Rebels Rising: Can they handle the hype?

June 22, 2009
By Parrish Alford
Published: June 22nd, 2009

Athlon Sports Contributor
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Ole Miss football has been here before. Wins. Rankings. Notoriety. Expectations. They’re all engrained in Ole Miss football — at least the way it was half a century ago. 

That picture of Ole Miss football in the 1950s and 1960s was a motivating factor for two men who have helped revive the program. They were part of a plan that has Ole Miss positioned as a consensus top 15 team heading into the 2009 season, a team with a chance to win the SEC — the ultimate conference championship — and a team in the discussion for a BCS bowl game.

Robert Khayat was a kicker and lineman on what was arguably the best football team in the rich history of the University of Mississippi. He was a senior under legendary coach John Vaught in 1959 when the Rebels lost only to a tricky LSU punt returner named Billy Cannon, who cut to the inside instead of the sideline in the Tigers’ 7–3 win on Halloween night. Three outlets proclaimed Ole Miss, at 10–1, the national champion that season.

Pete Boone, now the athletic director, came onto the scene later, lettering from 1970-72. The best times were in the rearview mirror but were still fresh in the minds of Rebel fans.

The lives of Khayat and Boone intersected in the university community. They became good friends and handball buddies.

They longed to see Ole Miss football as what it had been, not what it had become, and they found themselves in position to do something about it.

“We certainly had, and have, that desire,” says Khayat, the school’s outgoing chancellor, who will retire in June.

“What our fans want is consistency in a winning program,” Boone says. “To me that means they come to every game believing we’re going to win. If we don’t win, they feel we should have and that we’re going to win next week.”

Ole Miss fans indeed expect to win this season.

Boone began his first term as AD in 1995. Khayat began his run as chancellor the same year. Under their combined leadership the school has increased its commitment to facilities and coaches’ salaries. The missing piece of the puzzle — a successful, experienced coach — was added in November 2007 when Houston Nutt jumped from Arkansas to Oxford.

Nutt is the primary reason for this season’s expectations.

The Rebels floundered under former coach Ed Orgeron. Khayat and Boone hired a proven recruiter instead of a proven head coach when replacing David Cutcliffe, whom they fired following the 2004 season.

“David Cutcliffe’s last two years we virtually had no recruiting, no signing of people who could play,” Khayat says. “It was pretty natural to go for the person who was viewed as the best recruiter in the country. What we didn’t realize was that Ed was going to have so much difficulty coaching.”

The Orgeron Experiment concluded with the coach’s 3–21 SEC mark in three seasons. He was shown the door but left behind plentiful talent, which Nutt managed more successfully in 2008.

The Rebels started slowly but showed promise in some close losses. In late September they dealt eventual national champion Florida its only defeat, but it was in late October that the football program began to win like it had under Vaught.

Ole Miss won its last six games, routing LSU 31–13 in Baton Rouge, rival Mississippi State 45–0 at home and ultimately handling media darling Texas Tech, ranked No. 7 at the time, 47–34 in the Cotton Bowl.

The Rebels — having suffered through a winless SEC season in Orgeron’s last hurrah — won their four November games by a combined count of 152–20. They finished 9–4, and the Cotton Bowl win propelled them to a No. 14 final ranking. Ole Miss finished 5–3 in the SEC, second in the West.

Virtually every playmaker from the SEC’s No. 2 scoring offense returns. Eight starters are back from a defense that was playing at an elite level late last season, though replacing All-America defensive tackle Peria Jerry will be a challenge.

Boone approaches the topic of expectations cautiously.

“Do I feel like we made a lot of progress last year? Absolutely. Are we going in the right direction? Absolutely. Do I think we’re there? Absolutely not,” he says. “Over the course of a season so many things have to happen to end up in the championship event.”

Many Ole Miss fans in the offseason have bypassed talk of getting to Atlanta — the Rebels are the only Western Division team yet to make the league’s championship game — in favor of their chances for a BCS bowl.

A BCS bid could be hindered by a lack of strength of schedule. After waiting on ESPN to finalize a Thursday night game at South Carolina, then having talks with TCU break off, Boone found himself with a late vacancy and added Northern Arizona for Nov. 7. The move gives the Rebels two FCS opponents.

Nutt hopes his team is in the BCS mix when the time comes.

“I told our players they can no longer hide,” Nutt says. “No longer will they not be on the radar screen. Last year, people didn’t even know about them. This year they’re picked in all the magazines.”

 “With what they have coming back, I think they’ll be under-achieving if they don’t at least get back to a New Year’s Day bowl,” says John Darnell, a quarterback on Billy Brewer’s Ole Miss teams in the late 1980s. “That’s not to put any pressure on them; I think they would say that too. Expectations have been raised not only by the fans but by the players and coaches themselves.”

Modern-day Ole Miss football has less experience with high expectations than Nutt did at Arkansas. The Rebels have never been preseason favorites to win the West. Since the SEC split into divisions in 1992, league media have picked the Rebels has high as No. 2 only twice.

In 2003, senior quarterback Eli Manning’s team went 7–1 in the league — losing at home in November to LSU in what amounted to a Western Division championship game — then won the Cotton Bowl and finished No. 13 in the rankings. That team was only picked third in the division.

In the cannibalistic landscape of SEC football, the Rebels may not start the season on top in the West. The national exposure they received at the close of 2008, however, should have them ranked high enough to continue the important season-long ascent if they prove to be as good as many people believe.

“I think we can handle the expectations,” senior wide receiver/tailback Dexter McCluster says. “We handled it pretty well last year when we had no expectations.”

In one year Nutt’s challenge has changed from making players believe they were better than they thought to making them remember that pride cometh before a fall.

“It’s about being humble and going back to work. It’s doing the little things right, it’s the sacrifice and investment you have to make,” he says. “We’re in the toughest league in America. What we did last year doesn’t just happen.”

At Ole Miss it hasn’t happened with consistency since the days of Vaught. Fans are hoping that 2008 wasn’t lighting in a bottle, but rather the beginning of something big. For six straight games last season, grandfathers talked of how it used to be, and for the first time, grandchildren had a visual aid on the field.

“There’s a level of passion here that I haven’t seen in a long, long time,” Khayat says.


U. S. Court of Appeals rejects Klansman’s challenge

June 10, 2009

This past Friday, the U. S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit rejected a challenge of the conviction of white supremacist James Ford Seale.

Seale was a reputed member of the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan of Mississippi in the 1960’s and was allegedly involved in at least one violent incident where two men were murdered in Warren County, Mississippi.

Seale was convicted in Mississippi in 2007 and sentenced to three life terms in federal prison. The jury was able to determine that Seale and other Klansmen conspired to abduct, interrogate, beat, and murder Henry Hezekiah Dee and Charlie Eddie Moore, both of whom were only nineteen at the time. Seale’s convictions were appealed and he argued that a 1972 amendment to the federal kidnapping statute changed the statute of limitations to only five years.

In September of 2008, a three judge panel agreed with Seale, overturning his convictions. The U. S. successfully urged the full court to rehear this case and to keep Seale imprisoned. This past Friday, a divided court upheld the trial court’s decision to deny Seale’s motion to dismiss the indictment based upon the statute of limitations. The appeal will return to the original three judge panel for resolution of the remaining issues.

Loretta King, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division, was quoted as saying, “We are pleased with today’s decision rejecting the argument that it was too late to bring Seale to justice.” Based on the evidence presented at trial, the jury concluded that on or about May 2, 1964, Seale and his accomplices did perform the following criminal acts: Abducted Dee and Moore and drove the young men into the Homochitto National Forest in Franklin County, Mississippi Upon arrival in the Homochitto National Forest, Seale and his accomplices beat the victims, interrogated them at gunpoint and bound them with duct tape Seale and his accomplices then drove the victims to Parker’s Landing in Warren County, Mississippi, passing through Louisiana, and secured the men to heavy objects and threw them into the Old Mississippi River, causing them to drown Seale is the first and only defendant to be convicted for participation in the kidnapping and murders of Dee and Moore.

Seale’s conviction is a result of many years of painstaking work and a joint effort between the FBI, the U. S. Attorney’s Office, the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department, the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office, the Adams’ County Sheriff’s Office, and the Mississippi Department of Public Safety. The case was prosecuted by Dunn Lampton, former U. S. Attorney for the Southern District of Mississippi and Special Litigation Counsel Paige Fitzgerald and Eric Gibson, both of the Civil Rights Division. The appeal as handled by Tovah R. Calderon, an attorney who is also with the Civil Rights Division.

Free Fishing This Weekend

June 9, 2009

State Lakes Won’t Require Fees

JACKSON, Miss. — This week is national boating and fishing week, which means free fishing days in Mississippi for the whole family.

 Residents can go to any state lake or park this Saturday and Sunday and fish for free, according to the Mississippi Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.

 There will be no launch fees or permits required, but a valid fishing license is required, officials said.

Jackson autistic school’s closing worries parents

June 9, 2009

A regional school that serves children with autism will close its doors at the end of its summer session.

University of Mississippi Medical Center told parents that it plans to shut down the Mississippi Child Development Institute.

In a letter to parents dated June 5, UMC says it is working to create an autism clinic in the school’s place. The new program will not be open by the start of the new school year.

“Though we are working as quickly as we can, we will not have things in place for the coming school year,” the later states.

UMC opened the institute at the Jackson Medical Mall in 2003. Since then, it has served about 35 children ages 3 to 11 with autism and developmental delays.

Instead of pairing children by grades, the kids are taught according to their level of function.

Leah Price, founder of the nonprofit group Children’s Autism Support Team of Mississippi, said parents are now scrambling to find the next best educational options for their children.

“It’s very scary,” Price said. “A lot of the parents are afraid their children will regress.”

The institute was largely funded by the Mississippi Department of Education.

Pete Smith, a spokesman for the department of education, said the state is working to start a new program for autistic children.

“We will be working in conjunction with school districts,” Smith said. “It’s still in the developmental stages as to how the program will shape.”

Turbines in Mississippi River potential alternative energy source

June 9, 2009

The Mississippi may in a few years be laced with giant underwater turbines using the force of the river’s flow to generate power if Free Flow Power Corp, a Massachusetts-based hydropower developer, is allowed to install hydrokinetic turbines at as many as 55 sites along the Mississippi River.

The turbines would have a diameter of 10 feet and be installed below navigation depth. Each turbine spins to generate roughly 1,600 megawatts of power which would then have to be transmitted ashore to the power grid or to industry sites, according to the Vicksburg Post.

However, some of those who work on the river are concerned that the turbines could cause navigation problems. These worries were aired during a public meeting held by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in Baton Rouge last month, according to the New Orleans-based Times Picayune.

Z. David DeLoach, owner of the towboat company DeLoach Marine Services, told the newspaper that he was concerned about what would happen if low water conditions forced barges into the deep-water river bends where the turbines may be installed.

The American Waterways Operators, the Gulf Intracoastal Canal Association, and the Gulf States Maritime Association told the newspaper that they want to help plan for this potential energy source to ensure that the turbines do not increase shoaling, delay vessels, erode levees or cause other navigation problems.

Jon Guidroz, who is director of product development at Free Flow, told the newspaper that navigation’s concerns were “on our radar screen. We understand that this is a river that is first and foremost for navigation. It’s a number one priority for us to make sure that we are safe with our turbines. It wouldn’t make economic sense for us to get hit by barges.”

According to Guidroz, if Free Flow installs turbines in the deep river bends below Baton Rouge where the water flows fastest, that will generate the most electricity and will also ensure that the turbines, affixed to posts in the river bottom, will be below the 45- to 55- foot draft of the largest deepwater vessels and will also be out of the way of Corps dredging.

At the meeting, the Corps said that the company has to file an environmental impact statement before it can consider what impact the turbines might have on levees or other factors, the newspaper reported.

Towns and developers from Alaska to Florida have filed with FERC for preliminary permits to develop hydrokinetic energy projects. These projects are in their initial stages; approval and licensing is expected to take up to four years.

Retired Brig. Gen. Robert Crear, immediate past president of the Mississippi River Commission and former commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Vicksburg District and the Mississippi Valley Division, is now chairman of Free Flow, according to the Vicksburg Post.

9-year-old Mississippi boy dies from gunshot

June 9, 2009

A coroner says a 9-year-old boy was found shot to death Tuesday at his home in Marshall County and authorities are trying to determine if he shot himself and if the shooting was accidental.

Marshall County Coroner James Richard Anderson tells The Associated Press the boy died from a single gunshot wound to the chest.

A message left at the sheriff’s office was not immediately returned.

Anderson says the victim is Adbarious Finley and that the boy’s father and 11-year-old brother were home at the time.

The body was sent to Jackson for an autopsy. Anderson says the gun was recovered at the scene.

Golden Eagles earn spot in College World Series

June 8, 2009

Southern MissGAINESVILLE, FLA. — For the first time in school history, the University of Southern Mississippi will play in the College World Series.

The Golden Eagles earned one of eight spots in collegiate baseball’s showcase event by scoring three times in the eighth inning to rally from five runs down and beat Florida 7-6 on Sunday to sweep the Gators in the best-of-three NCAA Super Regional.

After reliever Collin Cargill got clean-up hitter Josh Adams to ground into a game-ending double play, USM players sprinted from the dugout and joined those on the field in a human dog-pile celebration near the mound.

“It feels amazing,” said Bo Davis, USM’s senior centerfielder. “I thought the last dog pile (after winning the Atlanta Regional) was one of the best, but this tops it for sure.”

The CWS starts Saturday at Rosenblatt Stadium in Omaha, Neb., and runs through the crowning of a national champion on June 23 or 24.

USM (40-24) will play its opening game of the double-elimination event Sunday against the winner of today’s game between the University of Texas and Texas Christian University. The CWS game times will be announced later.

The trip will extend for at least two more games what has become a dream run for Corky Palmer, who announced in April he will retire at the end of this season, his 12th as the Eagles coach.

Two weeks ago, after the Golden Eagles lost to Rice in the Conference USA Tournament championship game, Palmer wasn’t sure whether USM would even get an invitation to the 64-team NCAA Tournament.

Now, after upsetting host Georgia Tech to win the NCAA Atlanta Regional last week and beating the host Gators in close games two days in a row, his team is one of eight still playing for the national championship.

“It’s unbelievable,” said Palmer, 55. “I can’t describe from where we were at three weeks ago going into the conference tournament to where it is now. It proves our kids gave everything they had.”

Things didn’t look good for USM early on Sunday – the Golden Eagles and star pitcher Todd McInnis fell behind 6-1 after three innings.

But just as they have throughout a postseason run that has included eight victories in 10 games, the Golden Eagles battled back. USM scored twice in the fourth then added a run in the fifth on James Ewing’s solo homer, cutting the deficit to 6-4.

USM then broke through for three in the eighth to take its first lead of the game.

Joey Archer’s two-run single tied the game at 6, then Adam Doleac scored what proved to be the winning run when the Gators couldn’t turn what would have been an inning-ending double play on Tyler Koelling’s sharp-hit grounder.

Scott Copeland (2-5) was the winning pitcher for USM, throwing three innings of one-hit, scoreless middle relief.

The victory was USM’s 12th in its last 15 games.

“Everything has been going our way, and you can’t complain,” said Doleac, who scored the winning run. “This is the best time of my life right now.”

We’re No. 1! … at Using Cocaine

June 5, 2009

WASHINGTON — A new report finds that a higher percentage of D.C. residents are using cocaine than in any state in the country.

The Department of Health and Human Services‘ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration developed the report based on 2006 and 2007 National Surveys on Drug Use and Health. The report breaks down substance abuse and mental health problems on a state-by-state basis.

D.C.’s best showing in the report was a 5.1 percent rate of usage of cocaine in the past year — among residents 12 and older. That topped the country.

We argue the fairness of such a distinction, considering we just have a city and none of those rural areas that conveniently lack clubs full of hipsters and yuppies doing bumps in the bathroom and abandoned building that serve as urban crack castles.

Mississippi had the lowest rate, 1.6 percent, but its largest city has about 175,000 people, as of July 1, 2007, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. We’d like to compare meth abuse in Mississippi to meth abuse in the District.

Furthermore, we’d like to see the percentage of New Yorkers, Los Angelinos or Chicagoans that have used cocaine in the past year. That would give us a much better idea of how polluted our population really is.

Missouri meth labs still rampant despite tougher rules

June 5, 2009

Authorities continue to find more meth labs and dump sites in Missouri than in any other state — by far — despite a new state law that has made it tougher to buy key ingredients.

Missouri State Highway Patrol Capt. Tim Hull said Wednesday that 462 lab busts and discoveries of meth-processing dump sites were reported in the state for the first three months of 2009, according to an internal report. That was up from 426 in the first quarter of 2008.

No other state was even close, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. Mississippi had the second-highest number of meth incidents, with 146 in the January-through-March period. Michigan was third with 136.

Missouri has led the nation in meth lab incidents every year since 2001, but because they mostly involve very small-scale operations the state is far from the leader in terms of quantities seized. In 2007, for instance, there was nearly 50 times more meth seized in California than in Missouri, even though authorities in Missouri found more than four times as many meth labs and dump sites as their counterparts in California.

Missouri law enforcement may be more aggressive in rooting out meth labs because they have become a more significant political issue after years of headlines proclaiming the state the nation’s “meth capital.”

“You have to look at it two ways,” Hull said. “Is the problem here that much worse, or is the concerted effort of Missouri law enforcement that much greater as far as finding it and seeking out where meth is being manufactured?”

Still, the labs remain a big concern. The toxic mix of chemicals causes serious health problems and death. Meth lab fires are common.

And every time the state seems to be making progress, the meth-makers find ways around the roadblocks.

Meth busts declined in Missouri after a 2005 law required products containing pseudoephedrine or ephedrine to be placed behind pharmacy counters, limited the amount that could be purchased and required buyers to show photo identification.

So rather than buy large quantities at one spot, meth-makers began “pill shopping” in multiple cities or towns — a practice known as “smurfing.”

Last August, another new Missouri law restricted availability of pseudoephedrine and ephedrine even further — allowing it to be sold only in pharmacies. It helped for a while, officials said, but the numbers have gradually crept back up.

Some law enforcement agencies and the Missouri Narcotics Officers Association want state lawmakers to make pseudoephedrine a Schedule 3 controlled substance, which would require a prescription to purchase it. Meth fighters also want an online system that would immediately track purchases of the meth precursors and red flag those making multiple purchases in a short period of time.

Lawmakers have authorized the electronic monitoring system, but haven’t funded it.

“At this time, we don’t have a real-time solution to the problem to apprehend these people as they go from store to store to store,” said Lt. Dave Marshak of the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department.

In some cases, pharmacists are taking matters into their own hands. Richard Logan operates L&S Discount Pharmacy in the southeast Missouri town of Charleston. Also a reserve deputy sheriff in Scott and Mississippi counties, he sometimes wears his badge and sheriff’s department vest to work. And he no longer sells pseudoephedrine, except to people he knows.

But Logan said smurfing isn’t the only problem. Meth manufacturers have found a faster way to make the drug, the so-called “shake-and-bake” method.

Typically, making a batch of meth could take all night. The new method involves chemicals that are shaken in a 2-liter bottle.

“Now, they can make a whole batch in about 30 minutes,” Logan said.

Ole Miss Wants U2 to Come to Oxford

June 2, 2009

Oxford, MS – The University of Mississippi is hoping to attract an educational conference on the band, U2.

The band has already traveled to the Mid-South for inspiration for their signature sound. Because of that, Oxford resident and U2 fan Misty Phillips started a campaign to bring the first U2 Academic Conference to Ole Miss.

“The real connection to the music is with Muddy Waters and B.B. King and the people that inspired their music from the beginning,” says Phillips.

The conference will be held in October. Originally, it was set for New York, but organizers found it too costly. So a committee formed to find a new venue. The finalists are the University of Mississippi and Duke.

The conference will be about more than music; it concentrates on how the band has impacted the world.

“Its anything from the world debt relief they have been champions of, to HIV and AIDS prevention and orphan care,” says Phillips.

The conference will attract international speakers and hundreds of attendants from around the world. The cultural opportunities for Oxford attracted the Yoknapatawpha Arts Council. It will provide staffing, hospitality services, and tours if Ole Miss is selected.

“We thought this was a great mesh because its a conference about a band from another country that came through and experienced the music here and it changed them,” says Wayne Andrews, Executive Director of the Yoknapatawpha Arts Council.

U2’s travels through the Mid-South would also be a part of the conference. Phillips wants conference go-ers to get the full U2 “southern” experience.

“We started out in Memphis we went on buses to Sun Studios, we stood where Elvis stood and we experienced what U2 did,” says Phillips.

The organizers in Oxford need your help to sway the committee to choose Ole Miss. Blog about why the conference should come to Oxford on the U2 conference website.