Ole Miss recruiting efforts have evolved in two years
A lot has changed for the Ole Miss football program in a matter of two seasons. The Rebels have gone from back-to-back losing seasons in 2010 and 2011 to back-to-back wins in bowl games. An influx of talent has been a big reason for that success, and heading into the 2015 signing class, the state of recruiting is at a much different level.
Ole Miss tight ends coach Maurice Harris helps coordinate the effort to sign players on offense each year. He’s also in charge of certain parts of the country, like all of Tennessee and half of Georgia.
Harris, a Memphis native and former head football coach at Whitehaven High School, talked about the difference it was to recruit in the spring of 2014 compared to the spring of 2012 when the staff hadn’t even coached a game.
“I think the biggest difference is in 2012, the guys that we were recruiting, they didn’t really know if we could get it done or not,” Harris said a day after getting back from a recruiting road trip. “Now, I think the guys that we are recruiting, know our record has improved every year and we’re getting the talent to be competitive, not only in the SEC, but in the whole country.
“I think that people can see the difference in our team and for guys that we’ve been recruiting for several years, that came to some of the first practices, they know there is a definite difference, whether that be the depth that we have, the tempo of our offense, the way that we’re competing on a daily basis, they see a difference.”
The players that sign with the Rebels in February of 2015, most of them will have been recruited for the past three years by the staff. It will be the first class of players that are the most familiar with what head coach Hugh Freeze is about, how he runs his offense, how the team trains etc.
“We have a really good relationship with these guys. We’ve been recruiting them for almost three years some of them. We’re talking to the 2016 and 2017 guys right now. It’s about developing relationships with them and their families and the people that are going to help them make a decision,” Harris said.
Nine Ole Miss coaches are able to hit the road during the spring to see prospects in person. There are 168 days allowed, and that number is split up depending on what a certain coach needs, Harris said.
“Some coaches need more days, some coaches need less,” Harris said. “We started April 15 and we go through May 31.”
The coaches can watch a spring football game at the high school level, or take in a practice session. Harris seemed fine with either one to help him decide about a player.
“I want to see a practice, but if I can’t get to a practice, I’ll see a game. If a kid we’re high on wants us to come to his spring game, I’m going to go to the spring game,” Harris said. “It kind of depends on the situation. Some guys we don’t need to see in practice. We’ve had them in camp for two years, we’re sold on them, we know what they can do. We can just go by the school and see the coaches and eyeball them.”
There is a “checklist” that Freeze has stressed to his staff members when it comes time to recruit. That includes grades and character evaluations and most of that is set for the younger kids, the 2016 and 2017 prospects, Harris said.
“The ‘15 guys, we’ve got a good bead on where they stand academically. This piece now is when we go into the schools and meet with the coaches, if these guys are struggling academically, we have a plan we present to the coach and the counselor so they can share it with the prospect,” Harris said. “Some schools, their coaches and counselors are sharp and they have it already set up.”
Mississippi has produced a lot of talent the past few seasons and Harris said the 2015 class is “pretty good” when it comes to overall talent.
“We have some top-level guys. I think it’s a very solid group of prospects this year,” Harris said. “I think it’s about the same (depth) as last year, top-end guys, it’s about the same.”
Ole Miss likes to garner signatures from players in the state, and from Memphis. The entire state of Tennessee and Georgia have been good to the Rebels since Freeze took over, while the Metro Dallas area is another region that coaches like to visit.
“That area has been pretty good for us. We’re not really expanding into Houston and all those other places, but Dallas, that area over to Louisiana and Arkansas, yes, those areas have been pretty good for us,” Harris said. “Georgia is another place. They have so many players. I think they had over 300 guys last year sign Division I scholarships and of that 300, 150 or so that were BCS conference schools. Georgia and Georgia Tech, they can’t sign them all.”