COLUMN: With the impending loss of two defensive tackles — Gilbert Pena and Uriah Grant — after the upcoming bowl game, the Ole Miss coaching staff has been working hard to secure the signature of at least one junior college tackle for the 2013-14 seasons.
Ole Miss has had two verbal commitments from JUCO tackles this season. The first came from Marquel Combs of Pierce Community College in Los Angeles. Combs committed originally during the spring but he de-committed from the Rebels back in September due to academic issues that would prevent him from graduating in December.
Ole Miss then garnered a commitment from East Mississippi’s Darious Cummings in October only to see the Sunshine State native leave once he got an offer from Florida.
With the staff still needing a proven tackle to help inside, the focus has now shifted to Northeast’s Lavon Hooks, an athletic, 6-foot-4, 305-pound former basketball player. Hooks had an outstanding sophomore season playing for the Tigers, racking up 51 tackles overall, with 21 going for a loss. He also had 10 sacks and three fumble recoveries. He was also named MACJC Defensive Tackle of the Year and was a member of the Region 23 first team.
Hooks’ coach at NECC, Ricky Smither, said Hooks, who is originally from Georgia, came to his attention thanks to former Ole Miss assistant coach James Shibest.
“Lavon is a very versatile guy. He can come off the edge. He’s strong enough, big enough to get some push in the middle. He’s that type of guy,” Smither said. “Lavon was a basketball player. He came to us as a basketball player. He had been playing at Virginia (Fork) Union (Academy) and he had a hankering to want to play football. It was something he wanted to do.”
Smither said that Hooks was a project player who didn’t play much his first season, but after playing basketball his first year at NECC he really got into the weight room and became a much bigger factor in the middle of the Tigers’ defensive line.
“He wasn’t a big factor guy his first year. He ended up playing some basketball and got down to 235, 240 and was a very athletic guy. I want to say he was All-State or All-Region in basketball,” Smither said. “He comes back and gets through with basketball and gets in the weight room for three or four months and he got up to about 290. So the kid still has a lot more upside to him. He was one of the few sophomores that we played this past year. He’s a huge team leader, real big Christian guy. He’s just a pleasure to be around. He’s one of those kids that attracts people to him. He’s just a real pleasurable guy to be around.”
Hooks came to Ole Miss on an official visit last weekend for the Egg Bowl and Smither has helped his standout in the recruiting process.
“We talk three or four times a week. This is going to sound cliché, but Lavon is not the type of guy that gets wrapped up in the glitz and glamour. Lavon has got his head on right. He’s looking for an education, he’s looking for the right fit for him and a spot where he can go that will get the best out of him in the classroom and on the football field,” Smither said. “He’s still undecided. I know he was very excited about his trip to Oxford. He told me he had become very comfortable with the coaching staff and he felt like the guys that were coaching him and the guys that he was going to have a relationship with, he felt very comfortable with him. That’s big with him because he’s a personable guy.”
Hooks said he enjoyed his trip to Oxford and liked being around the Ole Miss players, especially the Rebels that are from Georgia.
He has already visited Nebraska and is planning to visit Miami Dec. 7-9. Hooks has offers from Kansas State, Washington State, UCLA, West Virginia and Penn State, just to name some, but it appears that Nebraska, Ole Miss and Miami are the leaders. Hooks said he may visit Memphis and Mississippi State unofficially before making a final decision.
Smither said that his family would also have a say in where he signed.
“He has a great support staff. His mom and dad are very active in his life and his dad has allowed him to go on these visits and I think his dad is going to make some visits himself. That’s the type family that they are. They’re very, very close,” Smither said. “His dad means the world to him and he will play a major role in where he goes.”
While Ole Miss was obviously sold on what Cummings could do in the future, Smither felt good about Hooks’ ability in comparison.
“Lavon was a defensive line MVP this year in our state. I don’t know which one is the best, but I know that Lavon is the kind of guy that any program would love to have,” Smither said. “He can run out there for them now and play and give them some meaningful snaps. I think that any time you can get one of those two guys you’re ahead of the game. If I had my choice, there’s not doubt I would take Lavon.”
Hooks is scheduled to graduate from NECC in December and would be on a college campus in January. Junior college players can sign with schools starting Dec. 19.
Rebels want ends
A JUCO tackle isn’t the only position Hugh Freeze is hoping to sign this year. Ole Miss needs defensive ends and Za’Darius Smith (6-5, 252) of EMCC is a player high on the board. Smith, who has offers from Florida State, Texas A&M and Mississippi State among others, visited Oxford for the Egg Bowl as well. Smith is also projected to graduate in December and he would be able to instantly help Ole Miss at a position that also loses two players in E.J. Epperson and Jason Jones. (November 29, 2012, Page 8)