Rick Cleveland

Today was the first day high school and junior college football players could sign scholarships with senior colleges. Back in the good old days, all the way back in February of 2017, we would have referred to it as National Signing Day.

Now, it’s National Signing Day Part I because we will have another big day in February of 2018, National Signing Day Part II. That’s right. National Signing Day now has a sequel. Christmas now comes twice for recruiting junkies.

We have been waiting for months to see how this new early signing date would work out. Some coaches said they loved it. Others professed to hate it. Some claimed it would be a disaster. All have to live with it, at least for this year. And living with it was particularly taxing for the teams having to prepare for bowl games and/or replace coaches right during the crunch time of recruiting.

Wednesday started out little different than any other first signing day I can remember in Mississippi. Early on, we had – drum roll, please – controversy.

One player who had been long committed to one of our two SEC schools actually signed with the other one. And I know you are not going to believe this: The fans of the jilted school accused the rival school of paying the player to switch. Never heard that one, have you? Meanwhile, fans of the other school praised the kid for coming to his senses.

It was still another verse of the same song we’ve heard for years. The names change. Not much else.

Oh, you want a name? James Williams, a tall, strapping defensive end with three stars by his name, played his high school ball at Callaway in Jackson. He committed to Mississippi State on Oct. 3 and still showed up on State’s commitment list early Wednesday morning. He signed with Ole Miss.

Williams may turn out to be All-SEC and then All-Pro. He may never play another down. You never know. If nothing else, the 451st best recruit in the country (247sports.com) gave the talking heads something to talk about — and Ole Miss fans something to cheer – on the first day of the first signing period for the Class of 2018.

It this sounds like a somewhat cynical way of looking at college football recruiting, then I plead guilty.

Wake me up in four years, and I’ll tell you who did well.

For now, it’s a guess. Nevertheless, some general observations – yes, guesses – of this particular signing day:

• Mississippi State needed some pass receivers and it sure appears the Bulldogs signed some potentially terrific ones. (I like my wide receivers tall, lean and fast with four stars and 10 sticky fingers.) State signed three of those.

• Ole Miss needed defensive help. Williams was one of 10 defensive players signed Wednesday. That’s 10 of 14 players signed and that’s a start to curing what has ailed the Rebels in recent seasons.

• Southern Miss loses its entire defensive secondary, so it should not surprise that four of USM’s first 13 recruits were defensive backs. There will be more.

My first-hand knowledge of Mississippi recruits comes mostly from watching the six MHSAA championship games and the Mississippi-Alabama All-Star Game.

Some observations from that limited bit of expertise.

• West Point running back Marcus Murphy can help State immediately. He’s a superb back, fast and tough. He’s going to be a really good one.

• East Central tight end Brad Cumbest, another State signee, looks like the real deal. Can’t tell you how much he reminds me of a young Wesley Walls. That’s saying something.

• Wayne County’s Quentin Bivens, an Ole Miss defensive line signee, has big-time potential if he learns to play with passion on every down.

• Would not surprise me if Southern Miss signee Trace Clopton of Brookhaven becomes a four-year starter in the middle of Golden Eagle offensive line. He’s strong as an ox and a coach’s son. Actually, he reminds me of a young Matt Luke.

• Beats me why nobody has signed Jefferson Davis County linebacker Darrell Sims, who is 6-foot-3, weighs 210 pounds and runs like the wind. Give him a year in a college weight room and on the training table and he’ll look – and run – like a pro.

• Pearl’s Tylan Knight? Don’t get me started.

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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.