A shot at redemption Masoli aims to justify last chance at Ole Miss

Published 11:55 am Tuesday, August 10, 2010

OXFORD — When Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt finished his 20-minute chat detailing his thoughts on the Rebels’ upcoming season at the school’s media day news conference on Monday, he paused and then issued a gentle plea. Nutt knew that the much-troubled Jeremiah Masoli would be entering the small auditorium next to talk for the first time publicly about his controversial arrival to Ole Miss.

“Hey, this guy has been through a lot. He’s trying to fit it in. He’s done all that I’ve asked of him,” Nutt said before departing.

Following him was Masoli, the 2009 Pac-10 all-conference quarterback, who led the Oregon Ducks to last January’s Rose Bowl against Ohio State. The same Masoli who torched then fifth-ranked Southern Cal for 222 yards passing and 164 rushing in a 47-20 rout in a nationally-televised game on ABC. The same Masoli, who in March was accused and later pleaded guilty to burglary in the second degree of two laptops and an electric guitar. The same Jeremiah Masoli, who in June, after spending three months trying to work himself back on to the Oregon football team, was arrested for possession of a small amount of marijuana, driving with a suspended license and a traffic citation for failure to stop. A week later, he pled guilty to possession, which is a non-criminal offense in Oregon, and the traffic ticket. The suspended license charge was dropped. But Masoli was also dropped from the Oregon football team.

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On Sunday, Masoli suited up for the first time in an Ole Miss uniform.

On Monday morning he spoke.

“The last few months have been tough. Tough on me, but most of all, on my family. But I have a great opportunity here. I’m grateful to get this chance….to get this last chance,” Masoli said.

Masoli then addressed this week’s detailed account of his troubles in an article published by “Sports Illustrated.”

“I feel that the full story is now out there. I hope it will satisfy some of the fans both here and in Oregon. I’m glad that ‘Sports Illustrated’ did it,” Masoli said.

The article used police records, court records and eyewitness accounts to support a version of events that Masoli may have been a victim of circumstance — being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Even though he was suspended from the Ducks following his March plea deal which resulted in no jail time and one year of probation, coach Chip Kelly allowed Masoli to go through spring practice, just not as a quarterback.

“It was an interesting spring. I was suspended, but they allowed me to practice with the receivers. It was fun. I got to learn another position,” Masoli said.

Ole Miss fans might prefer Masoli at quarterback. Last year for the Ducks, Masoli completed 177 of 305 passes for 2,147 yards and 15 touchdowns. He ran for another 644 yards and 13 scores. The 2,815 yards in total offense rank eighth in Oregon school history. He also led the Ducks to a Pac-10 title and a Rose Bowl berth. In 2008, Masoli led the Ducks to a Holiday Bowl win.

Jerrell Powe, Ole Miss’ standout defensive tackle, said he went to Nutt to plead with him to take a chance on Masoli.

“I told Coach Nutt we need to get this cat. Do you see how well he ran that zone read (play) against Southern Cal? When I went back and looked at that game, I knew we had to get him,” Powe said.

Rebel defensive end Kentrell Lockett was another Masoli supporter.

“He single-handedly won that game for Oregon. Just imagine what he can do for us,” Lockett said.

As to why he even came to Ole Miss, Masoli said he contacted the school.

“I did my own research. Some schools contacted me, but mostly it was me. I was looking for a place that might need help in the quarterback position. Now that I’m here, I just hope to be another piece to the puzzle.

“This is not just about football. I don’t want to let anybody down, most of all, Coach Nutt. He’s the reason why I am here. Just him as a person, that’s what really caught my attention. There was something about him that made me feel comfortable. I know I have to do a better job of watching my surroundings. I want to show people the true Jeremiah Masoli. The true quarterback who can run and pass. I want to be able to showcase those talents,” he said.

New Ole Miss offensive coordinator and quarterback coach Dave Rader said he’s already a Masoli fan.

“He was very impressive from a knowledge standpoint. The good thing is we got 28 practices before the first game. The things we’re looking at with him in this offense is something very similar to what Coach Nutt ran when he had Matt Jones at Arkansas. I know as a runner in the option and in play action, Masoli can be very successful. What I didn’t know was how good he is as a dropback passer,” Rader said.

The Rebels open the 2010 season on Sept. 4 at home against Jacksonville State.