Ole Miss recruiting on verge of record class
By David Collier, junior broadcast journalism major, Meek School of Journalism and New Media
For continuing coverage of Ole Miss sports, follow @DavidLCollier on Twitter.
When Hugh Freeze took over the reins of the Ole Miss football program a year ago, many fans were skeptical of how he would work out. Freeze only had one year of head coaching experience at the FBS level, so there was cause for concern. However, one area of the game (possibly the most important) that Freeze was proven in was recruiting.
Now, after just one season, Freeze has his team sitting at 6-6 with a trip to the BBVA Compass Bowl coming Jan. 5, but outside of all of the success Freeze and his staff have had on the field, they are on the verge of bringing in the best recruiting class in program history.
The Rebels currently have 21 commitments for the 2013 class and are on the short list for a number of highly recruited players, including Robert Nkemdiche –– the No. 1 overall player in the country, according to each recruiting service ––from Loganville, Ga., and brother of Ole Miss redshirt freshman linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche; Antonio Conner – a highly sought after safety from South Panola High School in Batesville, Miss.; and Laquon Treadwell – one of the nation’s top wide receiver prospects from Crete, Ill., and high school teammate of Ole Miss freshman defensive back Anthony Standifer.
So how does Hugh Freeze get the Rebels involved with so many highly rated prospects? Let’s take a look.
1. Ed Orgeron
First things first, Freeze learned from the best recruiting head coach Ole Miss has ever had in Ed Orgeron. Although Orgeron only won a total of 10 games during his tenure in Oxford, he was a relentless recruiter who was responsible for getting NFL talent such as Dexter McCluster, Mike Wallace and Michael Oher on campus, ultimately making it easy for Houston Nutt to step in and take the Rebels to back-to-back Cotton Bowls.
Freeze served on Orgeron’s staff for three years and was given the title of recruiting coordinator in addition to tight ends coach for the 2006 and 2007 seasons. It was here where Freeze learned his recruiting plan (which includes throwing out a wide cast of offers and seeing which top prospects show some interest) that he has now implemented in his program.
2. Assistant Coaches
Freeze made it clear from day one that he understood how important recruiting was to getting Ole Miss out of the bottom of the SEC and into contention for championships, and he took that with him while searching for the right guys to fill out his coaching staff.
Instead of giving one person the position of recruiting coordinator, Freeze has a different recruiting coordinator for offense (Maurice Harris) and defense (Chris Kiffin). Freeze also hired Wesley McGriff, who served as recruiting coordinator at Vanderbilt, as his co-defensive coordinator and cornerbacks coach.
Freeze also has two guys on his staff who played at Ole Miss (Grant Heard and Matt Luke), and who can tell a high school kid what to expect as a football player at Ole Miss more than someone who has walked in those shoes?
3. Plenty to offer
Anyone who has visited Ole Miss knows it has plenty of offer, and there is no doubt recruits see this when they come for a visit. The campus is beautiful, the nightlife is perfect for a college student, and parents should be happy with the academic plan that will be in place. What’s not to like, right?
Add that in to the fact that the coaching staff can sell early playing time – given the Rebels only having roughly 60 available scholarship players toward the end of the season, and there are plenty of reasons a high school recruit would want to call Ole Miss his new home.
4. Winning doesn’t hurt
No one expected Ole Miss to be bowling in year one under Freeze, not even Freeze himself. So it’s likely that Freeze would’ve put together a good recruiting class in 2013 even if the Rebels weren’t in a bowl game, but it certainly doesn’t hurt, does it?
The difference in sitting at home with a 5-7 record and being 6-6 while practicing for their matchup against Pittsburgh can truly be the difference, especially for players like LaquonTreadwell and Carl Lawson, the No. 2 ranked overall player by ESPN who is rethinking his commitment to Auburn after the firing of Gene Chizik and the hiring of Gus Malzahn.
5. Robert Nkemdiche
As it can with virtually everything in collegiate athletics, momentum can really carry you on the recruiting trail, so if Ole Miss can get a commitment from Nkemdiche, it can really create a domino effect that will have Rebel fans extremely happy come National Signing Day (Feb. 6).
Nkemdiche’s recruitment has been a wild one to follow and likely will be until the name is on the dotted line, but if he goes public with a commitment for the Rebels, there’s no doubt that will have a effect on what other top players will do.