Majority of 2014 football signing class enrolled in summer school

With the exception of two players, every member of the 2014 Ole Miss football signing class has gained or met initial eligibility requirements and is currently taking summer classes.

Matt Ball, the senior associate athletics director for compliance, said junior college cornerback Tee Shepard and defensive tackle Chris Williams were the exceptions.

“I think everyone else is here and in the second summer session,” Ball said. “My goal is to have everything in line (for Shepard and Williams) when the team reports at the beginning of August. We’ll see.”

Shepard, a 6’1”, 195-pound native of Fresno, Calif., is working on completing his associate’s degree from Holmes Community College. Shepard was rated as the nation’s top junior college cornerback by after garnering 54 tackles, one interception and six pass breakups in his only season at Holmes.

Shepard, who signed with Notre Dame out of high school, wasn’t expected to be with the team for workouts during the summer.

“He’s been working hard from what I understand, and hopefully everything will be done and wrapped up when he’s ready to come,” Ball said. “If he doesn’t make it for the very beginning of camp, he can join a week in. It’s not ideal, but it’s better than not at all.”

Williams (6’1”, 287 pounds) signed with the Rebels out of Sandy Creek High in Tyrone, Ga. Ball said his issue didn’t revolve around test scores.

“I think it’s more looking at his academic transcripts and evaluating everything and then giving us an answer on that,” Ball said.

All players that attend summer school need to have already gained eligibility and been cleared or at least projected to gain eligibility.

“If we project them incorrectly, the SEC has some internal controls there,” Ball said. “It may be a 2-for-1 penalty the following year on how many incoming kids you can bring in. We have to be right.”

Waiver status
A signee that is in school but waiting to find out if he can play this season is offensive tackle Christian Morris (6’6”, 290 pounds). The Memphis native signed with UCLA out of East High, and then decided to get closer to home, transferring to Ole Miss for the spring semester.

Morris suffered an Achilles injury during offseason conditioning, but he was projected to be healthy enough to begin practice in August. Healthy or not, Morris would have to sit out the 2014 season if he doesn’t gain the waiver from the NCAA.

“With Christian, we’re still waiting on one little piece of documentation that we think would help him,” Ball said. “He’s working on helping us get some of that right now. One of the things we look at when we look at the possibility of filing a waiver is to determine that it’s a legitimate case we can bring forward. And then what documentation do we need to present the strongest case to give our student-athlete the best chance and present the whole picture of his story?”

Ball was hoping to officially file the paperwork with the NCAA by mid-July. As far as getting an answer on if Morris could play, that’s a lot murkier.

“There is no real timeline. We would like to know now, but the reality is that hasn’t happened,” Ball said. “We’re pretty much ready to go, but they will be on their own timetable. Theoretically, it’s something that could happen in the middle of the season. Not that it what will happen, but theoretically that could happen in somebody’s situation.”

The feeling from Ball was that Morris had a legitimate reason for gaining a waiver based on family circumstances.

“I think, anytime you’re asking for a release of transfer legislation, that’s tough,” Ball said. “I think he has good circumstances and family-related reasons for everything. The NCAA is looking at changing and prohibiting these types of transfers a year from now and looking at adding a potential sixth year to somebody’s clock in exchange for them being immediately eligible. You hear a lot of times about kids wanting to transfer closer to home, and then a waiver pops up. That’s one the NCAA hears a lot about and they have set criteria for those, and you have to demonstrate how your case meets those.”

Good relationship
One of the big reasons why Ole Miss has had so much success in getting in all of its transfers and signees is the communication and relationship Ball has with the football coaching staff, who stay on the signees about getting in all their paperwork on time.

“I think they’ve continued to do a really good job,” Ball said. “We’ve dealt with several members of the staff. Brandon Wenzel is kind of our primary go-between on some of these issues. I know that he, and some other folks over there, really reach out to the kids (and) direct message them after we have our weekly meetings with them during the spring and early summer in regards to what they need to be getting done. Sometimes Brandon will elicit the help of their position coach to light a fire if he needs to.

“Sometimes it takes that with some kids to let them know that we’re serious with these things. Ultimately, it’s just to try and help them get here for summer school without any hiccups,” Ball added. “I think this year has gone pretty good, and the Tee situation wasn’t really a surprise. We knew that he was not going to be able to be here for the summer and, I think the same way for Chris as well, at least for the first summer term.”

Summer sports
Football isn’t the only sport that likes to get in athletes early to start workouts and get acclimated to school. Ball said that both basketball programs, soccer, softball and baseball all have athletes at least take part in one summer term.

“It seems, from my perspective, that the kids have been a pretty smooth transition on who has been able to come,” Ball said. “Baseball likes to bring in their kids in summer two (second summer session in July), which they ended up doing this summer because they are so busy in summer one (first summer session in June). Women’s basketball brought most of their kids in summer one. One of their young ladies came in summer one, but they have everybody here now, if I’m correct. Men’s basketball has quite a few guys here for summer school. Softball brought in quite a few for summer two this year. Soccer brings in a large number for summer two.”

Ball credited Teresa Covington, compliance coordinator, for her work in overseeing athletes sending in their transcripts.

“This is her second time through the cycle, and she is more accustomed to what to expect,” Ball said. “Once a kid signs with us, we like to be proactive, we can pay to have their ACT scores sent to the eligibility center and to Ole Miss. We ask for their log-in information, and we just go in and order their stuff to both places just to get that out of the way.”

Extra snack
A new piece of NCAA legislation will go into affect Aug. 1 that will allow athletic programs to provide an extra meal or food during the day. Ball said an example would be a sandwich to be provided for all student-athletes during the day, all with the idea of enhancing dietary needs, but not to replace breakfast, lunch or dinner. All student-athletes on full scholarship have access to 21 meals per week, either through a meal plan or through a check.

“I think it’s going to take interesting shapes and forms at different universities,” Ball said. “It’s being able to provide meals that are incidental to participation to student-athletes at any time. It will have a big budget impact as you could imagine.”

Ball said that he and his office would work in conjuncture with the Grill, located inside the Manning Center, as well as the administration, led by athletics director Ross Bjork, on how the dining experience will work.

“The last thing we want to do is to have the athlete be hungry, and their welfare is of the utmost importance,” Ball said. “How do we maximize that while being fiscally responsible? I think most athletic directors look at it as being reasonable while staying in a financial frame of mind as well.”
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About John Davis

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