PARRISH ALFORD: These five leave big shoes to fill in Oxford

OXFORD – Invariably, a class of college football players departs, and you think, “Man if they just had that guy one more year. …”
But that’s now how college football works. Players come, achieve and leave. There are term limits in college athletics, not Brett Favre drama.
The players cycle through. Depending on school the coaches may come and go just as much.
The cycle rolls along, and often we find ourselves in a state of futuristic thinking. We’re so focused on what’s happening next that we forget to appreciate the present.
So that’s what I’m doing today, saluting several players who greatly impacted 18 wins over a two-year span, something Ole Miss had not seen since 1961-1962 when you-know-who was coach.
Dexter McCluster: So dynamic was McCluster through the back half of 2009, once the offense was put on his shoulders, that it’s easy to forget his turnover struggles in 2008. McCluster worked hard to become a great player.
Jevan Snead: Unfortunately, Snead’s 20 interceptions in 2009 and his ill-advised early departure taint his legacy, but the guy was 18-8 in two years as a starting quarterback. Had he returned for his senior season, the likelihood is that Snead’s production would have been somewhere in the middle between the sensation he was late in his sophomore season and his junior enigma. Landing in the middle would have made the Rebels strong at the position this season.
Shay Hodge: Not flashy but physical and effective. The SEC leader in receptions and yards last year.
Kendrick Lewis: At free safety, a big-play machine. Teams leading tackler. Tackles-for-loss, interceptions, blocked kicks, forced fumbles.
Emmanuel Stephens: The most underrated of last year’s defensive ends, team’s co-leader in sacks, second in QB pressures. His sack of LSU quarterback Jordan Jefferson in the final minutes was huge.
These five players did not arrive on campus as playmakers but matured to that level. Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt’s recruiting classes have ranked between 15 and 18 by the two major recruiting websites the last two years. Some of those signees will emerge into playmakers this season.
One to watch
One name to watch is wide receiver Melvin Harris, a member of Nutt’s abbreviated signing class after he was hired in late November 2007.
At 6-foot-7 the size and athleticism are in place, and Harris has improved from a question mark to dependable target. If he can carry his momentum from a very impressive camp to the field on game day, he’ll be a surprise player in the SEC and will grab his share of the 73 passes caught by Hodge a year ago.
Harris is an example of the development that must take place to build a winning program.
There is talent on the roster, but talent alone doesn’t make great players. When it is joined by work ethic, selflessness and coaching, playmakers emerge.
Successful programs deal with attrition by finding playmakers.
Saturday afternoon, when a revamped Ole Miss offense takes the field, we’ll see how that search is going for the Rebels.
Parrish Alford (parrish.alford@djournal.com) covers Ole Miss for the Daily Journal. He blogs about the Rebels daily at NEMS360.com.

Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal