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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Rebels ahead of schedule for ‘15

COLUMN: Maurice Harris, Ole Miss recruiting coordinator for offense, is looking to the future while also keeping this past recruiting class in mind.

Harris and the assistant coaches who help evaluate high school and junior college talent each year have been busy trying to garner another top class for 2014, and 2015, too. After being at Ole Miss for the past 18 months, Harris, who also doubles as Hugh Freeze’s tight ends coach, said everyone’s evaluations of players are further along.

“I think the biggest difference is we’re so far ahead on our 2015 guys as opposed to ‘14. Last year we were just concentrating on the ‘13 class primarily. We were on ‘14s but not as much as we are the 2015 class this year,” Harris said. “Another thing that helps, too, is we don’t have to sell our program and what we’re about as much because of the signing class we were able to put together last year.”

The 2013 class was star studded, to say the least, and it has already helped when it comes to garnering pledges from some of the nation’s best players.

“Let’s make no bones about it, we look for the right fit but to win at this level, you’ve got to have talent. But we also don’t want to accumulate a team full of talent with no character,” Harris said about the balance the staff tries to find. “We’re very careful to look at their character, what their total makeup is. Coach Freeze, that’s his main thing when we went out this year, to find out everything we can about them. Ask the tough questions. That’s our main goal right now.”

Assistant coaches can’t talk to prospects face-to-face through May 31. Harris only gets one phone call with high school players during the time period but he can call junior college players once a week.

The NCAA’s new unlimited texting policy is proposed to begin July 1, which is a help, Harris said, for players that don’t like to use social media such as Twitter or Facebook to correspond.

“For guys that aren’t on Facebook and don’t check their emails, I like the fact that I can text. I do think it’s going to be tough for the kids though because they get blown up enough,” Harris said. “When the new rule comes in, I think you need Twitter, Facebook, Instagram more for character, to see what kind of kid you’re dealing with, to see what they post.

“If we’re allowed to text, then I won’t be using Twitter and Facebook as much. Now if I can’t get in touch with the kid, then I’ll use (social media), any means necessary that are legal to get in touch with the prospect.”

There are restrictions for social media, Harris said, such as a coach can’t post anything on a prospects page or re-tweet anything a prospect puts on Twitter. A prospect can re-tweet anything a coach puts out.

Needs for 2014

The goal for the upcoming class is to sign a player at every position, Harris said, with an emphasis on tight ends, defensive ends and linebackers.

“We try to get the best guys we can at every position we have. It’s across the board. But it’s a depth class at certain positions,” Harris said. “Quarterback, maybe. Running back, definitely. It’s also a need class. We need tight ends. We need o-linemen. In my opinion you can never have enough D-linemen. And at linebacker.”

State of Mississippi

This year’s class in the state is deeper than it has been for prospects. Last year offensive linemen dominated but there were very few overall prospects at other positions for the staff to recruit. That’s not the case this year.

“I think overall it’s a deep class. It’s a better class than it was last year from a total talent standpoint. You got guys from the North all the way down to South Mississippi,” Harris said. “I think it’s a deeper class and we have to do our due diligence here to make sure we keep these boys at home.”

Harris used to be the head coach at Whitehaven High School in Memphis, an area that produced a handful of signees the past couple of seasons.

“Memphis was deep last year. This year I think it’s OK. Central Tennessee is probably a little bit deeper. The 2015 class is going to be pretty deep in Memphis,” Harris said, adding the theory on recruiting territory. “Our main focus are the states that have SEC schools in them. That’s our main focus and if we can’t find what we’re looking for in those states, then we go nationally but that’s our main focus. The closer they are to Oxford, it just makes more sense. The more familiar they are with us, the less their parents have to travel.”

The word “comfort” was used a lot by the families of prospects last year and Harris said the goal is to make recruiting a positive experience for everyone involved.

“I think when people get the opportunity to get around our staff and see how genuine our coaches are and when they talk to our players and our players tell them how our coaches invest in their lives on a daily basis, I think they see what we’re telling them. We’re about long-lasting relationships for the players,” Harris said. “I’m not saying our way is better or worse than others, I think it’s a little bit different than the norm. That’s kind of been our niche. I talked to a parent (recently) and he actually said we were the first coaching staff that actually reached out to him. To me that still amazes me.”

–johndavis@oxfordeagle.com (May 17, 2013, Page 6A)

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