July 1, 2008

Williford warming to Rebels' sales pitch

It's become apparent to Josh Williford that the massive offensive lineman has become one of the most desired players on Ole Miss' recruiting board.

The e-mails from Oxford, Miss., to his home in Dothan, Ala., have confirmed what Williford suspected in the days immediately following his strong performance at Ole Miss' three-day camp last month.

"It seems like they've got a lot of rebuilding to do and (Ole Miss offensive line) Coach (Mike) Markuson told me he's willing to start freshmen to build the program up. They just got a commitment from (Louisville, Miss., quarterback) Clayton Moore. I met him at the (Ole Miss) camp and then I saw him at Tennessee and we became friends. He called me the other night and we talked about it."

While Williford isn't going to base his decision on Moore or any other prospect, he said Moore's commitment to the Rebels can only help Ole Miss' chances in landing his signature in February.

"Right now, Tennessee has a commitment from one of my friends I met at last year's camp (Olive Branch, Miss., offensive lineman Aubrey Phillips). It's nice to know that we have somebody like that on that team."

Williford, a 6-foot-7, 345-pounder, has seen his stock skyrocket this summer after attending camps at LSU, Ole Miss, Alabama and Tennessee. The Rebels and Tigers have offered scholarships and appear to be the top teams on his list, though Williford emphasized Monday night that he doesn't have a leader at this point.

"I don't have a top one right now, because I could see myself going to any one of those schools," Williford said.

Early playing time, Williford said, would be a strong selling point, but it's not a prerequisite in his selection process.

"I want to play when they think I'm ready to play, if that makes sense," Williford said.

Weeks ago, after leaving Oxford, Williford said he had to give some thought to the prospect of joining a program that is so clearly in rebuilding mode. Ole Miss was 7-1 in the Southeastern Conference in 2003 with Eli Manning under center, but the Rebels have failed to qualify for a bowl game since. Former Arkansas coach Houston Nutt has rebuilt the Rebels' morale already, but until the wins come, Nutt and his staff are selling optimism and hope. Still, Williford seems to have warmed to the sales pitch.

"It's kind of cool to say you can go into a program that was struggling and then to come out possibly a winner and say you were able to contribute to something like that," Williford said.

LSU, meanwhile, can sell a pair of national championships over the past five seasons. Williford said he talks to the Tigers' staff "a lot," and he said in an interview with the Rivals.com network last week that he planned to check out the LSU veterinary school later this month.

Williford didn't commit to a specific timetable Monday night, but he indicated that he could make his college choice soon thereafter.

"I think I'm getting close," Williford said. "I'm really close. I'm hoping I can make a decision before the season."

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