McCready: 10 Weekend Thoughts presented by Harry Alexander
1. ATLANTA – Jeffrey Okudah has heard a lot about Ole Miss over the past couple of years.
The five-star defensive back from Grand Prairie (South Grand Prairie), Texas, played high school football with Ole Miss signee Greg Eisworth and is good friends with another signee, Allen, Texas, native Jaylon Jones.
Okudah, who had a dominant weekend at the Rivals100 Five-Star Challenge in Atlanta, hasn’t yet made the trip to Oxford. If the Rebels are going to be a serious player in Okudah’s recruitment, that needs to change.
Okudah said Friday he plans to release a top six on July 11, take three official visits early this fall and then make a commitment to his school of choice sometime around the middle of the football season.
Ohio State appears to lead for Okudah, a 6-foot-1, 190-pound safety ranked by Rivals.com as the nation’s No. 9 overall prospect. Okudah said he might take another unofficial visit to Columbus this summer. He’s already been to LSU and he’s finalizing unofficial visit plans to Clemson, Florida State and USC as well.
Ole Miss is in the mix, but it’s clear the Rebels are playing catch-up at this point.
“I’m very interested in Ole Miss,” Okudah said. “I just haven’t been able to get up and visit. Greg Eisworth is already there. He was a close teammate. He tells me nothing but good things about Coach Jones. That means a lot.
“Greg said they push you every single day and try to get the most out of you. Out of my area, they’ve got Greg Eisworth, DaMarkus Lodge and Quincy Adeboyejo. They have strong Texas ties, so I know I wouldn’t be alone. I’d be around guys I can relate to.”
One advantage the Rebels have is conference affiliation. Playing in the Southeastern Conference is attractive to Okudah, and that’s obviously something Ohio State, Clemson and Florida State can’t offer.
“It means a lot,” Okudah said. “SEC is high-intensity football. I watched Alabama-LSU last year, and you could just feel the energy just watching on TV. It was crazy.”
2. Another prospect Ole Miss is hoping to get to campus as soon as possible is Rivals100 four-star athlete/defensive back Deommodore Lenoir. The Los Angeles (Salesian) product, ranked No. 85 nationally by Rivals.com, picked up an offer from Ole Miss last month and has been in steady contact with the Rebels ever since.
“(Ole Miss assistant athletics director/recruiting operations) Coach (Chris) Rippon and I talk mostly every day,” Lenoir said Friday in Atlanta. “It was a big offer for me. I want to take a visit to explore and see the city and stuff and see if I can produce and get better. I just want to meet the coaching staff. I’ll talk to them this week to try to set an official visit.”
Lenoir has dozens of offers and he said Friday he’s not ready to rule any school out.
“All schools have a shot,” Lenoir said. “It’s all about communication. It can’t stop. It has to be consistent if you want me to come to your program and do big things.
“(Location) isn’t really important. I’m just going with the school where I can produce and get better.”
Still, there are some schools standing out. Lenoir said he
wants to visit Nebraska, Oregon, Alabama, Ole Miss and LSU, adding he also plans to take unofficial visits to some of the West Coast schools.
Lenoir’s tie to and interest in Ole Miss came as a result of his work with former Ole Miss linebacker Ashlee Palmer. Palmer “has kind of been helping me work on my safety game,” Lenoir said. “When the offer came, it was just great.”
Ole Miss, Lenoir said, is recruiting him as both a safety and a cornerback.
“I just want to play where I can help the team,” said Lenoir, who said he wants to make his college decision sometime in December.
3. Ole Miss has gotten Rivals250 defensive back Todd Harris to campus, and that trip to Oxford has put the Rebels very much in the mix for his signature.
The 6-foot, 175-pound safety from Plaquemine, La., ranked No. 158 nationally by Rivals.com, visited Ole Miss earlier this month with LSU commitment/Rivals250 Livonia, La., linebacker Patrick Queen.
“My trip to Oxford was great,” Harris said. “I definitely want to go back sometime soon. I got to talk to some of the coaches, view the facilities and just hang around in Oxford for the first time. It was a great experience. The coaches were down to earth. I talked to some of the players. I got to see the weight room. They have a great campus.
“Me and Patrick Queen talk about playing for the same school every time we meet up. That’s going to be like a little push for us to go to the same school. If not, though, he’s going to support me and I’m going to support him wherever he goes.”
Harris said he has serious interest in LSU, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Tennessee, TCU and Notre Dame, among others.
“I don’t really have a top, but the top school recruiting me right now is LSU,” Harris said. “It’s in my backyard. I grew up liking LSU. I grew up in Louisiana and LSU is the home-state school. Me and the coaches have a great relationship.
“There’s a lot of pressure behind it, but at the end of the day, it’s going to be my decision and I have to go to that university for three or four years. It’s up to me.”
Harris said he’s in no hurry to make a decision, adding there are two schools he definitely wants to visit officially before deciding where he’ll enroll for college.
“I think I’m going to wait a while,” adding he wants to take official visits to Ole Miss “for sure,” and TCU.
Harris was asked if the recent coaching unrest at LSU or Ole Miss’ ongoing NCAA case would impact his decision.
“I pay attention to all of that a little bit but not that much,” Harris said. “You want to know about the schools you might be going to, but none of that is a big factor.”
4. The Rivals100 Five-Star Challenge wrapped up late Saturday.
Here’s a recap of the national coverage of Saturday’s festivities, in case you missed it.
On Sunday, the Rivals.com Underclassmen Challenge took over the Georgia Dome, a launching pad of sorts for some of the top prospects in the 2018 and 2019 classes.
I was in Atlanta from Wednesday afternoon through Saturday morning, and I posted multiple updates on some of Ole Miss’ top targets throughout the weekend. Check those out, if you’re interested, on the front page of RebelGrove.com.
I’ve had people ask for my opinions on different prospects I talked to on Friday. So, here goes, for what it’s worth (not much):
Cam Akers – If you made me bet today, I’d bet on Ole Miss and Georgia as 1A and 1B, in some order, with Ohio State and Auburn right on their heels. Akers would be the running back Hugh Freeze and Co. have never landed. I’ll be stunned if he doesn’t pick up his fifth star when the next rankings cycle is complete.
Walker Little – Little arrived in Atlanta having just received his fifth star. He was eager to prove he belonged among the very elite, and from all indications, he did that. As for his recruiting, I expect him to take his time and be very deliberate in the process. The presence of siblings at Ole Miss is a major plus for the Rebels, but it’s clear Stanford and Texas are significant players as well. Alabama and others have offered, too, so I’m not prepared to name a favorite.
Baron Browning – If you made me bet, I’d say the linebacker from Texas is Ohio State-bound.
Browning listed a top 10 back in April, but he told me Friday he will issue an updated top 10 soon, and it will include changes.
"A lot of things have changed," Browning said. "A lot of schools will be on there that weren't on there previously." Ohio State will be on that top 10, Browning admitted, though he wouldn't name the rest of it. "I think the schools that are going to be on there are going to surprise some people, maybe shock them, because I haven't mentioned them, but there are going to be some changes." Will Ole Miss be on it? "I can't tell you," Browning said, laughing.
If you made me bet, I’d bet on Ohio State.
Jacob Phillips – Ole Miss is in his top seven, and he spoke very highly of the Rebels when I spoke to him. Of course, Phillips is remarkably polite, and he speaks highly of every school recruiting him. I’ll get to it in a minute, but I gathered his decision could hinge on the outcome of Ole Miss’ NCAA case.
Obinna Eze – What a fantastic kid Eze is. The word around Atlanta was not to be surprised if Eze picked Vanderbilt or Kentucky. He likes Auburn offensive line coach Herb Hand a lot, too. Ole Miss is in it, but if you made me guess, I’d say the Rebels are back in the pack a bit.
Marvin Wilson – The nation’s top prospect released a top 10 on Saturday night. LSU has long been rumored to be his top choice, but someone close to Wilson told me over the weekend the Tigers weren’t the frontrunner so many believe them to be. Ole Miss is a player for Wilson; that’s obvious. So are Texas and Alabama. He won’t announce until National Signing Day, so buckle up for a long ride.
Chuck Filagia – The native of America Samoa shook my hand on Friday morning. I’m fairly sure he broke something. Filagia, who is moving from California to Texas this summer, is huge. He’s got a lively personality and his best football is ahead of him. I have no idea where he’s going. He’s got an open mind at this point, and his stock is only going to soar between now and February.
5. As you might expect, Ole Miss’ NCAA case was a popular topic of discussion among the sportswriters gathered in Atlanta over the weekend. They weren’t the only ones interested in what is going on in Oxford. Several players, most notably Phillips, brought up the case unprompted in interviews.
If you read the content produced Friday, you saw several of the aforementioned prospects talk about what impact the NCAA case. Bottom line: If there’s nothing new and the ultimate sanctions are something somewhat close to what Ole Miss proposed to self-inflict in its response to the NCAA’s notice of allegations, the impact on Ole Miss’ signing class in February will be minimal. If more serious allegations were to be revealed, leading to the likelihood of more severe sanctions, then all bets would be off.
Phillips said he was “waiting on a verdict.” I suspect he’s not alone.
6. On Friday, as prospects arrived in Atlanta from all over the country, there was a lot of time to stand around and wait on the seventh floor of The Westin Peachtree Plaza. Some of that time I spent talking to prospects and parents of prospects who aren’t Ole Miss targets. I was curious to get their thoughts on the coverage of recruiting. You likely won’t be shocked to learn they have strong opinions.
In short, they’re overwhelmed by the number of people covering recruiting. Almost all of the prospects are screening their calls; if they don’t recognize the number, they’re not answering. Some have stopped taking calls altogether. The calls are too voluminous. Some reporters call multiple times per week. The calls last too long. The stories that are written, several said, don’t accurately reflect the answers given. I wasn’t surprised. Twitter has allowed them to serve as their own media relations directors and issue updates without a middleman.
I watched prospects check in at the hotel, get their Under Armour gear, be photographed and then taken to a room to be interviewed by Rivals.com’s national and regional recruiting analysts before they were released into a long hallway full of team-specific reporters such as myself. Almost all of them fulfilled every request, but I got yet another chance to witness just how overwhelming the recruiting process can be. I also saw how well-meaning reporters can misrepresent the state of a prospect’s recruiting.
I watched prospects get interviewed by Rivals.com’s Oklahoma site, then the Florida State site, then the Ole Miss site, then the Auburn site and so on and so on. We all ask team-specific questions and write team-specific stories. If the prospects say nothing but glowing things about the program being asked about, it’s easy to see how multiple fan bases feel great about their team’s chances with a prospect and how they feel almost betrayed when that prospect signs elsewhere.
I don’t know the answer. I’m not sure there is one. Fans want recruiting updates, even if they’re propagandistic in nature. Personally, I’ve grown less and less comfortable essentially stalking kids. I’ll send a text or a Twitter message promising to keep them no longer than 3-5 minutes, but the rate of return on those messages drops precipitously each recruiting cycle.
The answer, I believe, is a combination of face-to-face reporting and the power of the network. Sites like this one are going to have to do more on-the-ground reporting, going to see prospects in our area and serving as regional analysts, providing updates to all of the schools pursuing prospects in our area. Subsequently, we’re going to have count on our colleagues in the network to do the same for us, giving us information on prospects in their area Ole Miss is pursuing.
Will fans trust that information or will they view everything as information skewed by reporters covering other teams? Will reporters share information on a consistent basis with other reporters in the network? Those are boring topics, I know, but I believe those are key questions for sites like this one that depend so much on recruiting coverage.
The way we do our job has changed dramatically in just the past few years, and there’s no sign this trend toward less contact with prospects is going to reverse itself. If sites like this one are going to remain viable disseminating recruiting information, we’re going to have to make some serious adjustments.
7. OK, back to topics you care about. Ole Miss’ baseball season ended in disappointing fashion with an 0-2 performance at the regional in Oxford earlier this month, but the Rebels appear to have scored a major victory in the Major League Baseball draft.
As Chase Parham wrote earlier Sunday, things could change between now and July 15, but as of this writing, it appears Ole Miss’ heralded signing class will report this fall, giving the Rebels possibly their best single collection of talent in one class since Mike Bianco took over in Oxford.
Sometimes it’s about breaks. Bianco has had one hell of a run in Oxford, but it’s a balancing act to beat not only the competition but also the Major League Baseball draft and bring in the type of talent needed to be a perennial threat. This class, if it lives up to expectations, is one that could elevate Ole Miss’ program the next few seasons.
8. I went to Turner Field Friday night to see the Atlanta Braves beat the Chicago Cubs, 5-1. The Cubs, now a Major League Baseball-best 43-18 after a 13-2 win over the Braves on Sunday afternoon, are a mere 2-3 with me in attendance this season. What are the odds? It’s scientifically proven that my presence brings out the absolute worst in anything or anyone I cheer for.
Anyway, about Turner Field: Don’t listen to anyone who criticizes the Braves’ decision to leave the downtown ballpark in favor of their new digs at SunTrust Park in Cobb County. It was a brilliant move by the organization, one that is rebuilding its talent base in concert with the move to a more vibrant part of the greater Atlanta area. Lines to get a beer or soda were ridiculous Friday night. Service was basically non-existent. There was a depressing vibe. The Braves, a proud franchise, deserve better. I walked out of Turner Field on Friday night for the final time. I can’t say I’ll miss the place.
9. Unless Draymond Green’s absence from Game 5 is crippling to the Golden State Warriors, Steve Kerr’s club is going to win its second consecutive NBA title Monday night. Simply put, the Warriors, now up 3-1 over Cleveland in the NBA Finals, are brutally difficult to beat.
Assuming the Warriors don’t blow a 3-1 lead (No one does that in an NBA playoff series, right?), the discussion will turn to Golden State’s place in NBA history as well as where the Warriors go from here.
Back-to-back titles are incredibly impressive. Very few teams pull it off, regardless of circumstance. Three-peats are even more rare. In fairly recent history, only Michael Jordan’s Bulls (twice) and the Lakers of Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant have done it. If the Warriors win it again next season, they will belong in the same conversation with those two teams, no matter whether you believe this version of the NBA is watered down or not.
Keeping this team together is going to become problematic. Harrison Barnes is rumored to want a bigger role elsewhere, and it’s anticipated the Warriors will accommodate him. The Warriors will pursue Kevin Durant, but it’s unlikely he leaves a team that was one quarter from the NBA Finals to become a complementary piece on a team that won consecutive titles and eliminated his Thunder. Shaun Livingston could leave for a bigger deal elsewhere. Andrew Bogut’s best days might be beyond him.
The Western Conference, assuming Durant stays in it, will remain loaded. The Spurs aren’t going away. Neither are the Clippers. The Trailblazers will improve. Minnesota could soon emerge as a factor. You get the idea.
Still, when Golden State finishes this series off as early as Monday night, take notice, as it will mark the end of a historic season for a team that won a record 73 games in the regular season, overcame an injury to its MVP point guard and then overcame a pair of 13-point deficits in Game 6 and Game 7 of the Western Conference finals.
10. Before I get to the links, I want to touch on a couple of things.
First, I just spent 3 ½ days on the 46th floor of the Westin in downtown Atlanta, and I feel the need to provide a refresher in elevator etiquette. Humor me.
Here’s how this works. When one is waiting for an elevator, one should stand far enough back to allow people already on the elevator to exit said elevator before entering the elevator oneself.
One should not just barge onto the elevator, blocking the exit for elevator passengers attempting to disembark said elevator. It really isn’t complicated. I realize device addiction has made elevator etiquette more of a problem, but there’s no excuse for the humanity congestion at elevator stops. Remember: People getting off the elevator go first. People getting on the elevator go second. Let’s be better, people.
On Thursday, I participated in the Rivals.com Publishers Conference. There are several technological advances headed your way to enhance your experience on the website. We were told Thursday another much-anticipated change is coming, one that should help our business. Sometime this month, Rivals.com will be implementing software that will limit simultaneous log-ins to six devices per account.
For most subscribers, the only nuisance will be having to log back on a single time (the software will automatically log off all users once). That’ll be the end of it. For subscribers who are using more than six devices, the first device used will be logged off automatically upon the seventh sign-in, the second device will be logged off upon the eighth sign-in, etc. Again, you’re your password and it won’t even be a minor inconvenience.
If you’ve shared your username and password with others, now would be a good time to change your password and keep it private. Otherwise, your devices are likely going to be logged off on a regular basis and using the site will become frustrating. If you’ve been using someone else’s account, now would be a good time to consider subscribing to RebelGrove.com. To provide an incentive in that regard, we’ll be announcing a promotion in the coming days that should provide a push in that direction.
Anyway, on to the links. Have a great week.
The Cubs' Jason Heyward, an Atlanta native and former Brave, played his final game at Turner Field Sunday.
How a Portland collector beat out Nike for one of the world's most coveted sneakers.
Serge Ibaka remains part of Oklahoma City's core despite his "most challenging season."
Allergy-free peanuts may be coming soon.
How technology will change the look of college football as early as 2017.
My recipe of the week: A perfect roast chicken made impossibly easy.
There are new elements on the periodic table. I always hated chemistry class.
Aaron Rodgers' new diet probably makes Cheeseheads really sad.
My weekly dose of perspective, this time from one of my favorite journalists, Jenni Carlson of The Oklahoman. You'll need tissues. I did.