Florida State beat out Ole Miss Tuesday for Cam Akers, a five-star running back many feel is the best in the nation — and universally considered one of the best two.
How did FSU go into Clinton (Miss) and get the No. 1 player in the state to leave Mississippi for the first time since 2008? What’s more, how did Florida State get Mississippi’s No. 1 player to pick a school that’s not in an adjacent state for the first time in modern recruiting history?
Florida State deserves a ton of credit for running a nearly perfect recruitment.
But to truly drill down into the mechanics is to acknowledge the many ways Ole Miss blew this.
By all accounts, Akers loves Ole Miss. He has friends on the team, and is a dedicated Mississippi guy, who cares deeply about his state. He skipped awards banquets to play in the Mississippi/Alabama All-Star Game, and put recruiting aside for his high school team. Heck, he announced in Mississippi, at the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame, instead of doing it on national TV at the Army Game a week from now. Akers would be the starter at Ole Miss on Day 1, and arguably the Rebels’ best player.
But Ole Miss gave Akers plenty of reasons not to stay home.
First, and perhaps most importantly, the NCAA issues.
Ole Miss might get put on probation for Cam Akers’ entire career due to the still unresolved NCAA scandal that has been going on for years.
Elite players want to play for championships, and Ole Miss is not going to do that while Akers is in college, either because the NCAA prevents it officially, or because the Rebels simply will not have the talent to do so because the scandal is scaring off top talents (Ole Miss has the worst recruiting class in the SEC West by a mile as of Tuesday).
Ole Miss does not care about running the ball.
Throughout Akers’ time in high school, Ole Miss’ running game has been trash. It often looks like Ole Miss makes no attempt to run the football. It’s seen as a mentality thing as much as a talent issue, fair or not.
Further, after striking out on elite coordinator names and having to massively overpay (likely due to coaches believing the NCAA is going to hammer Ole Miss) to get some tertiary choices, Ole Miss settled on Phil Longo, a D1-AA coordinator from Sam Houston State who runs the Air Raid. That’s the offense Kentucky ran under Hal Mumme, and the one run by Mike Leach at Washington State. And the one run by zero NFL teams.
Sure, Longo might emphasize the power running game more, but labels matter, and hiring a guy attached to an extreme passing spread label is really bad optics for a school trying to land maybe the best high school runner in state history.
Hugh Freeze might not last more than a year of Akers’ college career.
Ole Miss went 5-7 this year, is going to have its worst recruiting class in quite a while, and is going in the wrong direction. It got blown out by Vanderbilt and Mississippi State.
Is it really hard to see Ole Miss cutting ties with Freeze if the Rebels miss a bowl in 2017? Would a fresh start and a break from the NCAA mess be a bad idea?
Recruits do like stability, and do not want to commit to coaches on the hot seat.
If Ole Miss didn’t blow its opportunity, it wouldn’t matter the quality recruitments run by other schools. Everyone believes Akers would be at Ole Miss if not FOR the the perfect storm of factors.
But Ole Miss did blow it. And FSU took advantage.
Once Ole Miss fumbled, it was all about who would pick up the ball and run with it.
What school could be close enough to home, and present enough security to get mom’s approval?
Jimbo Fisher could put on his brown jacket, sit in Cam Akers’ living room, and tell him that FSU is better than LSU, who was also recruiting Akers hard. That was important, because Akers was never going to go that far away from home, and LSU was a legitimate contender and only three hours from home.
How does Fisher know?
Because he turned down the LSU job two years in a row. He can sit there and tell Cam Akers’ mother and stepdad that he just signed an 8-year contract to stay in Tallahassee.
And it probably didn’t help LSU’s chances that the Tigers failed to deliver on the promise of getting Lane Kiffin to Baton Rouge.
Florida State could also sell Akers on proof of concept. Chris Thompson, Devonta Freeman, and soon, Dalvin Cook are all either starting in the NFL or will be very soon. Cook just became FSU’s all-time leader in every meaningful rushing category, and Akers mentioned the ability to replace Cook in explaining his decision.
FSU also did a masterful job of getting Akers on campus three times, and importantly, got the key family members on board. Sources said Akers’ dad was strongly on board with FSU, and eventually his mom and stepdad came around to FSU as the best non-Ole Miss choice. To win out-of-state recruits, a school absolutely must get them on campus early and often to breed familiarity and comfort. FSU did that.
It’s also worth noting that Akers really did like Ohio State from what we understand, but Columbus is a 12-hour drive, as opposed to the seven to Tallahassee. That makes a difference for a family leaving Mississippi at noon on Friday to watch their son play and coming back to Clinton on Sunday.
Stability, track record, relationships and a location the family can drive to. When an in-state school screws up as badly as Ole Miss did, that’s a great recipe for an out-of-state school to use on the recruiting trail.