Ole Miss football coach Houston Nutt’s interest in former Oregon Quarterback Jeremiah Masoli, who has a year of eligibility remaining on his collegiate career and was looking for a home, was born out of necessity.
He had just lost redshirt freshman QB Raymond Cotton, who abruptly left the Rebels a little over a week ago, and, frankly, he felt a little desperate entering the 2010 season and facing the Southeastern Conference with only two scholarship quarterbacks on the roster, sophomore Nathan Stanley, who has little experience, and junior college transfer Randall Mackey, an outstanding athlete but an unproven commodity as a Division I signal-caller.
“I’m not going to be hypocritical,” said Nutt. “I approached Jeremiah because of our team’s needs. My top priority is our team and we needed help.”
But all of that changed once he got to know Masoli, a strong Heisman candidate a year ago for the Ducks.
“After I talked to him and his Mother (Linda) on the phone, I instinctively knew I was dealing with a special family and a special young man,” Nutt noted. “They just have something about them that draws you to them.”
Nutt had to make sure, though, by looking Jeremiah in the eye. Consequently, when a good rapport had been built with Masoli via telephone conversations, it was time to arrange an official visit.
On his visit to Ole Miss last weekend, Masoli won over Nutt – and everyone associated with the Rebel program – in a big way.
“You can’t fake that type of sincerity,” Nutt stated of Masoli. “We were at my house, just Jeremiah and I, talking. He looks you in the eye. He’s focused. His eyes don’t dart around. He does not disengage. I could see all the qualities I was looking for, and then some.”
As the weekend progressed, Nutt had an epiphany, of sorts.
It was not just a quick-fix quarterback the Rebel mentor was desperate for. It was Jeremiah Masoli, and before the two-day visit was over, it was Jeremiah or nothing for Nutt.
“I genuinely like that young man. It didn’t take long before I was viewing him completely differently from my original thoughts. At first, it was that I was recruiting one of the best quarterbacks in the country, a proven quarterback. I will admit that,” Nutt explained. “But after getting to know him, I felt like I was recruiting a tremendous asset to our team beyond his abilities as a player.
“I’ve been in this business a long time and have had to become a decent judge of character. If you aren’t able to read people, you will not last long in the coaching profession. I believe with all my heart Jeremiah Masoli is a special person, not just a special football player. I told Jeremiah that he needed me worse than I needed him, but after getting to know him and his family, that’s not true. We need each other.”
In all budding relationships, however, there has to be a two-way street of trust.
Masoli and his family have been put through the proverbial wringer in recent months, with bad media reports and undo criticism from many different angles.
Appropriately, and certainly not surprisingly, they don’t hand out trust like Halloween candy, and who could blame them? Jeremiah, once the toast of Oregon, had been the subject of many examples of distortion of the truth about his legal issues, as proven by the recent “here’s-the-real-story” article by Sports Illustrated.
During this time, the Masolis have responded by hiring a PR firm, limiting interviews, rebutting untruths in the media and doing what all families do in a crisis – circling the wagons.
“It’s been a battle, one we never thought we’d be in,” said Linda Masoli, Jeremiah’s Mother. “We’ve learned a lot of lessons. There were times when Jeremiah could have made better decisions and handled things better, but I know my son. He has a good heart, a big heart, sometimes too big.
“Jeremiah was raised to do the right things. He’s made some mistakes and has paid dearly for them, but he’s dealing with them. We all are. We’ll have thick skin and move forward. Jeremiah will do the right things at Ole Miss.”
Linda didn’t say it, but it’s detectable – the family is more guarded now and more cautious who they let into their inner circle of trust.
“Coach Nutt handled everything with complete class. Jeremiah made all the decisions in the matter, but I am excited he chose Coach Nutt to mentor him,” Linda noted. “He’s a good person. This will be a good fit.
“I am very thankful and grateful to the Ole Miss administration, Coach Nutt and the Ole Miss fans for allowing Jeremiah to be a part of the Rebel team. He will make them proud he is a Rebel.”
Jeremiah expressed the same sort of gratitude for the new lease on his football life as well.
“It means the world to me to have a clean slate,” a humble Masoli stated. “For Ole Miss and Coach Nutt to give me another shot at a high level of play is a dream come true. I’m very relieved and very thankful.”
Now, the past is the past. Water under the bridge, with a new chapter being written in Oxford, MS, at Ole Miss. Jeremiah is certainly leaving the past in the rearview mirror and looking to a bright future.
He sounds confident and poised as he embarks on his newest challenge, but what Ole Miss will get is the real Jeremiah Masoli, not a makeover.
“I will be myself. I will show my heart to my coaches, my teammates and the fans. Everyone will see quickly that I will do anything for the team, and I’ll do it by working hard, being unselfish and being humble,” he explained. “I have always considered myself a great teammate and I want that to continue at Ole Miss.”
In Southern parlance, he’ll come to Ole Miss with “his hat in his hand.” Not begging, but certainly respectful of the situation.
“I’m the rookie,” he chuckled, noting the humor and oddity of a senior saying that. “I am going to respect the established relationships and leadership already developed on the team just like I did when I was a freshman. It’s really no different. I will have to earn everything I get within the structure of the team.”
Having allowed that, Masoli fully intends to come in and compete for playing time in August. After all, this is a guy who led Oregon to one of its greatest all-time victories over Southern Cal and to the Rose Bowl.
“I told Coach Nutt and Coach (David) Rader that I believe I can run the whole offense after watching film with them on my official visit,” Jeremiah added. “I like the system. They have some great ways to keep defenses on their heels and I think I can be another threat in that system in the backfield.”
Jeremiah is keeping an open mind, however, and is game for anything.
“I’m a quarterback first, but having said that, team comes before everything,” he continued. “Whatever the coaches ask me to do, I will do it with no complaints. I played wide receiver last spring and the athlete in me had fun doing it. I’m open.
“I just want to contribute as much as I possibly can, take it one game at a time and hopefully help the team take it to Atlanta.”
Masoli is having a hard time containing his excitement about getting the season going. The first practice is Sunday, August 8th.
“To be a part of the rich tradition at Ole Miss, to be a part of the Rebel family, to play in the SEC – I couldn’t have wished for any more,” he closed. “Imagine – we will be playing against LSU, Arkansas and Alabama on the road. How exciting is that? As a competitor, it doesn’t get any better.”
Conceived by Nutt, approved by the Ole Miss family, and accepted by Jeremiah and the Masoli family, an incredible journey could be in the making.