COLUMN: Linebackers, and more specifically linebackers that are big and physical with the ability to run, are at the top of the list for the Ole Miss football staff to sign in 2014.
The Rebels lost Joel Kight and Aaron Garbutt off last year’s team and have parted ways with sophomore Ralph Williams since the BBVA Compass Bowl. Mike Marry, the leading tackler in that bowl contest, will graduate after this season.
Ole Miss also has three junior linebackers in D.T. Shackelford, Keith Lewis and Serderius Bryant that will not be able to play past the 2014 season, barring an injury.
The Rebels signed a true linebacker in Rashawn Smith in 2013 and there are other signees who could end up playing linebacker, but there is a need to sign prospects who are used to playing the position. One of the team’s top targets for the 2014 class is Clifton Garrett of Plainfield South High School, located in Joilet, Ill. The 6-foot-3, 220-pound Garrett is rated as the No. 53 player in the nation, regardless of position, by Rivals.com. He has offers from virtually every school in the nation, including Ole Miss, a school he has put up near the top of his list so far.
Strength an asset
Strength is the key to Garrett’s game, according to his coach, Ken Bublitz.
“He’s a pretty solid fixture in the weight room and he’s added on some really good weight. That’s a real asset for him as well,” said Bublitz, who added that Garrett works out on his own outside of the team workouts as well. “He’s an excellent downhill-tackler. He makes impact and it’s rare that you see a ball carrier go forward once impact takes place. He finishes as well. I would say that’s a high mark on his ability. He’s a great finisher when it comes to tackling.”
Garrett finished the 2012 season with 109 tackles, Bublitz said. When Garrett is not stopping ball carriers with thunderous hits from his linebacker position, there are times when he’s coming off the edge like a defensive end.
“We like to get him into the backfield and get pressure on the quarterback in certain situations but for the most part we like to keep him where he’s at, in the middle and on the strong side of the formation,” Bublitz said. “He’s been a solid player, no question about it. I think when he gets to college he will have an outstanding impact because he’s very raw in terms of football experience.
“He didn’t play his freshman year because he got an injury. He probably could have played the last two games but he rehabbed and got himself back 100 percent,” Bublitz added. “He had some trouble with injuries as a sophomore. He was mostly nicked up but he was able to fight through things. So last year was really his first full year and obviously he made quite an impact with recruiters throughout the country.”
College recruiters have definitely noticed Garrett and his skills have made an impact at the school in the form of visitors and mail deliveries.
“You might want to call it a parade. It’s a lineup. We’ve had situations to where we’ve had schools call in advance and people just show up and there are two or three individuals there waiting to see him on one particular day at one particular time,” Bublitz said. “I’m amazed that the postal service is having such difficulty because he’s gotten so much mail on a regular basis and that’s been ongoing since last spring. It’s been a consistent level for a year. I know within a day or two, my mailbox is going to be full. I can count on that.”
Ole Miss has been a major factor in the mail delivered and Garrett, who is expected to visit Oxford later this spring, seems intrigued with what Ole Miss has to offer. Bublitz added he has a great support system at home which will help make the process easier.
“I know that he likes (Ole Miss). To what extent he’s interested? That I couldn’t tell you. I haven’t really forced him to provide me with any indications of what he wants to do. If he wants to ask me, I’ll be more than happy to get involved,” Bublitz said. “That’s between him and his family are concerned unless they want me to provide them with some insight. All I know is he has not made a commitment, he’s excited about all the people that come through and he’s enjoying the process.
“He’s done a very, very good job of handling himself and his parents have done a great job. They are very grounded and that’s been a real plus for him.”
Some of the other linebackers Ole Miss has offered that also rank high nationally on the Rivals.com Top 250 list are Raekwon McMillan (6-3, 235) of Hinesville, Ga., Tre Williams (6-2, 220) of Mobile, Ala., Nyles Morgan (6-2, 220) of Crete, Ill., and Petera Wilson (6-3, 232) of White Station in Memphis.
Another WR commit
Ole Miss picked up another verbal pledge from a Mississippi player Wednesday when Greenwood wide receiver Sammie Epps (6-5, 215) decided he was ready to be a Rebel. He is the sixth player from the state to pledge for the 2014 class out of seven overall commitments.
The Bulldogs lost to Lafayette in the first round of last year’s MHSAA Class 4A playoffs. According to stats on MaxPreps.com, Epps caught 33 passes for 401 yards and three touchdowns. He has the speed (4.5 seconds in the 40-yard dash) to be an outside or inside receiver in coach Hugh Freeze’s offense or possibly even a tight end that flexes out more than just blocks.
Ole Miss currently has two wide recivers committed for 2014 counting Epps. Jackson Callaway’s Dayall Harris (6-3, 185) pledged last week.
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