The Lions, led by coach Buddy Stephens, have a wealth of talent on defense, especially up front, and Ole Miss has had success with their former players.
The Rebels had a verbal pledge from defensive tackle Darious Cummings (6-foot-3, 310 pounds) during the season, but Cummings decided an offer from Florida suited him better. Ole Miss coaches are still interested in two Lions — end Za’Darius Smith (6-6, 245) and tackle Jarran Reed (6-4, 305).
Smith, a native of Greenville, Ala., is a sophomore who also has offers from Mississippi State, Florida State, Texas and other top teams. Stephens said he was a basketball-first athlete in high school but he has blossomed into a much better football player since his arrival in Scooba.
“Z is a great kid and he’s come along way. It’s amazing that he’s only played three years of football. He was a basketball guy and a part-time football guy there in Greenville,” said Stephens, who added he took a similar path to being recruited as former EMCC standout Denico Autry, who is now at MSU. “He’s 6-foot-6 and he can run fast and people see the impact that Denico had at Mississippi State and they see a lot of the same pass rushing and defensive potential from him. When Z turns it loose, he’s a very good pass rusher. I would tend to believe he’s a better pass rusher because of his arms and his length. I think he will be a better run stopper once he gets into the weight room in January and gets under a Division I strength program. I think you will see him grow and get stronger.
“Z is a quiet, humble kid that interacts with people very well. He’s not a me kid. He’s been a pleasure to be around for two years I know that.”
Stephens has been involved in Smith’s recruitment in as far as to ask him about which schools he likes.
“I saw him in the cafeteria the other day and I asked him if he likes that school and he said he liked them a lot. I asked him if he liked this school and he said he liked them a lot. I did that three or four more times and I finally I said ‘well who is your favorite?’ ‘I don’t know coach.’ So I’m going to tell you the same thing he tells me, I don’t know,” Stephens said about which school leads for his signature later this month. “Like I said he’s a very humble kid and I think he’s going to go somewhere he feels comfortable. He’ll go somewhere he feels a big comfort zone and I think he’s going to go somewhere he can play fast too.”
Smith visited Ole Miss for the annual Egg Bowl game with the Bulldogs and he has remained interested in the Rebels for a lot of different reasons.
“I think Coach (Hugh) Freeze has made the guys feel at ease. I think the coaching staff has done a very good job of that,” Stephens said. “I don’t know their depth charts and haven’t discussed that with anybody from Ole Miss. I just know that they like him and whatever they’re telling him on the visits, he’s liking because they’re staying in the race for his services.”
EMCC defensive line coach, Jimmy Brumbaugh, who played at Auburn from 1995-1999, likes Smith’s natural ability.
“He has the ability to make extra plays because he’s going to be in the right position and he’s going to use his hands on blockers and the things he has to do to make the extra play. The thing I like about him is he can hold the point of attack if you run the ball right at him and then he also has the ability to rush the passer,” Brumbaugh said. “Those two things, when you have both of them, it makes you a really good football player. I think he has the ability to do both and that’s what I like about him. Anytime you have a kid like that with those good traits, they’re fun to coach.”
Smith finished the 2012 season with a team-high 6.5 sacks in 10 games and he was fourth on the team with 47 tackles. He also had an interception, four forced fumbles and two pass break ups.
The first day mid-year JUCO players can sign with a school is Dec. 19.
The right Reed
Reed, meanwhile, is a native of Goldsboro, N.C. who originally signed to play for the Tar Heels before attending Hargrave Military Academy his first year out of high school. He projects as a three-technique tackle and a noseguard, Stephens said.
“The thing about him is he’s going to have three years to play. He’s going to be a three-for-three guy. Really he’s going to be a three-for-four guy since he can be redshirted. I see him playing shade or three,” Stephens said. “He’s a very active player and I see him being able to play both of those inside spots. He’s a good character kid. He’s learning the do’s and dont’s of life. He’s learning how to act and be a college athlete and those are the things that we’re excited to help him grow in right now.”
A big reason Reed is being recruited so heavily is because he can be in a system for four years. Recruiting players such as Reed and then getting them back to a four-year college has worked well for Stephens in the past.
“We want to help him get graduated as fast as you can. That’s our forte in recruiting. We want to help these young guys get graduated as fast as they can so they can get out of East Mississippi and on to the next part of their life,” Stephen said. “He has a lot of quick twitch and he moves his hands and feet really, really well.
Brumbaugh likes Reed, who started nine games for him in the middle, and what he can do at the next level.
“Reed has size inside to be a nose or a three technique. He’s got good flexibility and explosion for a big man. Sometimes you get those big body guys inside that can really rush the passer as a three technique but you don’t want them at the nose because they’re too small,” Brumbaugh said. “As much as you’re flipping the tight end over and moving him, he can play right or left, nose or three. That’s the key factor that I think is going to help him. Anytime you can find a tackle that has flexibility in today’s game, that’s a plus. If guys are stiff in their ankles, it’s going to be tough for them to change direction. He has that flexibility and the explosion to be able to do those type of things.”
Reed, who also has offers from Mississippi State and Florida, finished the season with 34 tackles and four quarterback hurries. He was on the verge of committing to the Rebels recently, according to Stephens, so the thought of remaining in Mississippi is high on Reed’s list. Brumbaugh said he hasn’t kept up with his two players’ recruiting since he doesn’t want to influence them.
“I try to stay out of their recruiting because you can’t really tell a kid where to go. That’s got to be a decision that he makes. That’s going to be a four-year commitment because you can’t go and leave especially when you’re coming from junior college,” Brumbaugh said. “You need to weigh all your options, take all your visits and you need to sit down and make a determining factor for what’s best for you.”
Stephens has another player on his roster — wide receiver Nick Brassell — who is very familiar to Ole Miss fans. The former South Panola standout finished second on the Lions with 48 catches for 633 yards and six touchdowns in 2012, a year after making an immediate impact for the Rebels as both a wideout and cornerback.
Brassell had to leave Ole Miss due to grade issues but the goal was for him to return this January so that he could be with the team in the spring and help in 2013. Final exams are next week at EMCC and Brassell has to finish strong in the classroom for the goal to become a reality.
“The plan is for him to still come back if he goes to class. Nick’s future is up to Nick. If he’ll continue to go to class, he’ll make it, he’ll be there,” Stephens said. “If he doesn’t go to class and he doesn’t study, he won’t be in Oxford. That’s what we told him. He should do well. Nick knows he holds his own future in his own hands. He’s got the ability to do what he’s supposed to do. It’s just a matter if he’s going to do it or not.” (December 6, 2012, Page 10)