OXFORD – Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt was enthusiastic at the close of the Rebels’ first practice Monday evening, more so than normal, perhaps, because of the news he’d received a few hours earlier.
Signee Darius “Tig” Barksdale had been cleared by the NCAA.
The former South Panola standout, who still faces internal discipline for last week’s DUI arrest, is expected to compete for playing time at strong safety and give the Rebels depth in the secondary, an area where Nutt says they’re very thin.
Barksdale is expected to be on the practice field today. Ole Miss will have a morning walk-through after coaches and players meet with media and will have an afternoon workout as well.
“It was just so exciting to see our freshmen running around out there for the first time,” Nutt said. “They can run, jump and catch. You see real potential, and you realize what an exceptional class it was.”
Nutt needs that exceptional performance from freshman Bobby Massie on the offensive line, another position where quality behind the starters is iffy. Massie began his first collegiate practice on the second team at left tackle behind third-year sophomore Bradley Sowell.
“He’s got no choice. He’s one of those that have to get ready to go,” Nutt said.
In his first day, Massie (6-7, 345) impressed his new coaches and teammates with his strength. During one drill he pushed senior John Jerry backwards, and Jerry was unable to regain his footing.
“When I went against him I underestimated his strength. I was like, ‘whoa,’” Jerry said. “I won’t underestimate him again.”
Jerry says he’s dropped 38 pounds since the beginning of the summer to get down to 330.
While Barksdale and Massie are expected to contribute, they’ll both deal with conditioning issues at some level, because they were absent from the summer conditioning program while finishing classes at Hargrave Military Academy.
Linebacker Patrick Trahan went through the same thing as he missed summer workouts last year coming over from Northwest Community College. It took Trahan much of the season to work himself into shape.
Time to get into shape
“Bobby’s a little behind, but we’ll catch him up,” Jerry said. “There’s a lot of time before the first game.”
Offensive line coach Mike Markuson agreed. Before Massie was even cleared Markuson called him second team by “default” and indicated Massie would have every opportunity to win the job.
If he doesn’t win the job coaches believe he’ll make Sowell better in the process.
“The speed of the game got him a little bit today, but one thing you can see is he has such great athleticism for a big man,” Markuson said. “We’ll get him in shape. He has things you just can’t coach.”
Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal