By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
The first recruiting class for Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze is in the books, and it will be remembered not for high rankings but for, Freeze hopes, meeting needs.
It’s not just needs on the field that need to be met.
Freeze is tasked with returning discipline to a program that has suffered from in-house suspensions and attrition in recent seasons.
It’s a stretch to look any group of newcomers and accurately project how they will handle increased freedom in new surroundings. That may be truer still for a class signed by a coaching staff assembled on the fly after Freeze was hired in early December.
However, as Freeze rebuilds the Rebels this class will be his first group, his older players, his tone-setters. How they lead will impact the success of his mission.
Every recruiting class needs its big names. This one, though small in number, has a few of those.
Strong recruiting classes need the right mix too. Call them “sleepers” if you like, guys you don’t expect to come in and save the world as true freshmen, guys with whom you plan for the future.
In the current climate, John Youngblood is a signee Freeze hopes will help him make progress on the discipline front.
Youngblood is rated only a two-star recruit by Rivals.com. Freeze and staff turned him just days before signing day – turned him from Central Florida, not Florida.
“We went late on John Youngblood whom we had at camp twice at our previous school,” Freeze said. “He is going to be a great addition to our football team, not only as a player but as a tremendous leader. He has great passion for the game and comes from a great family.”
Let me help with the code words here.
Leader: Usually, these guys consider their actions before they make decisions.
Passion: Energy and work ethic.
Great family: Disciplined and loyal.
John Youngblood is not the kind of player who spikes your class ranking, but in a program where retention and development have been issues, he could help in both areas. Clearly Freeze sees Youngblood, who projects as a rush end, as a player who can make an impact down the road.
“He is a 6-4, 230-pound frame kid, and he is going to be a big kid before it’s all over.”
Sounds like someone who’s not allergic to off-season lifting and conditioning.
Not all in Freeze’s first class have the luxury of being groomed for the future.
Defensive end Channing Ward, one of the three Under Armour All-Americans in the class, and running back I’Tavius Mathers arrive at positions where depth is thin.
Quarterback Bo Wallace arrives at a position where numbers are plentiful but productivity wasn’t.
Freeze inherits three quarterbacks who started multiple games last year but none who did enough to take a firm grip on the job heading into spring practice late next month.
Burden of leadership
Wallace may have an edge on all three, because he spent a year learning Freeze’s system at Arkansas state before transferring a putting up monster numbers in a record-setting season at East Mississippi Community College in 2011.
He took an unfortunate missstep last month with his citation for underage drinking, not the kind of publicity that will help the discipline efforts.
If Wallace wins the job he has to lead off the field, not just on it. The profile players have to buy in and gather the others round them if there’s truly going to be a discipline revival.
Quarterback isn’t the only position that Freeze got a big juco pick-up to help meet a need. Keep an eye on Pierce Burton at offensive tackle.
Come August Ole Miss won’t be touting its recruiting ranking the way it did last summer, and in years to come the Class of 2012 won’t be remembered for its signing day stars.
If it’s remembered for its production and efficiency within its numbers that will be much better for Freeze and the Rebels.
Parrish Alford (firstname.lastname@example.org) covers Ole Miss for the Daily Journal. He blogs daily at Djournal.com.