Regardless of your collegiate affiliation, every recruiting season leaves behind the ghosts of “what could have been”. Alabama loses out on prospects. LSU loses out on prospects. As Ole Miss fans, we know that Ole Miss loses out on prospects. Whether they are top players who you believe are in the bag (see: Joe McKnight, Jermaine Whitehead, Tre Mason), or they are prospects who signed but never panned out (Pat Patterson, Quentin Taylor, Raymond Cotton).
Excitement builds each January because it is not the tangible success at stake, it is the potential success. Ole Miss is currently 6-6, but they could pull off the biggest recruiting coup of this decade on February 6. Nothing has settled yet, the verbal commits could change their minds, the perceived uncommitted “locks” could have a change of heart, or the academics might not pan out. Even if the Rebels get all of the players on their wish list, there is no success or failure until the fall.
We look at these 17, 18, 19-year-old young men and we analyze their height, weight, strength, and speed. We know who their mothers want them to play for, where their best friend is going, and how important distance from home is to their decision. In Mississippi, Yancy Porter and Neal McCready’s words are carefully dissected more than William Faulkner’s. There is blog after blog and publication after publication that we digest so that we might know the inside scoop on a possibly important prospect. Every detail and update is monitored, but we sometimes seem to forget the most important thing: these kids are in high school.
While the prospect of a terrific athlete joining our football team is exciting, we tend to forget the basic concept in play: these kids are deciding which college to get their education from. Every top prospect in the country delivers outrage to at least one school, the school that he decided not to attend in leu of a different school. When you were choosing what college to attend, be it Ole Miss or anywhere else, how much backlash did you receive for your choice? You might have gotten some ribbing from family or friends who attended a different institution, but how much genuine hatred came your way? That is something to think about when February 6 comes and goes.
If the teenager down the street from you decides to go to Knoxville in the fall on an academic scholarship, how are you going to treat them? My guess is that you will not glare at them, tell them that their future would have been better somewhere else, or deliver them death threats. While this situation may seem different when it comes to face value, it is not.
This is not your decision. You do not own this player. He is free to choose whichever college he wants to in order to start his adult life. It is amazing how many people forget the fact that these are just teenagers that we are talking about, yet they are not treated as such.
By all means, follow these kids all you want until signing day. I am a guilty party when it comes to tracking recruiting. My plea is not for you to stop this, it is to avoid berating this young men who do not choose Ole Miss. There are three reasons for this: show the same respect for this kid’s choice that you received when you made your choice, represent your school with class and dignity, and leave the door open for a possible switch. The last one is by far the least important, but it is the one that most of you care about the most.
Take last year for instance when Channing Ward chose Ole Miss over Mississippi State at the US Army All-American Game. Some Bulldog fans took to Facebook and Twitter to bash Ward, telling him how they did not want a terrible player like him anyway or that he was not welcome back in Monroe County. Ward still had time to flip his commitment from Ole Miss to State, but the damage had been done and those comments left a bad taste in Ward’s mouth, solidifying his commitment to the Rebels.
Ole Miss fans were no better than that when hometown hero Jeremy Liggins pledged to LSU on the Oxford Square. I was as disappointed as anyone to see who I believed was a sure-thing to sign with the Rebels go to an arch-rival. After taking to Twitter, I was amazed to see the hatred being expressed towards the high school quarterback. He was called an idiot who wouldn’t qualify, a trader to his home city, and countless wishes for him to go to hell. It not only reflected poorly on those individuals, but it reflected poorly on the University of Mississippi as a whole. Our school is one that prides itself on class, and frankly I was ashamed to be associated with the same school as those users on Twitter.
We all like to shoot for the moon during recruiting season and believe that every top recruit that shows interest in Ole Miss is going to come to school here. The reality is folks, Ole Miss is not going to ink Robert Nkemdiche, Carl Lawson, Laremy Tunsil, and Montravius Adams. Maybe a couple of them, but save yourself and do not hold out for all four of them. If Nkemdiche chooses Alabama or LSU, wish him the best and take pride in the Nkemdiche that we do have in red and blue. If Carl Lawson picks Clemson or Auburn, tell that young man who has worked relentlessly that you wish him the best unless we play him somewhere along the road. No school ever has or ever will get everyone on their wish list, so be prepared.
I do not know how many people will read this whole article or who will follow it, but I have hope. My hope is that the fanbase who take pride in being the classiest fans in the nation will prove that in February as well as September. The most important thing to remember about these hard working kids who are deciding where to continue their dreams is the simple fact that they are, in fact, kids. Thank you for your time Rebel fans and remember: stay classy, show respect, and hotty toddy.