National Signing Day 2013 Watch: Ole Miss muscles in on power programs; MSU gets big Northeast Miss. pick ups

By NEMS Daily Journal










Around National Signing Day with journalists from The Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal and the other Journal, Inc. network of sites bringing the flavor and details of the big day:

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8:30 p.m. – Monken signs 25 as Southern Miss rebuilds … HATTIESBURG, Miss. (AP) — First-year Southern Mississippi coach Todd Monken signed a 25-player class on Wednesday’s National Signing Day as the former Oklahoma State offensive coordinator begins his rebuilding effort.

The Golden Eagles signed seven players that are 3-star prospects according to Rivals.com. Among them are three defensive tackles — Dylan Bradley (Macon, Miss.), Rod Crayton (Dadeville, Ala.) and Christopher Robinson (Shreveport, La.).

Southern Miss also signed quarterbacks Parker Adamson and Nick Mullens, which should add competition at a position that struggled badly last season.

The Golden Eagles are trying to bounce back from a 0-12 season that was easily the worst in school history. Monken was known for his productive offenses at Oklahoma State and hopes to bring the same high-scoring dynamic to Hattiesburg.

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6:55 p.m. – ICC football signs quality 2013 class on National Signing Day

Adam Gore/LetsGoICC.com

FULTON – The Itawamba Community College football coaching staff released their 2013 signing class after a busy and exciting national signing day in Fulton on Wednesday.

“The big thing today is that we went for quality over quantity,” said ICC head football coach Jon Williams. “We have a great class coming back from last year and we are looking forward to adding quality players to the quality that already have coming back.”

Williams and the rest of the ICC coaching staff signed 37 players on national signing day last season and anticipates returning nearly all of the program’s 2012 signees.

“The key for us this year was identifying guys that were high needs for us at certain positions and I feel like we were able accomplish that,” Williams comment on his 2013 signing class.

2013 signees include: Devin McIntosh (Amory), Quinton Lane (Ackerman), Dalon Moore (Columbus), Brady Allen (Corinth), Chance McNulty (Germantown, MS), Myles Harges (Grenada), Emmitt Dendy (Houston), Sharone Wright (Houston), Cody Crane (Itawamba AHS), Lamarcus Sanders (Lake Cormorant), Jeremy McMahon (Lewisburg), Jermaine McMahon (Lewisburg), Spencer Day (New Albany), Juan Cedano (New Hope), Xavier Pegues (Oxford), Joel Forrester (Oxford), Clifton Smith (Oxford), Jeb Millender (Pontotoc), AJ Hunt (Saltillo), Devan Gilleylen (Shannon), Jalen Thomas (Shannon), Jacquez McMillian (Southaven), Joseph Baccus (Southaven), Kasey Grice (Tupelo), Jeoffrey Gordon (Water Valley) with former South Carolina Gamecock Kyle Harris (Pepperell, GA) transferring in at the midterm.

While the ICC coaches welcomed 26 new faces, eight Indians signed to continue their football careers on the next level on national signing day.

Sophomore defensive back Tre Carothers (Oxford) signed with Missouri Southern, sophomore linebacker Quad Freeman (Guntown) North Alabama, sophomore linebacker Shawn Goree (Shannon) Delta State, sophomore defensive back Pat Malone (Byhalia) Southeastern Louisiana, sophomore wide receiver Rashad Pargo (Aberdeen) Mississippi Valley State, sophomore defensive back Terrell Pinson (Tupelo) Louisiana Tech, sophomore defensive lineman Theo Rich (Portal, GA) South Alabama and freshman defensive back Xavier Walker (Duluth, GA) inked with Middle Tennessee State.

“Every team in the league talks about how they are able to put players out, but to me the proof is in the pudding and can’t argue with the success we’ve had with players going on to the next level,” Williams said.

Five players qualified to sign and transfer during the Christmas break including sophomore wide receiver Ronald Carswell (Macon, GA) West Virginia, freshman placekicker Tyler Jackson (Oxford) Brigham Young University, Midoho Okpokowuruk (Charlotte, NC) Tennessee State, sophomore offensive lineman Connor Popeck (Olive Branch) Western Kentucky and fellow sophomore offensive lineman Brennan Tutor (Pontotoc) Arkansas State.

“We had a number of guys sign at midterm with Division I schools, some FBS and some FCS, and then some more guys sign today. We are very proud of each one of those guys that moved on to the next level,” said Williams.

The Indians finished 6-3 overall and 4-2 in the North in Williams’ third season at the helm of the program.

For more information on ICC football and the nine other intercollegiate athletic programs follow ICC Athletics on Twitter (@LetsGoICC) or visit www.LetsGoICC.com.

5:15 p.m. – Signing Day: Ole Miss muscles in on power programs
By RALPH D. RUSSO,AP College Football Writer

Alabama. Ohio State. Michigan. Florida. Notre Dame. Mississippi?

Ole Miss muscled in on the powerhouses that usually dominate national signing day, landing some of the most sought-after prospects in the country on college football’s annual first-Wednesday-in-February frenzy.

The Rebels, coming off a promising 7-6 season in their first season under coach Hugh Freeze, had the experts swooning by signing three of the bluest chips still on the board and building a well-rounded class otherwise.

The day started with defensive end Robert Nkemdiche from Loganville, Ga., rated the No. 1 recruit in the country by just about everyone who ranks them, deciding to join his brother, Denzel, in Oxford, Miss.

“I feel like it’s the right place for me,” Nkemdiche said after slipping on a red Ole Miss cap. “I feel like they can do special things and they’re on the rise. I feel like going to play with my brother, we can do something special.”

Nkemdiche originally committed to Clemson last year, then backed off that and narrowed his picks down to LSU, Florida and Mississippi — and the Rebels beat the big boys.

They weren’t done. Coaches in the Ole Miss war room were exchanging hugs and high-fives again a couple hours later when Laremy Tunsil, a top-rated offensive tackle from Lake City, Fla., picked the Rebels over Florida State and Georgia.

“Tunsil to Ole Miss I think was the biggest surprise of the whole (recruiting season),” said JC Shurburtt, national recruiting director for 247Sports.com.

And, as if the Ole Miss needed more good news, highly touted defensive back Antonio Conner from nearby Batesville, Miss., chose the Rebels over national champion Alabama.

The end result was a class good enough to even catch the attention of LeBron James.

“Ole Miss ain’t messing around today! Big time recruits coming in. SEC is crazy,” the NBA’s MVP posted on his Twitter account.

Crazy good. While the Rebels racked up, it’s important to remember they still have plenty of ground to gain on the rest of their conference competition.

Nick Saban reloaded the Crimson Tide with a class that Rivals.com ranked No. 1 in the country.

SEC powers Florida, LSU and Georgia pulled in typically impressive classes. SEC newcomer Texas A&M cracked the top 10 of several rankings. Even Vanderbilt, coming off a nine-win season, broke into the top 25.

It’s the cycle of life in the SEC, which has won seven straight BCS championships. Stock up on signing day and scoop up those crystal footballs at season’s end.

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SLIPPING AWAY FROM USC

Signing day didn’t do much to soothe the scars left from a difficult season for Southern California.

NCAA sanctions limited the number of scholarships coach Lane Kiffin and the Trojans could hand out this year, and then as signing day approached USC had several players who had given verbal commitments change their minds.

The most notable defection on signing day was five-star defensive back Jalen Ramsey of Brentwood, Tenn., who flipped to Florida State. Defensive end Jason Hatcher from Louisville, Ky., bailed on USC and signed with Kentucky, and defensive end Torrodney Prevot from Houston not only reneged on his USC commitment, but he landed at Pac-12 rival Oregon.

“People expected (Prevot) to flip from USC, but they thought it would be to Texas A&M,” Shurburtt said.

USC’s class won’t be lacking blue chippers. Quarterback Max Browne from Washington is considered the next in a long line of topflight Trojans quarterbacks, and Kenny Bigelow from Maryland is rated among the best defensive linemen in the nation.

Kiffin will be banking on quality to make up for the lack of quantity, but that’s a precarious way to play a game as uncertain as recruiting.

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IF MOMMA’S NOT HAPPY …

Alex Collins, a top running back prospect out of Plantation, Fla., announced on Monday night that he was going to Arkansas instead of Miami.

It was considered a huge victory for new Razorbacks coach Bret Bielema.

But on Wednesday morning, when it was time to make it official, Collins’ letter of intent didn’t come spinning through the fax machine in Fayettville, Ark.

There were some odd reports about Collins’ mother not being happy with her son’s decision to go so far from home.

College coaches aren’t allowed to talk about specific players before they sign, but Bielema did acknowledge during his signing day news conference that Arkansas’ class of 22 players could “grow by one.”

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THE BIG TWO

Ohio State and Michigan received two thumbs up from experts on their signing day classes. They all had the Buckeyes and Wolverines around top five in the country.

After that, there was a drop off. Nebraska received solid grades and Penn State, despite NCAA sanctions that limited its class to 17 signees, held up pretty well.

“That’s a tribute to the job (Penn State coach) Bill O’Brien and the staff did,” Shurburtt said.

But signing day 2013 signaled that Urban Meyer’s Buckeyes and Brady Hokes’ Wolverines are primed to pull away from most of the Big Ten, and maybe — just maybe — give the league a team or two that can challenge those SEC teams for a national title.

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BUILT TO LAST

Notre Dame followed up its best season in more than two decades with recruiting class that coach Brian Kelly hopes can keep the Fighting Irish contending for more national titles.

The class includes a famous name in Torii Hunter Jr., the son of the All-Star outfielder. Hunter Jr. is a top-notch receiver prospect, though he broke his leg during an All-Star game and it could be a while before he’s back on the football field.

Linebacker Jaylon Smith from Fort Wayne, Ind., is generally regarded as the jewel of a class that experts have ranked among the best in the country.

“I love agreeing with experts,” Kelly said.

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BASEBALL OR FOOTBALL?

Oklahoma hopes it has found the next Sam Bradford in Cody Thomas, a pocket passer from Colleyville, Texas.

One small problem. Thomas is also a big-time baseball player who could draw interest in the major league draft this summer.

“We wouldn’t have pursued him if we didn’t feel there was a great chance he’d be playing football,” Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said.

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QUOTABLE

South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said recruiting classes “don’t always pan out. Of course, they always seem to pan out at Alabama.”

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AP Sports Writer David Brandt in Oxford, Miss., and Associated Press Writer Tom Coyne in South Bend, Ind., contributed.

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Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphdrussoap

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5 p.m. – Links to the rankings …

Click here for Rivals rankings. Ole Miss ranked No. 7. MSU No. 23.

Click here for MaxPreps rankings. Ole Miss ranked No. 6. Miss. State ranked No. 23.

Click here for Scout rankings. Ole Miss ranked No. 9. Miss. State ranked No. 20.

Click here for ESPN Recruiting Nation Football rankings. Ole Miss ranked No. 5. Mississippi State ranked No. 25.

Click here for 247 Sports rankings. Ole Miss ranked No. 2. Mississippi State ranked No. 22.

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2:49 p.m. – No. 1 recruit Nkemdiche picks Ole Miss – OXFORD, Miss. (AP) — The consensus overall top recruit in the nation Robert Nkemdiche has signed to play at Ole Miss.

He’ll be joined by one of the top-rated wide receivers and offensive lineman, forming the foundation for what could be the Rebels’ best recruiting class ever. Receiver Laquon Treadwell (Crete, Ill.) and offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil (Lake City, Fla.) also signed with the Rebels on Wednesday.

Nkemdiche, a 6-foot-5, 260-pound defensive end from Loganville, Ga., announced that he will attend Ole Miss during a press conference on ESPNU.

He had been on several programs’ wish list for more than a year, but family ties gave Ole Miss the inside track. His brother Denzel Nkemdiche plays for the Rebels and led Mississippi’s defense with 82 tackles, including 13 for a loss last season.

Robert Nkemdiche went on an official visit to LSU last week, but when it was all said and done, he signed with the Rebels, donning a red Ole Miss hat after he made the announcement.

“I feel like it’s the right place for me,” Robert Nkemdiche said during his press conference. “I feel like they can do special things and they’re on the rise. I feel like going to play with my brother, we can do something special.”

Rivals.com, Scout.com, ESPN, CBS Sports and 247Sports all rated Nkemdiche the top prospect in the country. Treadwell and Tunsil weren’t far behind.

Second-year coach Hugh Freeze led Ole Miss to a 7-6 record last season, improving from a 2-10 mark in 2011.

When Nkemdiche, Treadwell and Tunsil announced their decisions, the Ole Miss coaching staff celebrated.

Ole Miss doesn’t have the pedigree to usually recruit toe-to-toe with the likes of Alabama, LSU and other Southeastern Conference powerhouse programs. But at least on paper, the Rebels might outshine their SEC opponents when signing day comes to a close on Wednesday.

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2:25 p.m. – SMITHER SIGNS 37 DURING NATIONAL SIGNING DAY CEREMONY AT NORTHEAST –
Press Release …
BOONEVILLE – Northeast Mississippi Community College head football coach Ricky Smither celebrated 2013 National Signing Day with 37 signees during a signing ceremony on the second floor of the T. Jack Ramsey Student Services Building on the Booneville campus.

Smither inked a variety of athletes from Northeast’s five-county area and mixed in players from the Magnolia State and Tennessee for his 2013 signing class.

Smither went with a focus on the line during his most recent signing class.

During the early morning ceremony, Smither signed 12 offensive linemen, five tight ends, four defensive linemen and a long snapper.

Included in his dozen offensive linemen include Booneville Ross Smith a 6-6, 300-pound offensive lineman from the Prentiss County school and Kossuth’s Dillon Hughes, a 6-4, 300-pound Aggie.

Joining the Tigers’ offensive line include a Noxubee County pair of Martize Mitchell (6-1, 290) and Jercovie Stewart (6-3, 285), two from South Panola in Damien Rayford (6-3, 300) and Justin Barksdale (6-3, 300) and a pair of Water Valley standouts in Andre Jones (6-1, 280) and Randy Williams (6-5, 320).

Byhalia’s Dayon Davis (6-3, 300), Hernando’s John Gale (6-4, 300), Southaven’s Trent Scott (6-2, 290) and West Harrison’s Lakendrick Preston (6-7, 260) rounded out Smither’s offensive line singees.

Smither’s tight end signees include Baldwyn’s Reggie Richey (6-4, 220), Itawamba’s Houston Orr (6-4, 235), Southaven’s Hunter Bull (6-5, 235) and Red Bay’s Matthew Belue (6-2, 240).

Tishomingo County’s Chandler Dexter (6-4, 230) rounded out Smither’s tight end class.

In addition to his offensive line signees, Smither turned his focus to replacing National Junior College Athletics Association (NJCAA) All-American honorable mention defensive end Lavon Hooks, with four defensive linemen.

Pontotoc’s Sterling Peters (6-3, 230) is listed as a defensive end while Madison Central’s Lemetrius Hollins (6-1, 270) and Tupelo’s Jeremiah Dent (6-2, 290) are slated to drop at the defensive tackle spots.

Northeast received a big signee when Noxubee County’s Deshawn Hopkins (6-7, 370) agreed to become part of the Tiger defensive line.

Baldwyn’s Cody Edge (6-1, 245) will anchor the Tiger special team’s line at long snapper.

Smither placed a big focus on linebackers inking five during the four-hour signing ceremony. Noxubee County’s Javoris Glenn (6-0, 220) and Antonio Ryland (6-0, 230) along with Booneville’s Jordan Miller (6-2, 205), South Panola’s Je’Tavious Turner and Memphis East’s Marcus Robinson (6-3, 225) will compete for playing time with the Tigers.

With the signing class, Smither also signed a trio of defensive backs and wide receivers. Aberdeen’s Aaron McMillian (6-0, 180), Starkville’s Johnny Smith (5-11, 175) and Southaven’s Elgin Lamar (6-2, 185) will man the Tiger defensive backfield while Bruce’s Rashad Turner (6-4, 180) and Shaquille Bush (6-1, 180) along with Ripley’s Ralpheal Green (6-3, 185) will be on the offensive side of the ball for the Tigers.

Northeast added a pair of running backs to its list with South Panola’s Ledarius Strong (5-10, 180) and West Point’s Delentez Lane (5-11, 180).

Bruce’s Jonathan Bobo (6-3, 290) was the Tigers’ long safety signee.

Smither also added a quarterback to the 2013 signing class when Bruce’s Davis Brown (6-3, 185) agreed to become a Tiger.

“This was really a great effort by all of my staff,” Smither said. “I mean these guys went out and put in some hard work and lots of hours and we all benefited from it today with this great signing class. I can’t wait to get these players in here and start geting ready for a successful season in 2013.”

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11:57 a.m.- Shumpert signs with Mississippi State – From Zach Adams at The Itawmaba County Times … Itawamba AHS 4-star running back Ashton Shumpert signed a national letter of intent with Mississippi State today in a ceremony held at the school.

“I have been waiting on this day for a long time,” Shumpert said. “I’m glad to get the signing over so we can finally get back to business.”

Shumpert rushed for 1,796 yards and 25 touchdowns in 2012 to help lead the Indians to 12-1 record and a berth in the 4A state quarter-finals.

Also signing letters of intent today were IAHS’s Houston Orr (TE, Northeast), Cody Crane (OL, ICC) and Charles Moore (RB, Northwest).

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11:25 a.m. – A little break football American football for this from Monroe Journal’s Melissa Meador (@MelissaMeador14) Amory’s Addie Forbus made it official to play soccer at Ole Miss.

Back to football with this … Amory’s Dario Robinson signs with Southeastern Louisiana. He had nine other offers, from Melissa.

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10:25 a.m. – Houston’s Chris Jones says in a video just posted he was 80 percent about Ole Miss before sticking with Mississippi State. Brad Locke’s video now posted.

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9:53 a.m. – Daily Journal’s Parrish Alford from Batesville – Tony Conner to Ole Miss.

Tony Conner, S, Batesville
• Vitals: 6-1, 203

• Star ratings: 247Sports 5, Rivals 4, Scout 5

• Key facts/figures: Made 89 tackles last season for Class 6A state champ South Panola.

• Buzz: Could also play cornerback.

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9:29 a.m. – From Daily Journal’s Brandon Speck in Houston (@brandonspeck) Chris Jones’ mom says: ‘Never really close to going to #OleMiss.’ #DJPreps

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9:21 a.m. – More from Brad Locke on Chris Jones …

Chris Jones is sticking with Mississippi State.

The five-star defensive end from Houston, Miss., held a press conference at his school this morning to announce his decision between MSU and Ole Miss. The 6-foot-5, 255-pounder signed with State, to which he committed last June.

Jones had both MSU and Ole Miss caps set in front of him, and said, “It’s been a rough time. People wanting me to go to different places. I came to the decision where I plan to play my career at Mississippi State University.” He then donned the MSU cap.

Jones, who 247Sports.com rates as the No. 2 overall player in the country, saw his recruitment process go from quiet to frantic in the last month or so. He had a nice showing in the Under Armour All-America Game, and then a flood of offers came in. Jones visited Ole Miss two weekends ago then went back again last weekend, while also visiting MSU on Saturday.

Although he never withdrew his MSU commitment, Jones added Ole Miss to the mix. He admitted to using deception in order to try and keep his Oxford visits secret, saying he’d received a lot of negative feedback from fans on both sides, including death threats.

Jones was credited with 160 tackles, 45 tackles-for-loss and 14 sacks last season for Houston High School, which won its first ever playoff game. He was named the Daily Journal defensive player of the year.

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9:14 a.m. – Brad Locke (@bradlocke) reports Chris Jones of Houston just picked Mississippi State at a ceremony in Houston. More soon.

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9 a.m. – MSU coach Dan Mullen with this Tweet – Welcome to the Bulldog family Ashton Shumpert (IAHS). #HailStateNSD … Shumpert, who played at Tupelo High during his career too, rushed for 1,796 yards and 25 touchdowns in only 10 games as a senior. He was the state Gatorade Player of the Year.

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8:40 a.m. – From Melissa Meador of the Monroe Journal (MelissaMeador14 on Twiter) Just left Aberdeen. LB Justin Lucas and OL Brandon Hodges have signed with East Miss CC and WR/DB Aaron McMillian has signed with Northeast.

From @ tbradenbishop – Tupelo High School had three football signees this morning: K Drew White (EMCC), OL Kasey Grice (ICC), and DL Jeremiah Dent (NECC). GO WAVE!

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8 a.m. – Follow Daily Journal’s Brandon Speck @brandonspeck on Twitter for Houston’s Chris Jones announcement. Brandon is in Houston now. More as it is available. Announcement set for 9 a.m.

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6:55 a.m. – More on Nkemdiche from Daily Journal’s Parrish Alford

Robert Nkemdiche ended the suspense, however mild it may have been, by announcing he would sign with Ole Miss about 45 minutes ago on ESPNU.

Nkemdiche was joined at the podium by his parents and also, his brother, Denzel Nkemdiche, the Rebels’ play-making All-SEC linebacker.

After working his way through thank yous while addressing a gathering at the Grayson High School aduitorium, Nkemdiche said, “The recruiting process has been long, but I’ve enjoyed it. After much discussion and prayer, I’ve decided to attend the University of Ole Miss.”

The video feed quickly cut away to the war room at Ole Miss where Hugh Freeze, his assistants and others in attendance erupted in hugs, hand shakes and high fives.

The Nkemdiche brothers were sporting Grayson gear before the announcement. They quickly shed the gear to reveal matching white shirts and suspenders.

Denzel Nkemdiche has fielded questions about this day throughout the season.

“I wanted him to make the right decision that he wanted to make and be comfortable with the decision he made, because it’s going to be where he will be for the next three years.”

ESPN national recruiting analyst Tom Luginbill compared Robert Nkemdiche to South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, giving Clowney an edge on the physical size, but grading Nkemdiche higher on energy – lots of talk about the Nkemdiche motor – and versatility – lots of talk about the possibility of Nkemdiche at tackle or nose.

ESPN’s Rece Davis commented on the momentum of this Ole Miss class and said it’s important for the Rebels to capitalize on this class with big wins quickly because it’s been so long since Ole Miss has won big on the national stage.

Former coaches Derek Dooley of Tennessee and Mike Belotti of Oregon were also guest analysts on ESPNU’s early morning Signing Day coverage.

The former coach lineup included Gene Chizik of Auburn, who appeared in a phone interview and said, “I think it’s an epic day for Hugh Freeze,” Chizik said.

Click here for more from Parrish at Inside Ole Miss Sports Blog.

Follow Parrish Alford on Twitter @parrishalford.

6:47 a.m.- Nkemdiche picks …. Ole Miss

Loganville, Ga., defensive end Robert Nkemdiche (6-foot-4, 280 pounds), the nation’s No. 1 recruit said this morning on ESPNU he is going to Ole Miss.

In other news, Five-star recruit Elijah Daniel, 6-4, 250 defensive end from Avon, Indiana, who was committed to Ole Miss signed with Auburn.
@brandonspeck (Daily Journal’s Brandon Speck) tweeted – Elijah Daniel #flipping from #OleMiss to #Auburn doesn’t help #MissState in getting Chris Jones. #NSD

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5:30 a.m. – Some info you will need …
Here are some places you will want to go today for info …

Click here for Brad Locke’s Inisde Mississippi State Sports blog.

Click here for Parrish Alford’s Inside Ole Miss Sports blog.

Click here for the High School blog with complete coverage of area signees NeMissPreps.com.

EDITOR’S NOTE — “National Signing Day Watch” shows you the day and the events surrounding it through the eyes of The Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal sports department and the Journal, Inc. network of sites. Follow them on Twitter where available with the handles listed after each item.