Last week’s dismissal of WR Pat Patterson from the Ole Miss football team for a “violation of team rules” was unwelcome news to Rebel fans, though none should be surprised.
Patterson had been suspended from participation in spring practice for an undisclosed misstep, one that occurred just a few months after his suspension from last season’s UAB game.
While Patterson can defend his name with a claim that he never did anything that put him in the police blotter — as seems to be all the rage this summer among college football players — he cannot defend the number of chances he squandered to get himself on the right track.
The headline news on the dismissal is how thin an already unproven Rebel receiving corps finds itself sans Patterson, whose 12 catches for 180 yards as a freshman last year would have placed him third in number of receptions and second in receiving yards among this year’s WR unit heading into the season.
However, keeping the affects of Patterson’s booting only in future tenses misses what may end up a much larger concern for head coach Houston Nutt and the Rebel faithful:
The star power from the 2009 recruiting class is losing its luster.
The 2009 class was so bloated it prompted its own legislation — the Houston Nutt Rule — which prohibits schools from signing more than 28 players per class, although we have already learned that is not necessarily true.
Nutt signed a total of 37 new players in 2009; a number swelled by a late recruiting surge that saw the Rebels get commitments from seven players, rated four stars or better, in the last few days of the recruiting period.
Those late additions took a median class into the Rivals Top 20.
Of the nine players signed rated four stars or better by Rivals, only five remain in the program roughly 18 months later.
Highly touted JUCO signee Jamar Hornsby — let go by Florida when arrested for credit card fraud after tallying a few thousand dollars on a deceased girl’s plastic — failed to make it even a month from signing day before being arrested for assault. When the legal process ran its course he was let go in late July.
DE Craig Drummond was an early enrollee, but found himself homesick and left school a month into 2009 season to return to Illinois.
In-state product Tig Barksdale was arrested for DUI just a couple of days after being declared academically eligible to participate in fall practice. Barksdale is still enrolled at Ole Miss, but is a long way from returning to the football program after being suspended indefinitely for another transgression right before this year’s spring practice.
And then there is Patterson.
Everyone knew when Nutt signed those 37 players that not all could actually receive their scholarship offers, but — outside of Barksdale — the top end talent of the class did not contain players who were thought to be qualification risks.
That is a good thing.
Much of the kudos Nutt received for this class was based on the fact that all the highest rated players signed were going to make it to campus.
Yet heading into a season just one year removed, Nutt finds himself without much of the promise that recruiting class foretold.
Now the fallacy of the argument I have just made is that rankings out of high school are true predictors of talent at the college level, which we all know is not a valid premise. Nothing guarantees that any of the players I mentioned were going to star on the gridiron.
That said, Drummond and Patterson both played as true freshman, and it is no stretch to think that Hornby and Barksdale would have as well.
It is never good to lose players who own talent enough to contribute.
Moreover, look at the way it affected the 2010 recruiting class:
Nutt was forced to use full scholarships on JUCO players — with only two years of eligibility — for positions filled with top prospects from the year before.
Hornsby and Barksdale were brought in to bring talent and depth to the safety position. Their departure necessitated the signing of Damien Jackson.
Drummond’s absence made Wayne Dorsey a high priority.
Now that Patterson is gone, many are wondering if QB signee Randall Mackey will have to spend some time catching balls instead of throwing them.
On the bright side, the JUCO players Nutt and his staff did sign were among the best in the country at their positions. However, that does not negate the opportunity cost of having to use those scholarships on two-year players instead of four-year ones.
And it does nothing to bolster a popular argument among Rebel Fans that the program is loaded with enough young talent to make a run at a conference championship two or three years from now.
Yes, the last two Ole Miss recruiting classes are among the best in Rebel memory, and yes, the upcoming class is trending to surpass its predecessors.
But the talent that plays is much more important than the talent that signs and Rebel fans should at least acknowledge that much of the collective optimism felt and expressed is based on players no longer wearing red and blue.
Absent Hornsby, Drummond, Barksdale and Patterson, the 2009 recruiting class is just not as good.
To be fair, no one should be labeling the Class of 2009 a bust, as there are several players who contributed as true freshman at a level much higher than their recruiting rankings suggested.
Wide receiver Jesse Grandy, running back Rodney Scott, linebackers D.T. Shackleford and Joel Kight, and offensive tackle Bobby Massie all proved they have what it takes to play in the SEC and form a solid nucleus of players at key positions.
The upcoming season will also tell us more about other players from the 2009 class, as cornerback Charles Sawyer, wide receiver Ja-Mes Logan, and every offensive line signee is likely to see extensive playing time throughout the year.
Rebel fans should also be excited to see what QB Raymond Cotton, RB Korvic Neat, DT Corey Gaines, and LB Mike Marry have to offer.
Cotton gave projected starter Nathan Stanley a real run for his money in the spring, before a shoulder injury necessitated a workload cut. The culprit — a partially torn labrum — has not required surgery yet, and Cotton will find himself on the field this year.
Without Patterson, Neat may find a role in the slot where his speed and agility has tangible application.
To quote defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix, “Mike Marry can play some football.” Praise is never given by Nix, those around the program will tell you, it is always earned.
There are plenty of signs that the 2009 group may end up as good as originally thought.
It is just going to have to come from players that did not originally sit at the head of the class.
The final story on the 2009 Ole Miss recruiting class will not be written this year or maybe even the next. No fan of any team should have any confidence in predicting what talent will develop and how, or even what, players will be there in the future.
If the 2009 Ole Miss recruiting class should teach all college football fans one thing it is that National Signing Day is a long and bumpy road to graduation day.
For all the energy and emotional gyrating the process provides to fans and coaches alike, the least important part of the story is who signs and where.
Of the 37 players that were inked on National Signing Day, there are 25 players still on the team, which is exactly what we knew would happen.
However, the over signing forced players in 2009 to gray shirt or walk-on, taking scholarships away from the 2010 class, which was already three offers down due to APR issues generated during the Ed Orgeron era.
Couple that with talented players not being able to handle the responsibilities saddled on today’s student athlete and you can see how a program can get upside-down on the recruiting scorecard.
It is a bad cycle to get into — pushing signees onto the following year’s class — and a tough one to get out of, and coaches will tell you that it cannot be sustained for very long.
At some point you have to pay the piper, and end up not being able to offer players you really want to have in your program.
It also reduces the margin for error in talent evaluation. If your allotment of 25 is actually 19 due to carryover, you have to be able to sign kids that will be on the field.
Popular opinion has the 2010 football season as a rebuilding one for the Rebels, as attrition — especially on offense — has left plenty of talented holes to fill.
Nutt and his staff have done an excellent job of bringing in projectable players — especially at skill positions — to plug those holes. But the loss of some of the more college ready talent means that many of the spots are going to be manned at times by players that may not quite be developed and may not quite be ready.
Though Rebel fans have prepared themselves for a rebuilding year, favorable scheduling to start the year and perhaps the best defensive front seven in the SEC has sprayed the scent of an eight or nine win season into the air.
It may happen, but do not be surprised if it does not.
The stories of Hornsby, Drummond, Barksdale and Patterson are proof enough that things do not always go as planned.
CURRENT TALLY FROM 2009 OLE MISS RECRUITING CLASS
37 Players Signed Plus One Gray Shirt from Previous Class = 38
Minus Eight Players Who Failed to Qualify = 30
Gabriel Hunter, Artice Kellam, Demarcus Knight, Eric Smiley, Stephen Houston, Montez Phillips, and Mike Thomas all went to either a JUCO or post graduate school. Thomas resigned as part of the 2010 class, but is likely a gray shirt candidate this year and will count towards the 2011 class.
Willie Ferrell was released from his letter of intent and signed with Florida A&M.
Minus Three Signed to Gray Shirt Offers = 27
Mike Marry, Evan Swindall, and Cameron Wingham all received their scholarships as part of the 2010 recruiting class, but participated in bowl preparation practices.
Minus K Andrew Ritter Who Played as a Walk-On Last Year = 26
Minus RB Tim Simon Who Suffered Likely Career Ending Injury = 25
Minus Hornsby, Drummond, Barksdale and Patterson = 21
21 Players Comprising 2009 Recruiting Class (Rankings by Rivals) Five Stars – OT Bobby Massie Four Stars – QB Raymond Cotton, DT Corey Gaines, RB Rodney Scott, LB D.T. Shackleford Three Stars – OL Michael Brown, OL Logan Clair, DB Frank Crawford, WR Jesse Grandy, DB Terrell Grant, LB Joel Kight, WR Ja-Mes Logan, TE Z. Mason, OL Emmanuel McCray, RB Korvic Neat, CB Charles Sawyer, LB/DE Alex Williams Two Stars – DB Ryan Campbell, P Tyler Campbell, DB Dele Junaid Gray Shirt – OL A.J. Hawkins
21 Players Comprising 2009 Recruiting Class (Rankings by Rivals)
Five Stars – OT Bobby Massie
Four Stars – QB Raymond Cotton, DT Corey Gaines, RB Rodney Scott, LB D.T. Shackleford
Three Stars – OL Michael Brown, OL Logan Clair, DB Frank Crawford, WR Jesse Grandy, DB Terrell Grant, LB Joel Kight, WR Ja-Mes Logan, TE Z. Mason, OL Emmanuel McCray, RB Korvic Neat, CB Charles Sawyer, LB/DE Alex Williams
Two Stars – DB Ryan Campbell, P Tyler Campbell, DB Dele Junaid
Gray Shirt – OL A.J. Hawkins
Jeb Williamson covers Ole Miss Football as a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. He appreciates and welcomes all comments. Click here to view his profile page for other articles.