It shows you how far the Ole Miss football program has come in a short amount of time under coach Hugh Freeze when the Rebels have a consensus top 15 recruiting class this year, and pretty much nobody is surprised.
Last week, Ole Miss turned in a 25-member class, including four signees from Georgia — and finished with the nation’s No. 15 class in the 247sports.com composite rankings.
It was a stellar follow-up performance from 2013, when Ole Miss stunned the recruiting world with the No. 8 overall class, led by consensus No. 1 prospect Robert Nkemdiche from Grayson High School. (Back in 2012, Ole Miss finished with the No. 46 class)
“I think coming off the year we had last year, we certainly benefitted from that notoriety,” Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze told the AJC on Thursday.
“It helped us get in early with some very good players. And the fact it wasn’t talked about as much, or didn’t carry as much headlines as the past year, I’m good with that. It shows that we have taken some steps forward with our program.”
This year’s biggest win for Ole Miss in Georgia was for Stockbridge High School cornerback Kendarius Webster. He committed early to the Rebels and declined heavy overtures from UGA, among others, in the final stretch before signing day.
“The last two weeks, you always get nervous about your higher-profile recruits when you know schools like Georgia, Florida State, LSU and Alabama are coming after them,” Freeze said. “We had that in several cases. I’ve got to give (assistant) Jason Jones a lot of credit, and the relationship he built with Kendarius over the last year while recruiting him. We had strong enough roots that really what won out in the end. You always get uptight about that. We have a great need at corner, and I think Kendarius is a phenomenal player. I think Kenderius gives us some length and speed at corner. So yeah, you’re are always concerned but I felt good about the positioning we had because of the job done by our job.
How hard is it to hold off a home-state school for a home-state recruit when you are all the way in Mississippi?
“I think it would have been much more difficult if Georgia had put the same effort into it over a longer period as they did the last two weeks. Again, that’s their decision. But it would’ve been much tougher for us. We got Kendarius committed, and I think that meant something to that family. When Coach (Jeremy) Pruitt was hired, they had a good relationship. So that made the last two weeks a little more difficult. You know, Georgia has to make some tough decisions. There are so many good players in that state. They’ve got to decide, and sometimes that plays in our favor. I’m not sure which ones they are going after the hardest, if that makes sense.”
The other 2014 Ole Miss recruits from Georgia are Lovejoy High School linebacker Demarquis Gates, Sandy Creek High School defensive tackle Chris Williams and running back Akeem Judd from Georgia Military junior college.
Some other items from Freeze:
Now that you’ve coached him for a year, did Robert Nkemdiche deserve to be the No. 1 prospect in the country for 2013? Has he lived up to the hype? “Yes, of course, I think so. The size-speed ratio he has is really unheard of. It’s very rare to that. Certainly, there are some aspects that he has to mature in, including the mental side. But that’s normal for freshmen. I think he was coming along nicely and then he had the injury that kept him out for five games. So it’s hard to accurately judge what kind of year he could’ve had. Now in the bowl game, he was phenomenal. It was the best game he had all year. I just think that whoever recruiting analysts are, they have to look at size-speed ratio and how that player relates to other players at that position. I can certainly see how everybody put Robert at No. 1.”
With last year’s class, you had some complaints about “negative recruiting.” How much of that was out there this year? “I didn’t experience as much this year. There was one school that always tends to pick the negatives that might go on at our campus, and make them to be more than they really are. But I can’t say like I felt like I experienced that with a lot of schools this year, so that is pleasing to me. Negative recruiting is not what we believe in. Our coaches know how I feel about it. We talk about us, and that’s it. We don’t talk about other people. So I hope that it’s a sign that it’s going to be reduced.”
How do you counter “negative recruiting” with prospects? “Usually it happens at the end of recruiting, when other schools are making last-ditch efforts. The relationships we have, they are based on trust and respect. They (the recruits) will give us the opportunity to be sure that the facts are true. I’m very upfront with the people we recruit. Some of the times, some of things that people say are true, and I tell them that. But they are probably true on a lot of campuses, you know? We try to be very open and truthful with them. Hopefully the relationships we have win out in the end.”
Which school do you feel like is “negative recruiting” against you? “I’d rather just leave it at that. I only felt like we dealt with one school on that issue this year.”
What’s your sales pitch to Georgia’s top 2015 prospects? “We’ve established some good relationships in Georgia, and there are so many SEC-type players there. I think the college campus that we have that is very similar to something that they’ve experienced in that state, so come check us out and come visit us. I think you will like what you see. I think you will like where we are headed. We’re ready to do something new and fresh here. Of course, we need great players to help us do that. And that state is full of great players.”
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