Ole Miss claims recruiting victory over MSU

Published 12:32 am Thursday, February 4, 2010

JACKSON (AP) — Mississippi coach Houston Nutt declared victory in the annual recruiting battle against archrival Mississippi State with a single word.

Nutt was asked Wednesday, the first day high school seniors could sign national letters of intent, if he felt any pressure from the Bulldogs and coach Dan Mullen while on the recruiting trail.

He paused for effect, then simply said: ‘‘No.’’

Nutt had plenty to celebrate, landing a heralded wide receiver, a potentially dominating defensive end, a new Wild Rebel quarterback and enough defensive backs to soothe worries Ole Miss’ secondary might be fatally thin.

He said nothing about the rivalry with Mississippi State entered his mind as he sought what he considers among the best classes of his coaching career.

‘‘We got excited about recruiting,’’ Nutt said. ‘‘We got excited about the Cotton Bowl. We got excited about getting back in the living rooms. We got excited about our players talking about who they’re going to host for the weekend. That’s what it’s about. It’s about trying to win a championship and get to Atlanta. Really, you have blinders on, and I don’t worry about anything else.’’

Recruiting services Rivals and Scout both had Ole Miss placing far ahead of Mississippi State and the state’s other Football Bowl Subdivision school, Southern Miss.

Scout put the Rebels at 14th overall and fifth in the Southeastern Conference, while Rivals ranked them 17th and seventh in the SEC.

Both Scout and Rivals had the Bulldogs at 38th overall with Rivals putting them ninth in the SEC and Scout 10th.

Not surprisingly, Mullen was unimpressed with the rankings from the ‘‘corporate dot.coms,’’ noting they might not even have taken the time to visit some of the small Mississippi schools where the Bulldogs gleaned what he believes will be big-time talent.

‘‘I don’t really care how many stars our guys come in with,’’ Mullen said. ‘‘It’s more important to me how many they leave with.’’

The highlights in Ole Miss’ recruiting class include Noxubee County wide receiver Vincent Sanders, who made his choice Wednesday morning during a local television broadcast, Hollandale-Simmons defensive lineman Carlos Thompson and defensive end Delvin Jones out of Miami, Fla.

The real meat, though, is in the junior college players the Rebels brought in, said Allen Wallace, Scout’s national recruiting editor and the publisher of SuperPrep magazine.

It was critical that Ole Miss have immediate impact from its junior college signees with 24 seniors departing. Wayne Dorsey, a five-start defensive end from Gulf Coast Community College, leads that group and should help immediately with the loss of Greg Hardy, Marcus Tillman and Emmanuel Stephens vacating significant playing time at defensive end.

Nutt also signed his future Wild Rebel quarterback, Randall Mackey of East Mississippi Community College, to replace Dexter McCluster and added defensive back Damien Jackson, also of Gulf Coast.

‘‘One of the things that really stands out about the Mississippi class is junior college help,’’ Wallace said. ‘‘They’ve got three of the top 20 junior college prospects. You won’t find many schools that are performing that well. That’s a significant addition to their group.’’

Wallace notes that Mississippi State also did well with junior colleges, landing 370-pound defensive tackle James Carmon and All-American running back Vick Ballard, both of whom played for Gulf Coast last season.

Beyond that Mullen followed the plan he laid out when he took the job last winter. His staff aimed for the best high school talent in the state and Mullen feels like they hit that goal — regardless of what Nutt says.

Offensive lineman Damien Robinson, a 6-foot-8, 330-pound tackle from Olive Branch, leads the group. Wide receiver Robert Johnson of Oak Grove and West Point’s Michael Carr should add punch to the offense, and Yazoo City defensive end Kaleb Eulls and West Point defensive tackle Carlos Virges might have early impact along the defensive line.

All those players come with plenty of stars. Mullen also went the other direction, taking chances on players the scouting services weren’t so high on.

Dylan Favre, the record-breaking nephew of Brett Favre, for instance, was considered too small by most colleges. Christian Holmes was ranked as a two-star athlete but the 6-2, 235-pound linebacker with the 4.45 speed from Puckett measures up in Mullen’s estimation.

And then there’s Brandon Hill, a 6-2 athlete from West Lowndes, a school Mullen doubts received a visit from the recruiting services this year.

‘‘Well I do not work for Scout or Rivals so I do not get to rank players,’’ Mullen said. ‘‘But if I did, then Brandon would be a much higher-ranked player than he is.’’

Larry Fedora scored an unprecedented third straight recruiting class in the top 60 for Southern Miss. Rivals put the class at 53rd overall and second in Conference USA behind Houston. Scout ranked the group 59th overall and third in the league.

Offensive linemen O.C. Brown and Lamar Holmes lead the class. The biggest name in the group is Steve McNair Jr., the late quarterback’s son, a wide receiver out of Oak Grove.