By Mike Herndon
The Mississippi Press (MCT)
OXFORD – Denzel Nkemdiche never had a doubt that his brother was going to join him at Ole Miss.
Even when Robert Nkemdiche, the top-rated prospect in the country for the class of 2013, was committed to Clemson, Denzel said he “had good hope” that his brother would change his mind.
“He gave me his word,” Denzel said earlier this spring, “and I believed him.”
Robert Nkemdiche arrived at Ole Miss with 13 other incoming freshman football players for the early summer school session, joining the four other signees who were early enrollees in January.
Nkemdiche is one of three five-star prospects to join the program, and is the one freshman expected to make an early impact on a defense already loaded with returning starters.
Foremost among those returning starters is big brother Denzel, an undersized, 205-pound linebacker who led the Rebels last season with 82 tackles and 13 tackles for loss. While he became a leader of the Rebels’ defense last year as a freshman due to his play, Nkemdiche grew more comfortable in that leadership role this spring.
“I’m able to be more vocal because I have confidence,” he said during the Rebels’ spring drills in March. “My teammates respect me in that way, so I’m able to talk to them and they respect my word and that’s a big difference. … I had to show them on Saturdays that I could perform and I just didn’t want to talk and not back it up. They’ve seen that.”
The Ole Miss defense slowly improved through coordinator Dave Wommack’s first year last season, progressing from a 66-point thumping by Texas to a unit that held Pittsburgh to 17 points in a BBVA Compass Bowl victory.
Now entering Year 2 under Wommack and head coach Hugh Freeze, and with the loss of only two part-time starters, Denzel Nkemdiche said there is a comfort level with the scheme and with his teammates that should allow the unit to build on the progress it made in 2012.
“He’s been adding some but he’s just making sure we master what we do have and build on that,” Nkemdiche said of Wommack and his scheme. “With assignments and alignments, knowing what you’re supposed to do on certain plays, knowing how to react with motions and all those different types of checks we had to get called, our confidence is really expanded.
“I just want to keep getting better, making sure I make zero mistakes and trying to help everybody around me pick the team up and just have a really good defense.”
His younger brother will join a group of defensive ends that includes returning starters C.J. Johnson and Cameron Whigham.
Even though they’re loaded with returning starters from last year’s 7-6 bounce-back team, Nkemdiche said the Rebels want more. And he believes his brother and the 2013 recruiting class can help them get there.
“We’re trying to be the best,” Nkemdiche said. “We know with everybody coming back and the additions we have coming this summer, we have the talent and we have the ability and the chance to be a real good defense.”