Recruiting has changed over time
By By Stan Torgerson / sports writer
Aug. 5, 2003
There was a time during the Ole Miss glory days of the 1960s when it was commonly believed if the Rebels could continue to recruit the cream of Mississippi's crop they could compete with any school in the SEC, if not nationally.
Until the black athlete became a major contributor to every team's success the Rebels did just that. But with events on the campus and heavy negative campaigns from other schools aimed at what they saw as a recruiting weakness, the overall talent level declined.
Fewer white athletes were playing high school football and black athletes did not seem to care to come to Oxford for their education and football playing time. As a result, Ole Miss has not won a conference championship since 1963 and has not enjoyed a 10-win season since 1971. It is the only school in the West not to have represented its half of the league in the SEC championship game.
But something else happened in the interim. Teams such as Alabama, Tennessee, Florida and others began to recruit nationally. If they had a need they didn't feel they could fill with an athlete from their home state, they went looking for one in a neighboring state, and if still unsuccessful turned anywhere they could find one including the West Coast.
One of the states to which they turned their new recruiting style was Mississippi. They believed there were Division I quality athletes here and they went after them with varying degrees of success. LSU got a few. Tennessee picked off others. Alabama was probably the most successful. They helped themselves year in and year out with athletes from East Mississippi, kids Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Southern Miss and the SWAC schools might have had in years gone bye.
To give you an example of a lesson learned, we turn to the Ole Miss media guide. They have their players separated into geographic groups so its easy to see what has happened. Ole Miss players this year, scholarship and walk-on, come from 11 states in addition to our own. There are 73 from Mississippi and 56 listed from other areas.
The figures show 18 of them are from Tennessee, Alabama 10, Georgia 8, Louisiana 7, Florida 6, Texas 3, and one each from Arkansas, Illinois, Massachusetts, Ohio, and South Carolina.
As for East Mississippi, Meridian, which went several years with only token representation at Ole Miss, has contributed six for the 2003 season: Wesley Bryan, Mario Hill, Zachary Moore, Lee Rogers, Jeremy Ruffin, and Barry South. That is the most of any Mississippi city, a surprising turn of events. I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't read the book.
Hattiesburg, meanwhile has only one, Tavarus Horne. Laurel has none. Louisville shows two, Taylor McNeel and Bryant Thomas. Philadelphia has one hometowner with the Rebels, Keith Houston. Starkville had two leave the home of the Mississippi State Bulldogs for their hated enemy, Shawn Johnson and Eric Rice.
Jackson is second to Meridian with five. Madison and Moss Point follow with four each. Brandon, Clarksdale and Brandon are the home towns of three Rebel players.
If you wonder why recruiting is literally a full time job and a competitor with every coach's wife for her husband's time and attention, 42 different Mississippi cities and towns have sent players to Oxford. That's one of the hardest parts of recruiting. You work all week at your primary job of coaching, then Friday nights you travel your portion of the state watching high school games, hoping to uncover a gem that other schools have not yet seen and admired. It's not so bad if your territory is in the north part of the state. But if you're the assistant coach who has drawn the Gulf Coast, or anywhere south of I-20 for that matter, you've got a lot of driving to do. That's not to mention out-of-state trips to Louisiana, Florida and Tennessee to see if the tipsters who have written the coach are right in their evaluation of a player's ability.
Then there's the report on what you've seen to fill out for the boss and being certain to send a letter to the kid or kids and their parents. Of course there are meetings with other staff recruiters to see what your team will need next year and what's the best argument you can devise to convince the kid when the time comes.
Times have indeed changed. No longer can any team hope to attract the best athletes in their home state. You want to know why recruiting budgets have risen as they have. It's called winning and you can't win if you can't recruit.