Clinton quarterback Cam Akers runs for a touchdown against Pearl defender Johnquarise Patterson in the MHSAA Class 6A championship football game in Starkville.

Cam Akers could have gone anywhere to play college football. He chose Florida State.

“It was just the best situation for me and my family,” the Clinton High School star said. “All around. I never wanted to go too far away from home, and it’s not that far. It’s a great situation for me and I just fit the program well.”

Mapquest tells me Tallahassee is 442 miles from Clinton, so it is not that close, either. So, why Florida State? After all, Akers would fit any program exceedingly “well.”

A better question to consider: Why not Florida State?

Florida State has won three national championships and 18 conference titles. The Seminoles have achieved three undefeated seasons and produced three Heisman Trophy winners. Current FSU running back Dalvin Cook, a junior who rushed for 1,620 yards and 18 touchdowns this season, is ranked by many as the top running back available in the 2017 NFL Draft.

What’s more, Akers said he really connected to FSU coaches, including head coach Jimbo

Rick Cleveland

Fisher and running backs coach Jay Graham, a former running back star at Tennessee and in the NFL. Graham has been at FSU for four years. Cook will be the fourth NFL running back he has helped produce in those four years. Before that, he coached Marcus Lattimore at South Carolina.

You know both FSU’s and Graham’s track records had to weigh heavily with Akers.

At one time or another, I heard these schools as Akers’ favorite: Alabama, Ole Miss, Tennessee, Ohio State and Florida State. If he had decided to stay in-state, his choice would have been Ole Miss. And people inside the Ole Miss football program felt good about their chances as recently as Tuesday afternoon.

Akers was Ole Miss’ No. 1 target. The Rebels have invested years in his recruitment. At various times, Ole Miss coaches have believed they had him. They had selling points, too: home-state appeal to a young man who loves his state and difference makers at quarterback and wide receivers. The one obviously missing ingredient: a difference maker at running back.

So, the obvious question: How much did the ongoing NCAA investigation of Ole Miss hurt the Rebels’ chances? Akers wasn’t asked that question Tuesday night after his selection announcement, and I don’t know that we will ever know the definitive answer. My best, educated guess is that it played a huge role in Cam’s decision.

It is always this way with NCAA investigations, especially one as well-publicized as this one. The eventual penalties, dreaded as they are, hurt no worse than the dark clouds that precede them.

Did Jimbo Fisher and others use the NCAA against Ole Miss?

Well, of course they did, and they would be stupid if they didn’t.

I can think of at least one other time when an NCAA investigation figured so heavily into a national recruit’s choice to go elsewhere. Ole Miss was in Peyton Manning’s final choices back in 1994. Remember? Manning was choosing from among Tennessee, Texas, Texas A & M, Florida, Florida State, Michigan and Ole Miss, his mom and dad’s alma mater. Ole Miss was under investigation for the second time in a six-year period.

Peyton chose Tennessee, and Ole Miss was hammered again a few months later. Time will tell tell if history repeats itself. Regardless, this NCAA investigation already has taken a considerable toll.

Rick Cleveland is Mississippi Today’s sports columnist. Read his previous columns and his Sports Daily blog. Reach Rick at


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Rick Cleveland, a native of Hattiesburg and resident of Jackson, has been Mississippi Today’s sports columnist since 2016. A graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi with a bachelor’s in journalism, Rick has worked for the Monroe (La.) News Star World, Jackson Daily News and Clarion Ledger. He was sports editor of Hattiesburg American, executive director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame. His work as a syndicated columnist and celebrated sports writer has appeared in numerous magazines, periodicals and newspapers.
Rick has been recognized 13 times as Mississippi Sports Writer of the Year, and is recipient of multiple awards and honors for his reporting and writing.

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