By David Brandt/The Associated Press
OXFORD — Second-year Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze is poised to haul in a big recruiting class on Wednesday’s national signing day.
The list of potential names is stunning for a program the caliber of Ole Miss, which isn’t known for its ability to attract big-time prospects. A perfect storm of family ties, momentum and Freeze’s recruiting experience has brought the Rebels to this point.
If Ole Miss lands all of its targets — which include many who are highly regarded by national recruiting analysts — it would be the most celebrated class in school history.
But in the Southeastern Conference, Freeze is well aware there’s no time to celebrate until those names are written on a National Letter of Intent and faxed to the football office on Wednesday.
“Certainly, in this conference, there is no one that’s bad at recruiting,” Freeze said last week during halftime of an Ole Miss basketball game. “Everyone is very good at it. It gets ratcheted up a little tougher this week. We’re certainly in on the right guys. We just need to be able to close on a good number of them.”
Among the prospects strongly considering Ole Miss is defensive end Robert Nkemdiche — the top-rated recruit in the country according to almost every major media outlet that covers recruiting.
The 6-foot-5, 260-pounder from Loganville, Ga., might not normally look at the Rebels, but family could play a strong factor in his decision. His brother, Denzel Nkemdiche, had a breakout season for the Rebels in 2012, leading the team with 82 tackles, including 13 for a loss.
And with the younger Nkemdiche considering the Rebels, a host of other highly-rated prospects have followed his lead.
Receiver Laquon Treadwell (Crete, Ill.) has already verbally committed to the Rebels, according to Rivals.com and Scout.com, while other highly-rated recruits like offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil (Lake City, Fla.), safety Antonio Conner (Batesville, Miss.), defensive end Elijah Daniel (Avon, Ind.), offensive tackle Austin Golson (Prattville, Ala.) and defensive end Chris Jones (Houston, Miss.) are all reportedly considering the program.
It’s helped that Ole Miss had an unexpected amount of success under Freeze in his first season. The Rebels recovered from a disastrous 2-10 season in 2011 to finish 7-6, including a win over rival Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl and Pittsburgh in the BBVA Compass Bowl.
“I don’t think we would be sitting here talking about this class that we’re hopefully going to bring in without the momentum that was created by the end of the season,” Freeze said. “Winning the Egg Bowl and being competitive in the big games — Alabama, LSU, A&M — and then winning our bowl game, certainly gave some credibility to our message to these recruits and their families.”
It’s also helpful that Freeze knows how to sell Ole Miss. The Senatobia, Miss., native grew up just 45 minutes from the school, coached high school football in Memphis, Tenn., and was an assistant coach for the Rebels under Ed Orgeron from 2005-07.
Orgeron had a difficult tenure at Ole Miss from a wins and losses perspective, but is still regarded as one of the nation’s premier recruiters.
Freeze was Orgeron’s recruiting coordinator and helped the program land stars like Greg Hardy, Dexter McCluster, Kendrick Lewis and John Jerry, who are now all in the NFL.
Now that Freeze is back at Ole Miss, he’s said his recruiting strategy is very similar to Orgeron’s.
ESPN recruiting analyst Tom Luginbill said Freeze’s familiarity with Ole Miss, his recent success and his ability to relate to high school players have sent a powerful message to recruits. It’s a potent mix of advantages that doesn’t happen every year.
“He’s got to take advantage of this window that he has of surprising success and parlay that into recruiting success,” Luginbill said. “I just think he’s gotten creative. I think he’s sold what he feels are the strengths of the program. He has sold a vision for the future of facilities, of a strong fan base.”
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