They all wanted Brent Schaeffer. Bad.
Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema brought family into it. He recruited Schaeffer's cousin, Brad Banks, while at Iowa; Texas told Schaeffer he could be the next Vince Young; Kansas State got in late, no doubt dropping names like Ell Roberson and Michael Bishop.
North Carolina State? Well, you know Chuck Amato. The charismatic Chest probably threw his car keys on the desk and told the quarterback the Wolfpack's Honda Civic offense was his.
|Brent Schaeffer left Tennessee and found his game in California. (Getty Images)|
Janitors recently mopped up the drool left over from the recruiting process. Mississippi won the Schaeffer Sweepstakes, completing a swift, efficient and frightening makeover of a program that went 3-8 in Ed Orgeron's first season.
"The talent here at Ole Miss had to pick up," the coach said.
It did, dramatically. Almost half of Orgeron's class (13 of 30) is from talent-rich Mississippi. It includes a Mississippi Mr. Football finalist, Cordera Eason, one of the nation's top running backs.
All-SEC linebacker Patrick Willis had to be re-recruited after considering a jump to the NFL. Assistants Art Kehoe and Dan Werner (both recently fired at Miami) were hired, sporting a few national championship rings between them.
"We like recruiting, and recruiting is emotional," Orgeron said on signing day after seeming just that while announcing his class.
But no one expected a virtual free-agent quarterback, a former SEC starter. Certainly not at Ole Miss, which had run out of twice-in-a-lifetime quarterbacks when the last Manning left town.
So how did Schaeffer end up in Oxford with three years of eligibility on his meter? And how the heck did he end up there after playing a year of juco ball in Visalia, Calif.?
You'll have to ask Andy Siegel, like everyone else did when they visited College of Sequoias. Siegel is the school's 41-year-old offensive coordinator and Schaeffer's unofficial handler while he's in Visalia.
Recruiters had to go through Siegel, who seemed to have a magic way of contacting Schaeffer when no one else could. Schaeffer had a cell phone but he also had a purpose.
After taking 20-plus hours this semester to get his associate's degree, Schaeffer plans to enter summer school at Ole Miss. There's little down time.
"You're not getting a typical juco quarterback," Siegel told recruiters. "This guy has been in front of 105,000 people. He knows what it's like to stare down a blitz from the University of Florida. That's what attracted all those schools," he added. "The kid is pure talent. This guy is polished."
Polished is a relative word. Most of us remember Schaeffer transferring from Tennessee after his freshman year in 2004. The five-star prep star from Deerfield Beach, Fla., split time with fellow freshman Erik Ainge, starting three games. Then he broke his collarbone.
There were hints that Schaeffer was being moved to receiver or kick returner. Then he was charged with a misdemeanor after an alleged dorm fight with a student.
"A coach at Tennessee told me if Brent isn't planning on transferring that probably doesn't come out," Siegel said.
Welcome to the big time, Brent. The five-star tarnished star transferred to College of the Sequoias to play while sitting out his transfer year. Siegel had recruited Schaeffer to Dodge City (Kan.) Community College. That made sense. The powerful Jayhawk Conference has been a junior-college home to many future SEC stars.
Then Siegel got a job at an even lonelier football outpost in Visalia. Guess who followed?
"They were terrible," Siegel said of the Giants, who had six consecutive losing seasons heading into 2005.
Juco programs and their players are very Zen. They live for today. College of the Sequoias is halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, two hours from the beach and 20 minutes from the mountains. And right down Schaeffer's alley.
The 6-foot-2 left-hander realized some of his promise, throwing for almost 3,000 yards and scoring 52 touchdowns, 40 through the air. The Giants had a winning record for the first time in seven years.
"He just brought a spark and swagger to the offense," Siegel said. "It didn't matter what happened in the game, we knew we could score."
That's when Orgeron's antennae went up and his recruiting magic kicked in.
"Here's the thing," Siegel said. "I've had 77 guys sign Division I scholarships. I've never seen a whole coaching staff come recruit a player."
Orgeron doesn't recruit, he obsesses. There were those who doubted the beefy former Southern California defensive line coach could run a program. His intimidating screams on the practice field turn water into whine. Sure, he had made his recruiting chops at USC, Syracuse and Miami. But overseeing a program requires more than yelling.
During recruiting season, he was able to hire those two old friends -- Kehoe as offensive line coach and Werner as offensive coordinator. Both had been fired in a purge by Larry Coker.
Now they might be part of a resurrection at Ole Miss. Both Werner and Kehoe accompanied Orgeron on what had to be one of the greatest recruiting roadies of all time. The coaching staff took a private plane to visit Schaeffer's parents in Florida and Schaeffer himself in California.
In one day.
On his recruiting visit to Ole Miss, Orgeron found a mature, refined Schaeffer. No evidence of an injury or an attitude.
"He was cool as ice," Orgeron said. "He's been through stuff."
So has Ole Miss. We're not saying the Rebels are going to win the SEC or even the SEC West. Not yet. The David Cutcliffe firing after the 2004 season was controversial. The offense produced a paltry 13.5 points per game last year.
And the SEC never rests when it comes to recruiting. That's why Orgeron is tired and proud and savvy. While Texas was mentioning Vince Young and Bielema might have dropped the name of Schaeffer's scrambling cousin, Orgeron had a secret.
The one-time dual-threat quarterback suddenly isn't and Coach O knew it.
"He wants to be a pro-style quarterback," Orgeron said. "Really."
Just like Eli.