There comes a time to take a young man fishing, and there comes a time to cut bait. Ole Miss football coach Houston Nutt has experienced both in a span of two weeks.
As Nutt talks about the two areas in which he’s trying to build depth for his football team, the secondary is always right up there with the offensive line.
Missing Jamarca Sanford from last year’s team, the Rebels are in need of help at strong safety. Junior Johnny Brown may turn out to be that man, but in February junior college transfer Jamar Hornsby sure looked like a nice addition, provided he kept his head about him and stayed out of trouble.
Well, he didn’t.
Nutt didn’t immediately cut ties with Hornsby, a former University of Florida signee who was already on probation for credit card fraud while with the Gators, after he was arrested in March. He let the legal process unfold.
Second chances can be a good thing. Often they’re warranted, and had Hornsby maintained the straight and narrow – or even just the straight – his second chance might have helped the Rebels as much as it would have helped him.
This was a playmaker, fast and physical, with a year of the SEC already under his belt. He knew what to expect, which is half the battle.
Unfortunately, Hornsby was already operating on a lifeline, and when he was indicted on a felony assault charge it was time to cut bait.
While the Hornsby episode played out, there came the good news that Darius “Tig” Barksdale appeared to be getting it done in the classroom and was on his way to gaining academic clearance by the NCAA, which in fact did happen earlier this week. Barksdale, too, is a gifted athlete capable of making an impact in the secondary.
But before he could prepare to make any amount of impact, before he was even OK’d by the NCAA clearinghouse, Barksdale was arrested for DUI last week in his hometown of Batesville.
Now Nutt gets to take a young man fishing.
“I am excited about getting involved in his life,” Nutt says.
There are differences in the level of offense here, and Barksdale still has the second chance card to play, far different than Hornsby.
Taking Barksdale fishing doesn’t diminish the significance of his poor judgment. There are other factors to consider in any arrest, and when you’re paying your football coach upwards of $2.5 million you give that coach – the program’s CEO – some latitude in handling his coaches and players.
Last year when Nutt had another first-time DUI offender, Fon Ingram, the punishment was a one-game suspension. There was presumably other punishment that wasn’t made public.
Hoping to help
Nutt says Barksdale needs “structure and discipline” to help him turn the corner. I haven’t met a football coach yet who didn’t believe his program was overflowing with structure and discipline. There is something in how Nutt discusses Barksdale, however, that indicates he truly believes he can help this player.
Perhaps it’s because he saw that Barksdale could put his shoulder to the plow and make the grades he made in summer school. Maybe getting through Hargrave has Nutt convinced that Barksdale can succeed in the structured environment of a major college football program. One challenge Nutt may face in his quest to provide discipline is that Oxford is a half hour from Batesville, much closer than was Hargrave.
People in these parts remember Tig Barksdale as an All-American at South Panola. Nutt has plans to use him in the return game as well as at safety, and the guess here is he’s every bit the athlete that Hornsby is, albeit a little younger and less experienced.
Tig Barksdale, welcome to your second chance.
Make good on this fishing trip, and there could be a decorated college career and perhaps the NFL in your future.
Parrish Alford (email@example.com) covers Ole Miss for the Daily Journal. He blogs about Ole Miss athletics at NEMS360.com.
Parrish Alford/ NEMS Daily Journal