Head Coach Ellis Johnson Signing Day Press Conference Transcript

Feb. 1, 2012

Signing Day Central

Head Coach Ellis Johnson
Opening Statement...
"It's been a great day. We're excited. I know all across America right now, in every college press conference being held, everybody is talking about having the greatest class they have ever had. We're all excited but it really is that kind of a day for us because when you culminate days and days and weeks of working hard and trying to get to know these young men and get them signed, it's just an exciting day. I can't tell you how pleased we are. If I would have known about 35 days ago when I took this job that we would have been able to put together this type of class, I would have slept a lot easier."

"I'm very proud of the staff. I think they've done an exceptional job under the circumstances. (Director of Internal Operations) Pat Magee did an outstanding job of keeping a good compilation of all the prospects they had recruited. That was extremely important as we worked into trying to get them on campus. (Assistant Head Coach) Steve Buckley and (Offensive Line Coach) Tucker Peavey were on the ground ready to go within three days of me taking the job and getting on the phone and holding together a pretty good class. I can't say enough about this coaching staff and the job they did. We actually had official visit weekends where players came and it was the first time that I'd even had an opportunity to speak to them. That's a tough thing for a young man to go through in the recruiting process when it goes by that way. Almost as tough as that, some of our current team members who hosted them on those weekends, we didn't even know who they were. It was a tough situation for us having been on the road as much as we had that we didn't even really know our own players as well as we knew the recruit, and we didn't know the recruits all that well - certainly not as much as we will in the next recruiting cycle. I think at this stage, you measure a class in three ways."

"I think you can get all caught up in the hype - and I certainly respect the job that (the media does) - but how you measure this class is who else wanted them and how did you get them. The second thing is, did we meet our needs? The third thing, are the players we took good enough players that they are going to make an impact on this program? I think we can answer 'Yes,' affirmatively to all three of those. Some of these guys got some phone calls over the last two or three nights to try to change their mind and we were able to hold onto them. We beat some people we have to be able to beat on Saturdays, and when you beat those kinds of people you've got a chance. We're very pleased. We're excited about them as individuals and as a total class and I can't wait to follow through the process, get them qualified, get them on campus and follow through as coaches and develop this bunch into a good group of football players."

Was there one area that you felt was more important to recruit than the others?...
"I think there are always some needs that are a little more critical than others. One conversation I had with (Former Southern Miss Head Coach Larry Fedora), he said, 'I think you're in pretty good shape, but you better get some linebackers.' We are depleted at linebacker through the graduation process and Korey Williams' had his appeal denied. Linebacker was a big need for us, not in numbers, but in guys we felt like could come in with a shot to play some for us. I think we signed two linebackers than can do that. That was my main concern on the defensive side. Really on the offensive side, I didn't think we had anything extremely immediate, but we signed a couple of guys that have the ability to come in and contribute."

You closed strong with Mississippi players. How was it to find some recruiting answers close to home?...
"It obviously goes back to the fact that I was familiar with the program, having been here before, and Steve Buckley and Tucker Peavey have coached here before and have coached in Mississippi at multiple levels. Their relationship with some of the high school coaches, their knowledge of where some of these players were, we were able to go back in and recruit some players that perhaps did not have as strong as an interest or perhaps did not fit into the previous staff's plans. We felt like we had to go back in and recruit some of them. Oliver Bates, Wil Freeman, Jarell Aaron, we went back in on. All of these guys were players that Coach Buckley or Coach Peavey had knowledge of because of the areas in which they had been coaching."

What kind of expectations do you have for Anthony Alford?...
"Well, I can't say enough about the young man. I tried to recruit him at South Carolina because of his baseball/football interest, but as the process wore on, I knew distance was going to kill it. We developed a good relationship through the recruiting process and I think that helped us convince him to stay home. He is a great football player. He is a great baseball player, but more important than that, he's an even better person. I think that those are the types of young men that you have to build the program you want to have - a championship program with young men who achieve in every area. The only thing we will tell people now is that we don't have any expectations or a certain level they have to reach because I think you can set yourself up for failure or even limit yourself. I don't have any certain expectations for him other than I know he is going to be a heck of a player and great student-athlete here.

How many remaining slots do you have for the 2012 class?...
"Most of the time when you sign a class, at least 30-40% of them are not close to being qualified when you sign them. That's where we have to do as I said - follow through the process. We've tried to hold back and keep scholarships if we could but we also had tremendous needs in some of our spots on the depth chart and we made a decision that if we found a player that was good enough to impact the program, we'd take him. If you look at the history over the recent years at Southern Miss, probably if you took the 12 most impactful players on our roster right now, I would bet 3-4 of them were signed after signing day. That's just the nature of what's going on in college football today."

Is there a diamond-in-the-rough prospect in this group?...
"I could say a lot of them, but I don't feel like we were working Oliver Bates really hard when we got here. Just watching him on film and having met that young man, his upside, physically, just a tremendous family. What a wonderful young man. He got some calls late last week from people who would like him to reconsider and go on a visit. He's one. Gosh, I could go down the list. Brandon Farmer was not being highly recruited. Jarell Aaron was not being highly recruited. It's the Brett Favre-Todd Pinkston type story. There are a lot of these young men that may not be all over the hype list but they all have tremendous athletic ability. For different reasons, their abilities have not been exposed. Maybe it's a smaller school or they played in an offense that didn't highlight their abilities. I think there are several in there that met that criteria."

Is a guy like Lelland Ducksworth someone who could contribute as a linebacker right away?...
"I think he can. Lelland is so athletic. I'm not sure he couldn't play running back for us. We obviously recruited him as a linebacker and we think he can make an immediate impact. (Defensive Coordinator) Tommy West feels like in this conference the first priority on linebackers is athleticism, not size. He fits that extremely well. He's very athletic, good enough to play running back, tremendous speed with great cover ability. I think if he's healthy when we start, he has every opportunity to challenge for a job."

Can you talk about the tradition of Southern Miss and how it helps with recruiting?...
"The number five pops out: conference championships. The number seven pops out: only seven teams in the nation won 12 or more games. The number 18 pops out: 18 consecutive winning seasons. It just goes on and on. A lot of people asked about the pressure of stepping into this job right now after the just won 12 games. The pressure in stepping into this job is the total history of the place. It's not one year of history. It's a century of history. That's what makes it exciting and challenging. Coaches, we love challenge anyhow, but you can take over a program that never had (a long history of success). At South Carolina, they had only won one conference championship in the history of the school. But it was fun to take that job and see what we could do with that too. Southern Miss has different challenges. We always win, but how much can we win? That's the key now. Can you take it over now? Can you do what everyone else has done with this job? We don't just compete. We win. That's the difference between this university and the rest of them."

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