September 1, 2008

Winston not tipping his hand after Ole Miss visit

West Helena (Central), Ark., cornerback Darius Winston has heard the rationale that there's simply no way that Arkansas' best player is going to stand up at a pep rally on the day of his high school season-opener and declare that he plans to play his college football for any program other than the Razorbacks.

"I don't really pay attention to that," Winston said Sunday as he packed his belongings for the return trip home following his official visit to Ole Miss over the weekend. "They're trying to predict where I'm going to go. I'll just say that the people who are saying that might be surprised."

Winston said he believes some West Helena locals will be angry and others supportive if he commits on Friday to a school other than Arkansas. However, the 6-foot, 180-pounder with 4.4-second speed in the 40-yard dash said he's not worried about the local reaction, one way or the other.

"It's whatever's best for me," Winston said.

There appears to be a chance that Winston could decide that what's best for him is Ole Miss. Winston arrived Saturday, checked out the Ole Miss campus and took in the Rebels' 41-24 season-opening win over Memphis at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium Saturday night. However, the game wasn't what Winston was still talking about Sunday. Instead, Winston was still a bit wowed by the scene in The Grove, the beautiful tract of land in the middle of the Ole Miss campus that has become famous for tailgating and pre-game partying.

"I've never seen anything like that in my life," Winston said. "I also saw the academic center and the library. They just showed me a great time overall."

As for the game, Winston said it was basically what he expected.

"I saw what I thought I was going to see," Winston said. "I knew I was going to see a bunch of motivated players for Coach (Houston) Nutt with it being his first game coaching them. I knew that they'd be excited, but it was more than I expected. The team was great."

Ole Miss is thin at cornerback. The Rebels started sophomore Cassius Vaughn and senior Dustin Mouzon at cornerback against Memphis. When Vaughn went down with an ankle injury, converted running back Jeremy McGee stepped in. Converted wide receiver Marshay Green also saw extensive playing time at cornerback. Besides offensive line, the position probably presents the Rebels' greatest area of need for the 2009 signing class.

"They play a lot of man," Winston said. "I see myself fitting in and they'd make me better. They play my style. Their style fits me the best. I mean, it fits me real good."

On Sunday morning, Winston met with Nutt, who presumably showed him the Rebels' depth chart at cornerback and presented the opportunity to play extremely early. Winston has known Nutt since Nutt was the head coach at Arkansas, and there are family connections between Winston's family and Nutt's family.

"It went great," Winston said of his conversation with the new Ole Miss coach. "He just let me know that whatever decision I made was fine with him but he let me know how badly they need me down there and how much they want me. He said I could help them get a couple more great players come down to Ole Miss. He told me about Ole Miss' potential."

As for his decision, Winston wasn't giving away information Sunday. He said Ole Miss, Arkansas, Tennessee, Michigan and Clemson are in the mix, but an unspecified school appears to be in the lead. Asked Sunday if he had made up his mind, Winston said, "Not really, but I'm close, very close."

The nation's No. 2-rated cornerback said recruiting won't be a major focus this week. Instead, he's going to be thinking about Friday's game with Pulaski Academy.

"The plan for this week is for me to preparing to play my high school game and win," Winston said. "That's my plan right there. I'll announce it on Friday (between 1 and 2 p.m.). I'll probably let the school where I'm going know earlier that day."

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