PARRISH ALFORD: Young Rebels live up to hype

PARRISH ALFORD

PARRISH ALFORD

OXFORD

Laremy Tunsil, one of the celebrity freshmen of Ole Miss football, was minding his own business when his teammate arrived and began to give him the business.

That’s what we called good-natured kidding back in the day. Maybe it’s called something else now.

Regardless, Justin Bell, a third-year sophomore who plays with Tunsil on the offensive line, joined him in stride and said, “Hey, I can’t believe it. I’m walking with the SEC offensive lineman of the week.”

Sometimes Matt Luke can’t believe it either.

Luke, himself a former Ole Miss offensive lineman, now coaches the group.

“He’s ultra-talented,” Luke said. “He’s one of those guys that doesn’t come along very often.”

Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze, Luke and the rest of the staff gained national attention for the consensus top 10 recruiting class they signed in February.

Tunsil was rated the No. 1 offensive tackle by the major recruiting services. He’s appeared in every game and has made six starts at left tackle, allowing fifth-year senior Emmanuel McCray to move and help the line in a variety of ways.

Tunsil is one of only two true freshmen in the nation to be his team’s full-time left tackle. The left spot is a position of great significance because it protects the “blind side” of right-handed quarterbacks. You probably remember the movie.

Tunsil may have his own movie one day. He’s given up only one sack this year.

Classmates

Nine games into the season Tunsil isn’t the only Ole Miss freshman making news. A lot of them are.

The biggest surprise may have been tight end Evan Engram, who had 20 catches and three touchdowns before an ankle sprain ended his year.

Tony Conner is fourth on the team with 44 tackles.

Laquon Treadwell leads the team with 49 catches, three for touchdowns.

Defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche generated the most buzz from the beginning, and that continues with everything from a fake punt run to his ejection last Saturday against Arkansas for shoving Razorbacks freshman Dan Skipper in apparent retaliation in some low-grade skirmish.

Oddly, Nkemdiche still hasn’t recorded his first college sack, but he has five tackles for loss, a pressure and has batted passes at the line of scrimmage.

Other freshmen have also contributed, and as a group you’d have to say they’ve lived up to the hype. And there’s improvement to come.

The key in program-building is to not rely on this class but add to it. Freeze told us long ago he doesn’t believe he has to sign a top 10 class every year to help the Rebels rise.

I agree. The player with one less star but 25 percent more heart will help you more in the long run. The current class of 20 commits is ranked No. 13 by Rivals, status that will rise if Freeze and his staff close the way they did last year.

Maybe that happens. If it does, it will be about this time next year before you begin to get an accurate picture of what you’ve added to your program.

Right now what the Rebels added last February is looking pretty strong.

Parrish Alford (parrish.alford @journalinc.com) covers Ole Miss for the Daily Journal. He blogs daily at InsideOleMissSports.com.