OXFORD – Speaking for the first time since a celebrity arrived in their midst, the public comments of Ole Miss football players regarding quarterback Jeremiah Masoli were all the same:
“Welcome. We want you here.”
Presently, nothing suggests private comments are at all different.
Coming off back-to-back 9-4 seasons, the Rebels gathered for media day Monday with team chemistry a valid question.
Masoli, the former Oregon quarterback, was involved in two scrapes with the law in less than six months, the first resulting in suspension for the 2010 season, the latter in his dismissal.
He had served time in a juvenile detention facility before arriving at Oregon.
Masoli was 20-6 as a two-year starter, the second-team All-Pac 10 quarterback as chosen by league coaches last year. Had he remained at Oregon he likely would have gained some Heisman Trophy attention.
A quarterback competition is under way, primarily with third-year sophomore Nathan Stanley but also with junior college transfer Randall Mackey.
It’s not your typical August. A set of circumstances was put in motion in late July when redshirt freshman quarterback Raymond Cotton announced he was transferring. Players, however, say they’re a tight-knit group and that the unusualness of the situation won’t pull them apart.
“Ultimately you want to win, but you don’t want to mess up what you have,” senior linebacker Johnathan Cornell said. “He has to fit in with the team.”
Masoli, meeting with local media for the first time, indicated he has every intention to do just that.
“The team has been nothing but welcoming,” he said. “You can tell they have a great bond together, and I’m glad to be a part.”
Masoli followed Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt at the podium and fielded questions for about 20 minutes. It’s unlikely Masoli will appear before media again for several weeks.
Before he began Nutt asked reporters to respect Masoli by not “worry so much about what happened in the past.”
Certainly, that’s where Masoli’s focus is. He expressed appreciation to Nutt and the school’s administration for allowing him to enroll and play football.
Masoli still must gain a waiver from the NCAA of its one-year residency rule.
“The past will always be there,” Masoli said. “This isn’t just about football for me. It’s about proving myself. Coach Nutt has given me another chance. I’m determined to do the best I can with it and not let anyone down.”
On board with Masoli
Nutt said he talked to Stanley as soon as it became apparent he would seek another quarterback, probably Masoli, who said he had “opportunities” with about a half dozen Football Bowl Subdivision schools.
“I am interested in what’s best for the team, and bringing Jeremiah in is going to help us out,” Stanley said. “He established himself at Oregon as a great player. I’m excited to have him.”
So are the upperclassmen. When word began to circulate that Masoli could land at Ole Miss, a group of the leadership fabric went to Nutt with one clear message: “Make it happen.”
Says defensive tackle Jerrell Powe: “We said, ‘Coach we’ve got to get this guy. I saw him play a couple of games last year, and I ain’t never seen anybody run the zone read (option) like that. We told coach Nutt, ‘We’ve got to have him.’”
Powe, one of Masoli’s hosts on his initial visit to the Ole Miss campus, says Masoli will make everyone better.
“I think Nate and Randall look at it as an opportunity to step their game up. With the pressure that comes from competition, they’ll step their game up, and we’ll have the right guy in there.”
Contact Parrish Alford at 662-678-1600 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal