COLUMN: Oxford was a busy town over the weekend for more reasons than just the return of the Ole Miss student body. Ole Miss football coach Hugh Freeze, his staff and some of his players hosted a number of recruits for official visits.
Some players, such as Aberdeen defensive end Channing Ward and South Panola defensive tackle Isaac Gross, were already committed to the Rebels, while others such as Oxford, Ala., cornerback Trae Elston or Ruston, La., cornerback Kentrell Brice were not.
One of the committed players who said he had a great time on his visit was Memphis (Ridgeway) running back Jaylen Walton (5-foot-8, 165-pounds, 4.4 seconds in 40-yard dash). Walton rated the visit “past a 10, an 11.” He was hosted by quarterback Barry Brunetti, who is also from Memphis, although Walton said tight end Jamal Mosley, another Memphis native, was always around checking up on him to make sure he was enjoying his time in Oxford.
Walton committed during the summer when Houston Nutt was Ole Miss’ coach, but Walton remained committed when Freeze was hired and said Sunday he came away impressed with the new coach after the visit.
“I think Coach Freeze is a wonderful individual. It was great to talk to him on Saturday. He told me that he was impressed with my talent,” Walton said. “He is the main reason I’m still committed. I feel he is going to make a change, that he is the right person for the job to start the team winning again.”
Walton added that he was glad Derrick Nix stayed on the staff because Nix has been recruiting him since the ninth grade.
The atmosphere of the visit was something that stuck out to Walton. He said everything just felt right when he and his fellow recruits toured the campus. Walton and the other recruits also visited the Square and hung out at the Library on Saturday.
Walton said that he was going to continue and convince his teammates — athlete Sheldon Dawson (5-11, 169, 4.4) and defensive end Brandon Lewis (6-5, 225) — to visit Oxford the final weekend before National Signing Day on Feb. 1.
Walton said Dawson visited Memphis, the school he made a verbal pledge to during the summer, this past weekend and was trying to get him down to Oxford rather than him possibly visiting Cincinnati, another school trying to make a late push for the versatile Dawson.
Dawson prefers to play running back at the next level, but Walton has talked to his teammate about early playing time as either a cornerback or safety, two of the other positions college recruiters see him doing well at in the future. Dawson is also being heavily courted by Georgia. He visited Athens, Ga., in December and left impressed with what coach Mark Richt had to offer.
Lewis, who was a first-team member of the Tennessee Sports Writers Association Class 5A defense, is currently committed to Arkansas. Walton said he was trying to get Lewis, who came to the Ole Miss Elite Camp this past June, to change his commitment and not visit to Arkansas this upcoming weekend. He even said that he would come back to Oxford on an unofficial visit to help sway his teammates if they ended up visiting.
DBs in need
Ole Miss needs to add depth to its defensive backfield, especially if coordinator Dave Wommack is planning to use the 4-2-5 look that the Rebels used a lot during the 2011 season.
Brice (6-1, 175) and Elston (6-0, 170, 4.4) are two players that could help the Rebels’ depth right away and may even see early playing time beyond special teams based on their physical makeup and speed.
Walton said Brice committed over the weekend, but Brice was not ready to make a public announcement until Tuesday or Wednesday. Brice has been committed to Oregon State since late December and was committed to Louisiana Tech and Missouri early in the recruiting process. Brice has also been courted by Nebraska and Oklahoma late in the recruiting process. He was a member of the All-Lincoln Parish “Elite 22” team.
Elston, who was at one time rated as one of the 250 players in the nation by Rivals.com, enjoyed his visit, according to Walton, so much so that he now lists Ole Miss at the top of suitors. Elston played defensive back and wide receiver for Oxford this past year and was a finalist for the Alabama Sports Writers Association Player of the Year. He finished the 2011 season with 104 tackles and seven interceptions, according to the Anniston Star. He also had 756 yards and 10 touchdowns as a receiver. Elston finished second to Alabama running back commit T.J. Yeldon for ‘Back of the Year voting in the state of Alabama. Elston is still planning to visit LSU and Oklahoma State this week.
Elston was selected to play in the Alabama-Mississippi All-Star Classic as well as the Under Armour All-America Game where he got to know Ward and Gross. (January 23, 2012, Page 2B)