list when he first took over fell off and he replaced them with some prospects that had been recruited - but had not committed - by the previous staff. He also added seven players from Georgia and raided the Hargrave class, inking five from the prep school.

Key additions under Nutt included former Auburn linebacker Patrick Trahan, standout running back Devin Thomas, and Brandon Bolden. He also plucked two prospects off the Arkansas roster in Josh Tatum and Justin Smith. He also beat Arkansas to the punch for two big tight ends in Ferbia Allen and E.J. Epperson.

Nutt also made his presence known in Georgia - particularly in the Atlanta suburbs, where defensive line coach Tracy Rocker made an impressive haul.

He notched Smith, and then added a sleeper in 6-foot-7, 190 pound wide receiver Melvin Harris, two big linemen in Gerald Rivers and Aaron Hawkins and impressive linebacker Jason Jones, from Albany.

Nutt's class ended up looking a lot different than it did early in his transition last December.

Houston Nutt came under a lot of scrutiny during his first recruiting class that he had only two months to put together.

He was first shorted with virtually no staff when he arrived, leaving most of his assistants in Fayetteville to assist in preparation for the Cotton Bowl. He hired two assistants, Kim Dameron and Ron Dickerson, Jr. in his first week and put them non-stop on the recruiting trail. Recruiting coordinator Chris Vaughn got an early release from Arkansas and joined the Ole Miss staff in mid-December.

But to fans, it appeared Nutt was lagging and the recruiting class in danger when recruit after recruit said they hadn't been contacted headed into the dead period right before Christmas.

Once the staff arrived in early January, it made headway quickly, mainly by going after recruits he had hosted in previous Arkansas camps, such as Hunter Miller, and recruiting familiar areas such as Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas and Georgia.

Perhaps the biggest area where Nutt fell short was in Mississippi. Nutt said in his signing day press conference that the staff while he was in Arkansas had not previously recruited Mississippi and lack the contacts to haul in some of the state's bigger targets.

The class contains only six recruits from Mississippi with two of those being junior college prospects.

Nutt promised to recruit Mississippi and Memphis better next year after having time to build relationships in those areas.

But few can argue with his success if the Top 25 rating holds. The former staff notched a No. 30 rating after having a shorter commitment list and only a month to recruit in its first year.

Nutt, while at Arkansas, historically finished with classes ranked between No. 20 and No. 30 and around eighth in the SEC, but still managed to win two division titles.

Nutt said he doesn't place emphasis on the ratings by recruiting services, instead believing in his staff's evaluation and pointing to All-American Darren McFadden being rated as a two-star prospect.

Nutt said he team may sign one more prospect. The only player unaccounted for late Wednesday is four-star athlete Darius Barksdale, and his status with Ole Miss is unclear, although he could sign on Thursday.

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