A comfortable feel with the campus and the football coaching staff has allowed Ole Miss to gain a verbal commitment from one of the best running backs in the nation on Monday.
Murfreesboro, Tenn., native I’Tavius Mathers (5-foot-11, 200 pounds, 4.4 seconds in the 40-yard dash) is a four-star running back who is rated as one of the Top 250 players in the nation by Rivals.com and arguably the top running back in the state of Tennessee for the 2012 signing class.
While Mathers was planning to announce his college choice during the football season, his coach at Blackman High, Phillip Shadowens, said the talented running back decided to make things public on the first day of school so he could concentrate on having a superior senior season.
“I think with all the people calling him the last six months and asking about where he was going, I think today was the day he just said he was ready to make that decision so he could concentrate on having a fun high school season this year. I think Ole Miss made him feel comfortable and that’s Coach (David) Lee, Coach (Derrick) Nix and Coach (Houston) Nutt, but particularly the assistant coaches he spent time talking with. I think those guys made him feel comfortable,” Shadowens said of Mathers, who rushed for 2,614 yards and 29 rushing touchdowns as a junior. “With all the schools that came through this spring, he was looking for a place where he felt comfortable with all the coaches, a place from a campus standpoint that he would fit in with. It’s kind of like when I’Tavius walked on to Ole Miss’ campus this summer for an unofficial visit, he felt like it was home.”
Mathers visited Oxford and Ole Miss unofficially in late June. He said the staff and the players he met made him feel at home.
Mathers, who had offers from the likes of Alabama, Notre Dame, Tennessee and Mississippi State, and ultimately chose Ole Miss over his other finalists, South Carolina, Virginia and Kentucky, said this morning that he was done with recruiting.
Shadowens said Mathers is a team-first player who never shies away from work outside of football such as cleaning out the weight room or helping the managers carry in the water coolers.
“The great thing about him, in all the years I’ve coached, I’ve never been around what people would consider a superstar that is as humble as this young man. He’s not a kid that walks around like he’s a superstar. I think it’s very important in life if you want to be first, you have to put yourself last and I think he’s an example of that,” Shadowens said. “Yes, he is the most heavily recruited kid in Tennessee probably, definitely the most highly recruited kid in our county which is the best in the state by far and instead of acting like that, he puts himself behind everybody else. He is the first one to volunteer for those jobs that nobody wants to do and that’s what you want in a kid. He’s a pleasure to coach and we’re excited about him for his senior and we expect great things.”
As for his skills as a running back, Shadowens said Mathers has everything a coach could want regarding power, speed and vision. During the evaluation process this spring, several coaches compared Mathers’ running style to former NFL great Barry Sanders, while older assistants thought he reminded them of former Chicago Bear great Gale Sayers.
Mathers said his favorite running back is NFL standout LaDanian Tomlinson, another back with similar size, speed and cutting ability.
“Obviously Barry Sanders is one of the best players to ever play the game. I don’t think it’s fair to compare a high school kid to Barry Sanders, but as far as the way he starts and stops and cuts and finishes and runs, has great power and vision, I think he’s a high-school Barry Sanders. I think as he develops, I think he’ll be up to 210, 215 by the time he has a year in college. I think he will remind people, with his running style, of that guy,” Shadowens said. “I think there is different types of speed in this game. I think what people are looking for in a running back is one-step fast. That’s a guy that can put his foot in the ground, change direction and go full speed. You either have that ability or you don’t and he has that. He can make three people miss, two people miss and accelerate full speed in one step. That’s the difference between a good back and a great back and he certainly has that one-step speed that everybody wants a running back to have in college but yet there are just so many of them out there.”
Another RB commits
Mathers wasn’t the only player the Rebels got a verbal commitment from Monday. Mike Hilton, of Sandy Creek, Ga., picked Ole Miss over offers from Mississippi State, Kentucky and Cincinnati, among others.
The 5-9, 180-pounder is the third RB commitment for the 2012 class, the numer Ole Miss wants to sign at the position.
Hilton could fit in as a defensive back, according him playing both ways for the back-to-back state champion Patriots.
Hilton has played linebacker, safety and corner along with being the team’s backup at running back, a position he will featured at this season according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution. Hilton is rated as the fourth-best prospect from the Atlanta area currently committed to a school. (August 9, 2011, Page 6)