From the Mother Ship, a look at the importance of Hugh Freeze’s abbreviated recruiting class, the one signed on the quick while he hired staff after he himself being hired in December of 2011.
By Parrish Alford
OXFORD – Trae Elston, once an LSU commit, started to wonder if Ole Miss might not be a better fit.
Then things really took off when he figured out who the head coach was.
The 2012 recruiting class was the abbreviated effort for Hugh Freeze and his staff, one one coming together just weeks after Freeze was hired as Ole Miss coach in December of 2011.
Coaches often talk about the importance of relationships in recruiting, many of which are years in the making. The first class is never easy for any new staff.
“Yeah, it was pretty hard. I didn’t even know coach Freeze was the head coach when I was getting recruited, for real,” said Elston, rated in 2012 as a three-star prospect and the No. 14 player in Alabama by Rivals.com.
Elston hit it off and began building a relationship with Wesley McGriff, a member of Freeze’s original staff.
“When I started taking visits I started learning coach Freeze as a person. I fell in love with Ole Miss, the atmosphere and all that.
As the Class of 2012 prepares to play in Vaught-Hemingway Stadium for the final time it has been a part of 31 wins.
Not bad for a group that came together on the fly and was ranked by Rivals as No. 40 in the country, No. 13 in the SEC.
“They’re all good guys. They came in and worked hard, established a spot and role on the team,” said linebacker C.J. Johnson, a sixth-year senior who was signed by former coach Houston Nutt.
Some of those roles include:
Elston, who has 233 career tackles, leads the SEC this season with 13 passes defended, and has four interceptions, two returned for touchdowns.
Mike Hilton, a jack-of-all-trades in the secondary who is a semifinalist for the Thorpe Award which honors to nation’s top defensive back.
Jaylen Walton, a running back on course to gain 700 yards this season and is second on the school’s career list with 4,412 all-purpose yards.
Cody Core, a wide receiver who blossomed late and has nine touchdown catches over the last two years. He is currently fourth in the SEC with 17.9 yards per catch.
It’s a group that’s had to fight for its roles as Freeze’s recruiting caught the nation’s attention the following season with a top 10 class with names like Robert Nkemdiche, Laquon Treadwell and Laremy Tunsil.
“You wouldn’t expect a coaching staff to bring in guys like that in on year. It really caught us all by surprise,” Hilton said.
In many ways the Class of 2012 has also surprised, its members more than cast-offs and band-aids signing with a downtrodden program and waiting on the cavalry to arrive.
“I felt like with the guys they brought in and the coaches they brought in it was going to turn around,” Hilton said. “It turned around faster than we thought. I’m happy to say I was part of it.”