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Mark Beech
February 13, 2006
SEC Sleeper
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February 13, 2006

College Football

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SEC Sleeper

Despite a 3-8 first season at Ole Miss, coach Ed Orgeron used his high-powered recruiting skills to land a top 15 class

Ole miss coach Ed Orgeron has a reputation as one of the best recruiters in the country. This is the man, after all, who as the recruiting coordinator at USC from 2001 through '04 was instrumental in the building of a dynasty. He is personable yet relentless in his pursuit of blue-chip recruits, but perhaps his best selling job this winter came early last month when he landed two new assistants: offensive line coach Art Kehoe and offensive coordinator Dan Werner, who were among four Miami coaches fired after the team's 40-3 loss to LSU in the Peach Bowl.

Their arrival in Oxford was what helped persuade Brent Schaeffer, the country's top-rated junior college quarterback, to choose Ole Miss over N.C. State and Wisconsin on national signing day last week. And largely because the Rebels got Schaeffer, who threw for 2,970 yards and 40 touchdowns and ran for 860 yards and 10 scores last fall at College of the Sequoias in Visalia, Calif., their recruiting class was rated among the top 15 by most analysts.

Not bad for a program that was only 3-8 in Orgeron's first season. While 13 of the 30 recruits are homegrown (box, right)-the top-ranked player in the state according to Scout.com, 6'1", 235-pound running back Cordera Eason of Meridian High, among them- Ole Miss signed 17 from seven other states, including five from California. "What they were doing was like nothing I'd ever seen," says Andy Siegel, who was Schaeffer's offensive coordinator at College of the Sequoias. "They didn't send just one person out here. They sent the whole staff-somebody different every week." Werner, who made two trips to see Schaeffer, visited every offensive player Ole Miss was after.

The staff's persuasiveness even worked on players already on the team. Last month middle linebacker Patrick Willis, a second-team All-America, decided to return for his senior season rather than enter the NFL draft. "That may have been our second-biggest recruit, besides Schaeffer," says Hugh Freeze, the tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator.

A former standout at Deerfield Beach ( Fla.) High, Schaeffer started three games and saw action in four others as a freshman at Tennessee in 2004 before a broken collarbone sidelined him for the rest of the regular season. The following April he left Knoxville after being charged with misdemeanor assault following a fight with another student. (In June, Schaeffer pleaded guilty to a lesser charge and was sentenced to six months of judicial diversion.) He will be counted on to boost an offense that averaged only 13.5 points per game, ranking 115th in Division I-A. Werner plans to install the balanced attack he used at Miami, and the coaches' familiarity with one another-Werner and Orgeron were on the Hurricanes staff in 1988 and '89, and Werner and Kehoe worked together a total of eight years-should help the returning offensive players make a smooth transition.

The quarterbacks, all but redshirt freshman Billy Tapp new to the program, will be starting from scratch. In addition to Schaeffer, the Rebels picked up another juco transfer, Bruce Hall from Northeast Mississippi Community College, and signed California's career leader in passing yardage, Michael Herrick of Valencia High, who may get redshirted. Because Schaeffer won't arrive in Oxford until June, Hall will be the No. 1 quarterback going into spring practice. (Hall enrolled in January, while Schaeffer will finish the academic year at College of the Sequoias.) The backup quarterback at the beginning of last season, Robert Lane, now splits time between fullback and tight end, and the starter for the last three games, Ethan Flatt, quit the team in December to concentrate on classwork.

Schaeffer not only has to get ready in a hurry but also has to stay healthy.

PENN STATE COMEBACK

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