Oxford High football coach Johnny Hill is usually in a more festive mood this close to Christmas. Sure, not a week had passed since his Chargers lost to Picayune in the MHSAA Class 5A state title game, but his mood didn’t just revolve around the loss.
As Hill sat in his office, going over his picks for the EAGLE’s All-Area team that comes out this next week, the discussion shifted and centered on defensive end Darrius Liggins and his recruitment. Liggins had been committed to Mississippi State since June, but suddenly on Wednesday, MSU withdrew the offer.
Hill was right in the middle of it all. He took the initial call from Liggins and talked with his mother about what MSU had done and what it all meant for his future. Hill was furious at the time, and still not happy Friday afternoon when talking about it with me, in his office.
The move was a definite surprise, but not shocking, not really when know that MSU’s staff has done this maneuver before. They get a commitment from a player, put pressure on them to commit often times, and then, when it gets closer to signing day, they pull it. The excuses vary, below average grades, not a good senior year on the field, bad attitude or discipline issue. It’s always something, always an excuse but rarely the truth. It’s never the coach’s fault, never their issue as to why a commitment no longer is what it should be.
No it’s not MSU’s fault for garnering more verbal pledges than they had room for right? That’s got be Liggins’ fault for giving a commitment way back in the summer after a standout summer camp. It’s his fault for messing up the numbers now. It’s amazing to me that coaches get upset at players for de-committing and pledging to another school when they don’t set a better example than this. It’s the classic pot calling the kettle black saying.
There will be some MSU supporters that read this and respond with “well every staff in the country does it this way.” Doesn’t mean that those other staffs are right either. They’re setting a bad example, just like MSU’s Deshea Townsend, Liggins’ direct recruiter, and defensive line coach David Turner set with this move. Oh and don’t leave MSU head coach Dan Mullen out of the fury. He says yea or nay to everything that goes on. It’s funny, too, to think that these same coaches wanted Liggins’ verbal pledge blown up six months ago. Yet, they try to keep a situation like this as quiet as possible. Ironic isn’t it?
Liggins, who does have an offer from UAB, will likely perform like a man on fire in this upcoming Bernard Blackwell Game in the attempt to prove these MSU wrong, and get another school to offer. Liggins didn’t have a bad senior season, far from it. He was dominant in several games this year and he had an even better senior year than he did as a junior. But MSU felt like he should “grayshirt,” which means defer enrollment until the winter session of 2015. That’s still a slap in the face to someone who made the pledge when he was asked to and done nothing to deter from that.
As for Hill, the future of MSU recruiting, in Oxford and with OHS players, is over. He made that clear to me in his office and he made that clear to the Clarion Ledger’s John Talty while driving to Jackson Friday afternoon to watch the Lady Chargers take part in the state dance competition.
“I don’t know what it does for other schools, but as long as that staff is intact, they aren’t welcome at Oxford. If they are going to lie to one kid, what’s to say they won’t lie to another?” Hill said. “I think that’s pretty crappy that coaches come by and I tell them he’s committed and they don’t recruit him. And then Mississippi State drops the ball on him.”
For those that don’t know Hill, he means what he says. I’ve known him for 14 years and he’s always shot me straight. He doesn’t just have quotes and a painting of John Wayne in his office for decoration. He models his life around the way Duke was in his movies, which means MSU’s practice has indeed burned a bridge, likely forever. And for a program that will be as talented as any in the state the next several years, it’s a bad mistake, a mistake they best learn from, and fast. (December 14, 2013)