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Cutcliffe: Ole Miss has eye on locals

David Cutcliffe, Ole Miss’ football coach, signs a football that was auctioned off at the Ole Miss alumni banquet Tuesday at Maxwell’s Restaurant. At left is 1949 Ole Miss All-American Kayo Dottley and his wife Nina, both of Vicksburg. Cutcliffe said former Ole Miss coach John Vaught once told him Dottley is the “one who got things going” at Ole Miss. (The Vicksburg Post/MELANIE DUNCAN)

[05/09/01] David Cutcliffe met with Warren County’s Ole Miss alumni Tuesday night. The Rebels’ head coach expects to meet some Warren County players in the next couple of years.

“We’ve got this thing going in the right direction and we’re going to do it with Mississippi players,” Cutcliffe said before addressing about 200 alumni at Maxwell’s Restaurant Tuesday night.

But he wants to compete for Mississippi high school players, not against them. He was “not pleased at all” about the recent NCAA ruling that allows college teams to play on Friday nights.

Southeastern Conference officials have said their league won’t play on Friday.

“I don’t want the NFL to infringe on our Saturdays,” he said. “I appreciate the money and TV, but I don’t have any need for Friday football. That’s high schools’ night.”

Basketball assistant Eric Bozeman, who helped guide the Rebels to the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16 for the first time in school history, also spoke at the gathering. Chancellor Robert Khayat was unable to attend after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery last week.

Cutcliffe said receivers coach Mike MacIntyre, who recruits the Vicksburg area, is interested in some players here.

NCAA rules prohibit coaches from telling recruits’ names.

The Rebels haven’t had a player from Warren County since Warren Central’s Paul Winfield in 1995.

Cutcliffe has, however, recruited someone from Vicksburg during his tenure, which began in December 1998. Dwike Wilson, a student-assistant, made a big impression on Cutcliffe since joining the staff last year.

“I went to Hinds looking for a player and came back with a coach,” he said of Wilson, who starred at Vicksburg High before going on to Hinds and becoming an assistant coach after injuries sidelined him. “He’s someone I want to see get into coaching … I just have to remind him that he is a student, so he does have to go to class instead of working all the time.”

Cutcliffe emphasizes academics to his players, as well, he said. When he arrived, the team’s overall grade-point average was 1.98, he said. This year’s freshman class has a cumulative 3.25 and the overall team GPA is up to 2.76.

He also talked about last year’s players and the legacy they left for this year’s young team, which features quarterback Eli Manning in a sophomore class of 54. The Rebels have only 12 scholarship seniors.

“We would have liked more wins,” he said of the 7-5 finish in 2000, which was capped by a loss to West Virginia in the Music City Bowl. “We don’t want to be mediocre.”

But strides were made, he said, with the leadership examples set by running back Deuce McAllister, quarterback Romaro Miller and others.

Miller, who signed a free-agent contract with the Minnesota Vikings on Tuesday, “was the greatest team player I’ve ever coached” despite constant criticism, Cutcliffe said. McAllister was “very hurt” all season but “never made an excuse,” he said.

“They passed that on to the younger players,” Cutcliffe said.

He said he was impressed with the young squad during spring drills.

“No one is going to like playing Ole Miss,” he said. “This is one fun team. We’ve just got to get them all going in the same direction.”

Cutcliffe said McAllister is good enough to compete with Ricky Williams for the Saints’ starting job this year.

“He can be an every-down back,” Cutcliffe said.

The alumni association awarded $500 scholarships to Warren Central students Jim Strawn and Lacey Chaney and St. Aloysius’ Kristen Patrick.