Ole Miss running back Dexter McCluster spent Tuesday night in the hospital because of flu symptoms and nearly two dozen other Rebels players missed practice Wednesday as the virus continued to sweep though the team.
McCluster, a versatile star for the sixth-ranked Rebels, was released Wednesday morning but did not attend the afternoon practice. So many were out coaches moved practice up and shortened it. Still, they were shuffling the lineup all day.
“Boy, it’s tough,” Ole Miss offensive coordinator Kent Austin said. “We lost another quarterback today, too, so we’re down to Nathan Stanley and Clayton Moore. About half our receiving corps is out, half our starting line.”
As many as 22 players — or about 20 percent of the team — are in some stage of the flu. The list includes starting quarterback Jevan Snead, McCluster and several other starters.
Officials believe it is the swine flu and are following U.S. Centers for Disease Control guidelines that include isolating ill players from other members of the team and public. The flu also has swept through other athletic teams and the general student population with nearly 400 reporting flu-like symptoms to campus health officials through Wednesday.
The Rebels have an open date this week before playing Southeastern Louisiana on Sept. 19.
Snead and McCluster are two of the nation’s premier offensive players. Snead, a junior, is considered an outside contender for the Heisman Trophy.
McCluster plays wide receiver and tailback and lines up at quarterback in the team’s Wild Rebel formation. He opened the season in a 45-14 win over Memphis on Sunday with 65 yards receiving, 50 yards rushing and two touchdowns.
Austin said the situation isn’t as dire for the Rebels as it is for other teams with a game to play Saturday.
“It’s an opportunity to get the young kids a lot of reps,” he said. “From that standpoint it’s a positive. And the other good news is it’s happening in a bye week. I’d hate the think if we were playing this week.”
Chris Talbott/The Associated Press