Sunday, August 17, 2008

A lesson in Southern hospitality.

Two months ago, 5-star cornerback Darius Winston out of West Helena, Arkansas decommitted from the Razorbacks and named Michigan as his leader:

Darius Winston, the nation's No. 2 cornerback in the class of 2009 and the class' 20th overall player, has de-committed from the University of Arkansas. He plans to re-open his recruitment, but he considers Michigan the leader for his services.

Since then, he shut down his recruitment, re-opened it, and cooled on his "Michigan leads" comments. Michigan fans were still cautiously optimistic. Said optimism was dimmed in the last couple days when Winston said he was going to commit on September 5th, which means he would not have visited Michigan's campus. Not necessarily a death knell, considering DeQuinta Jones and Jeremy Gallon committed without visiting, but that death knell may have been sounded with this free Scout article.

In it, Winston says his final five are Arkansas, Clemson, Michigan, Tennessee, and Ole Miss. He says he has already decided, but will wait to announce until the 5th.

His blurb on M:

How about Michigan?

"They have a good opportunity at cornerback for me, but they also will let me return punts and kickoffs. If I am at Michigan, they will let me display my skills. There is a lot of opportunity their."

Good opportunity is defined as thus: After this season, Morgan Trent is gone, Donovan Warren is a junior (and could be entering his final year at Michigan), Boubacar Cissoko is a sophomore and a probable starter, Troy Woolfolk and J.T. Floyd are present but not probably starter quality, Justin Turner is a freshman and possibly a safety. The chance of Winston contributing significantly as a freshman and starting as a sophomore is high.

All of that is probably rendered moot by this blurb from the same Scout article, where Winston possibly lets the cat out of the bag:

What stands out about Ole Miss?

"I just love that whole coaching staff. I feel like they are going to turn it around at Ole Miss. I would love to be a part of that. I plan on taking an official visit to Ole Miss on Labor day weekend, when they play Memphis."

Anymore official visits on tap?

"That is it."

Should people read anything into that?

"I guess you could say that, yes sir (laugh)."

As much as you can analyze the comments of a high school kid, that would appear to be the dousing of any chances Michigan had with Winston, as it seems he will pick Ole Miss, which is...surprising, to say the least. Uber-recruiter Ed Orgeron isn't coaching in Oxford anymore, and Houston Nutt has been getting taken to the cleaners by Sly Croom in recruiting this year. Looks like his ties to high schools in Arkansas have paid off in this case, though.

I wouldn't be surprised if this was the first in a lengthy line of lessons Michigan fans learn about recruiting the South. You can read all the articles and quotes where players like Winston (Arkansas), Rueben Randle (Louisiana), Dennis Thames (Mississippi), Sam Montgomery (South Carolina) and Dre Kirkpatrick (Alabama) talk about Michigan and how they plan to visit. In the end, these are kids from the South, and they've been raised in a world where football is religion, and the pressure to stay home and play for the home teams is immeasurable. It's really impossible for someone in Michigan to understand it. But we're going to learn about it very fast, when Winston stays in the South, Randle picks LSU, Thames picks Mississippi State, Montgomery picks South Carolina and Kirkpatrick signs with Saban. Florida is a different beast altogether. The state is so rich and oozing with talent, it's impossible to keep outsiders out. Miami, Florida and Florida State will get their pickings, but it's open for others too.

There is a reason Lloyd Carr and Ron English's theft of Donovan Warren from under USC's nose at Long Beach Poly in 2007 was so shocking: 9 times out of 10, home is where the heart is.

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