Just how do you rate a football recruiting class? One way. Hindsight.
Of course, that’s not nearly as much fun as rating it right now. But recruiting has never been an exact science. A knee injury, a bad grade, a bad personal relationship with a coach or girlfriend can turn a “Can’t Miss” prospect into a “Miss” overnight.
“Time bears out what kind of recruiting year you had,” said Billy Brewer, the former Ole Miss head coach who’s all too familiar with recruiting wars. “Of course, alumni don’t want to wait that long. We’re surrounded by recruiting services and gurus and experts that rate you now. But the truth is, you never can tell.
“Some classes come in rated high and don’t work out. Some classes come in rated low and work out great. It goes both ways. What recruiting services can’t rate is team chemistry, and that’s critical to your success or failure.”
So how good were the recruiting classes at Ole Miss in the past 10 seasons? Start with the results and work backwards.
The best three teams in that time span have been: 1989 (8-4, Liberty Bowl win), 1990 (9-3, Gator Bowl appearance) and 1992 (9-3, Liberty Bowl win).
That would earn high marks for the incoming prep recruiting classes of 1985 and 1986. A step below were the consecutive prep recruiting classes of 1988 and 1989. However, those 88-89 prep recruits got a huge boost from the juco recruits or transfers of 1991 and 1992.
1985 Prep Class: Five recruits eventually became team captains; three played in the NFL Wesley Walls, Stevon Moore and Tony Bennett. Among the featured players were QB John Darnell, PK Bryan Owen and linemen Bubba Dickey, Rodney Lowe and Dan Wigley.
1986 Prep Class: Nearly a dozen recruits became starters. Among the featured performers were DBs Chris Mitchell and Todd Sandroni, P Charles Childers, LB Shawn Cobb and WRs Willie Green and Reid Hines.
1988 Prep Class: Not as deep as the 85-86 classes, but featured a handful of productive players, including QB Russ Shows and DB Dwayne Amos. Two other newcomers attained legend status in program history Chucky Mullins and a walk-on offensive lineman, Everett Lindsay.
1989 Prep Class: Not as deep as the 85-86 classes, but featured a balance of key performers, including OL Clint Conlee, PK Brian Lee, LB Gary Abide and RB Marvin Courtney.
Jucos & Transfers: The 1989-90 Ole Miss bowl teams got brilliant skill position additions of Randy Baldwin, Vincent Brownlee, Tyrone Montgomery, Darrick Owens and Pat Coleman to blend with the 85-86 prep recruits.
The 1992 Ole Miss bowl team supplemented its original prep class with defenders Dwayne Dotson, Cassius Ware, Tony Collier and Chad Brown. Offensively, Cory Philpot was most positive addition.
Which brings us to this moment.
The prep class of 1992 is looking much better than originally evaluated, especially in light of the program’s upheaval in bouts with the NCAA.
That group made up many of the seniors of the 6-5 team and the redshirts will be seniors this fall, including DB Derek Jones, QB Paul Head, OL Orlando Trainer, OL Shannon Provencher, OL Skip Joyce, DL David McGowan and LB Kyle Wicker.
Head coach Tommy Tuberville, who terms recruiting as “priority one,” will debut his first recruiting class next season. At the turn of the century, you ought to know how it went.
Chris Burrows covers Ole Miss athletics for the Daily Journal.