As Leonard Fournette galloped through open pastures in Ole Miss’ second level on Saturday night, one of the few reassurances was that the Rebels’ awful linebacker corps might at least be better off next season after the arrival of four-star prospect Willie Gay. Now even that consolation is gone. Gay, a US Army All-American ranked by 247Sports as the eighth best linebacker in the country, tweeted early Monday morning that he has backed out of his Ole Miss commitment.
"I would like to thank all the Ole Miss fans and coaching staff for all the love and support these last few months, but after talking to my mom and praying on it I've decided to decommit from the University of Mississippi," Gay tweeted.
Gay, a Starkville native who recently told Rebel Grove that he “[likes] a lot of attention]”, caused a stir back in June when he picked Ole Miss over his hometown Bulldogs. But he’d done little to convince Rebel fans that the pledge would stick, continuing to suggest via interviews and retweets that his recruitment remained open. Last Wednesday he told Michigan’s Rivals affiliate that the Wolverines were his No. 1 school.
With Gay’s verbal commitment gone, Ole Miss is left with two linebacker commits in the 2017 class: three-star Josh Clarke and three-star JUCO Jay Johnson. Clarke holds several Power 5 offers and Johnson is a solid enough prospect, neither has the blend of size and athleticism that makes Gay such an elite prospect.
Gay was Ole Miss’ second-highest rated commit behind wide receiver D.D. Bowie but most importantly, he was a linebacker, a position at which Hugh Freeze has routinely whiffed on the recruiting trail.
Five-star linebacker Mique Juarez, who at one point was thought to have Ole Miss as his leader, left a Rebels hat on the table and signed with UCLA last February. Less than two hours before, four-star JUCO David Luafatasaga had abruptly backed out of his year-long commitment to Ole Miss and flipped to Utah. That all came a year after five-star Leo Lewis jumped ship for Mississippi State in the 11th hour and two years after three-star Duke Riley flashed the fin his entire senior year before signing with LSU.
Even with the expected additions of Clarke and Johnson, the Rebels linebackers are still a major area of concern in 2017. DeMarquis Gates will be back, but the rest of the crew will consist of rising senior Ray Ray Smith, redshirt freshman Donta Evans, rising senior Taylor Polk, rising junior Detric Bing-Dukes and rising sophomore Willie Hibbler. Not great.