Decisions alter national college football

The NCAA announced last week that college football recruits will now have a chance to sign a scholarship in December rather than wait until the first Wednesday in February, the traditional national signing day.

That’s right. Recruits will have a three-day period in December during which they can sign to play at their future college or university. Or, they can opt to wait and sign on the traditional first Wednesday in February. The guess here is that most players won’t wait until February. Schools have limited scholarships. Most offer them on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Most recruits will sign the papers in December, ensuring a spot.

That’s fine with this observer. Anything that shortens the period during which 17- and 18-year-olds act like prima donnas – and so much publicity is accorded players who may or may not become stars – is fine by me.

Besides, for parents, four years of Junior’s tuition, room and board, and some peace and quiet around the house, will make a fine Christmas present.

The key aspect here is that the December date will be binding. For instance, a recruit can’t sign with Ole Miss in mid-December and then change his mind and sign with Mississippi State in February. That won’t be allowed.

Old-timers, a group to whom I somehow have come to belong, can remember when there were two signing dates and only one really mattered when you got right down to it.

There was an early signing period in the Deep South to sign a letter of intent with the school of your choice. But then you still had to sign the NCAA’s binding national letter on the first Wednesday in February. Most kids did that without much controversy. For 98 percent of recruits, the school they signed with in December was the one they eventually attended. However, there were other cases. And at least one changed the landscape of college football nationally.

 

In December of 1975, a little-known defensive end from Natchez named Hugh Green signed with Mississippi State, which should have been big news but wasn’t. The big news that December was that all-world Pascagoula running back Ray Charles “Rooster” Jones had signed to play at State. Jones was the player everybody in the country coveted. He was a touchdown waiting to happen. Mississippi State fans were ecstactic.

Then came February of 1976 and both Jones and Green signed on national signing day with the University of Pittsburgh, where Jackie Sherrill was the new head coach taking over for Johnny Majors.

Sherrill, who played his high school football in Mississippi, believed in Mississippi players. While watching film of Rooster Jones running this way and that for Pascagoula, he came across some film of Hugh Green ranging from sideline to sideline making tackles for North Natchez.

Sherrill not only brought Jones to Pitt for a visit, but also brought Green with him.

He signed them both, Jones to be his next Tony Dorsett and Green to be his first Hugh Green.

Mississippi State was left high and dry.

Most of you will know the rest of the story.

Green became a three-time All-American at Pitt, perhaps the most celebrated defensive end in history of the college game. He made the cover of Sports Illustrated. He finished second in Heisman Trophy voting to George Rogers.

Rooster Jones? Well, he never quite became the next Tony Dorsett. Injuries plagued him throughout his Pitt career. In three seasons of varsity ball, Jones gained 1,181 yards rushing and scored 11 touchdowns.

We’ll never know what Jones might have done at Mississippi State. For that matter, we can make only an educated guess of what Hugh Green would have done at State. But you line Hugh Green up on the same defense with Johnie Cooks, Glen Collins, Tyrone Keys and others, you can make a darned accurate guess. Would anybody have ever scored against them?

Rick Cleveland (rcleveland@mississippitoday.org) is a Jackson-based syndicated columnist.

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