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Monday, August 23, 2010

Ole Miss, a place for second chances

For the AJC
It looks irresponsible, too convenient and morally corrupt. Ole Miss football coach Houston Nutt is giving a second chance to disgraced Oregon quarterback Jeremiah Masoli by making room for him on the Rebels’ roster just in time for football season.
More than a few people raised their eyebrows.
But if what Nutt did to shore up his desperate quarterback position was wrong, what do you call what Ole Miss did for Jerrell Powe, its superb defensive tackle and a possible high-round NFL draft pick?
Powe could not get into school as a freshman because of academics. He couldn’t get in a second time, either, because of academics. The third time he applied, Powe got into school, but couldn’t play football. Meanwhile, other schools were calling Powe and said, we’ll take you. Ole Miss still wouldn’t budge and did not let him play football.
Finally, Powe got on the team in 2008. There are two things he really wants to do in life; be the sheriff of Wayne County, Miss., and play football at Ole Miss. With a second chance, he is playing football at Ole Miss.
“I got a second chance,” Powe said. “J-Mac (Masoli) should get a second chance.”
It sounds like bookend fairy tales. Powe’s is just waiting to be finished. Masoli’s ending looks a little more complicated.
Powe was rated the third best defensive line prospect in the country as part of the Ole Miss recruiting class of 2005. He was a Parade All-American, but his grades were poor and he ended up at a military prep school.
Powe still couldn’t get into Ole Miss in 2006. He was finally admitted for the 2007-2008 year on financial aid, but was not permitted to play football. Other schools asked over and over, why wait, come play for us. Powe stayed in Oxford.
While all this was happening, he battled his weight, which soared to 385 pounds.
“There was a time he couldn’t get through a stretch,” Nutt said of the pre-practice routine.
Powe played in 12 games in 2008 and had 1.5 sacks. But this season his weight is down, he is more mobile, and he anchors one of the best defensive lines in the SEC, which includes Lawon Scott, Ted Laurent, and Kentrell Lockett.
“My pops, Joe Barnett, said if you don’t make it you’re going to have to tell 100 lies why you didn’t make it,” Powe said. “It’s easier to tell people how you did it, then why you didn’t do it.”
Powe is a folk hero on the Ole Miss campus. He will walk through along as friendly as a politician up for re-election, shaking hands and getting his picture made.
Masoli’s image is decidedly different. Masoli pleaded guilty in March to burglarizing a fraternity house at Oregon. In June, he was was arrested for possession of one ounce or less of marijuana, driving with a suspended license, and failing to stop and he was kicked off the Ducks’ football team.
Masoli passed for 2,147 yards in 2009 and led the 10-3 Ducks to the Rose Bowl. He had 28 touchdown passes in two seasons and is an elusive runner.
When Masoli first contacted Ole Miss he was told the Rebels were set at quarterback, and there was no room for him. Then Raymond Cotton, one of three quarterbacks, decided to transfer after losing the starting job to Nathan Stanley.
Nutt insists that only after Cotton left did he decide to take a look at Masoli.
“I wouldn’t have done it,” Nutt said. “He inquired and one of my assistants said no, we have three quarterbacks. Then Raymond Cotton left and it was a whole different scenario.
“We were in a situation where we had two quarterbacks, one that played 18 plays in the SEC and one that just got here. I have gone to the intramural field before to get a quarterback; I did it at Arkansas. It’s not very much fun. It’s a hard way to go.”
For a week in July, while he pondered his decision, Nutt was under siege from friend and foe.
First, it was his seniors who hopped out of the locker room in unison one morning after summer workouts and came to his office on behalf of Masoli. They had heard that Nutt was being cautious about spreading his arms to welcome Masoli.
The seniors, led by Powe, said they would shepherd the lost Masoli.
Nutt offered Masoli a place at Ole Miss. The quarterback is eligible immediately because he already has an undergraduate degree, and Oregon did not offer Masoli’s graduate program. Also, Oregon granted a waiver for him to play at Mississippi.
How convenient cried the haters.
Nutt’s defense will be very good, but what Ole Miss really lacked to compete with Alabama, LSU, Arkansas, and Auburn in the Western Division of the SEC was a top-shelf quarterback. Just like that, they had one, and Nutt was labeled “dirty” by one national football writer.
“I had a real obligation to the team, which is why I don’t worry about the criticism and what people say,” said Nutt, whose two-year record at Ole Miss is 18-8 with back to back Cotton Bowl wins. “I just know we did the right thing. I could be wrong next week.”
Masoli was not available for an interview for this story, according to an Ole Miss spokesperson.
It was pointed out that Nutt had made a mistake in giving a second chance to Jamar Hornsby, who was kicked out of the Florida program for using the credit cards of a Florida student killed in a motorcycle accident. Hornsby, a highly-rated defensive back, was coming to Ole Miss to play football when he was arrested for assault and the offer was rescinded.
“He was never on our campus or officially part of the team,” Nutt said. “Everybody keeps bringing that up, but he was never part of our team and on our campus where we could work with him.”
Meanwhile, Powe is convinced Masoli is worth saving. His sermons to the quarterback, include staying humble and making himself a good teammate. Nutt has said Masoli cannot make any serious mistakes at Ole Miss and stay in the program.
“He can do it, he’ll be fine with us,” Powe said. “He’s got himself some nicknames, J-Mac and some Samoan name, Big Ooof. He’s focused and pointed straight like an arrow.”

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