By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – Ole Miss hasn’t had this much national attention since Jevan Snead, Mike Wallace and Dexter McCluster led a Cotton Bowl rout of No. 8 Texas Tech.
The consensus top 10 class coach Hugh Freeze and his staff signed on Wednesday could be the first big step in the Rebels winning that big – and bigger – on the field.
The morning began with satellite trucks on campus and Ole Miss as a hot topic on ESPN as the nation’s No. 1 recruit – defensive end Robert Nkemdiche – announced for the Rebels in a 6:30 a.m., central time ceremony at his school, the first such televised event in ESPNU’s coverage.
The day also included a tip of the hat from LeBron James on Twitter.
“To take to the Twitter world and see people like LeBron James recognize (us) was pretty nice,” Freeze said. “Hopefully Ross (Bjork) is already under way to get him to give us an ‘Are you ready’ next year for one of the games.”
There was plenty more conversation about Ole Miss on Twitter. David Ubben, the Dallas-based Big 12 blogger for ESPN, sent forward this gem in the late morning: “The Big 12 has 25 players in the ESPN 300. Ole Miss has 10.”
For a little perspective, Florida has 16 ESPN 300 players, Alabama 15. At the end of the day, the Ole Miss class was ranked No. 5 by ESPN, No. 6 by 247Sports, No. 7 by Rivals and No. 9 by Scout.
Not all of the conversation was good. As Ole Miss gained momentum leading to Wednesday, Freeze and his staff, mostly through Twitter, were the subject of allegations of improper recruiting.
That chatter reached a point that Freeze responded on Twitter challenging anyone with evidence to contact the school’s compliance office.
“I don’t like to see people feel the freedom to take shots,” he said. “We had a plan. We executed our plan. Obviously we had some luck to have some ins. I readily admit that, but we did it with integrity within our coaching staff.”
Those “ins” included Nkemdiche’s brother, Denzel Nkemdiche, already being on the roster. Another in was the very good friend of Laquon Treadwell, the nation’s No. 1 receiver, also being on the team. Also, Freeze’s cornerbacks coach, Wesley McGriff, is good friends with Treadwell’s high school coach.
From there, it became momentum with recruits talking to one another and the campus visit hooking some others – as was the case with Laremy Tunsil, the nation’s top-rated offensive lineman.
Those ins, however, were not going to be enough on their own to land Nkemdiche.
“Robert and Denzel’s mom told me from the get-go that we had a chance to get them together if we could create some excitement, win some football games and show improvement,” Freeze said. “Then you win the Egg Bowl, the Compass Bowl, Denzel has a phenomenal year … That momentum helped us go into recruiting.”