Rebels’ new staff playing catchup

By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal

OXFORD – Hugh Freeze understands recruiting and knows the best classes aren’t signed when you change your address in December.
Nevertheless, he believes his first Ole Miss class will meet needs, and his second one will be better.
“We are behind, we acknowledge that,” he said. “But we’re also glass half-full guys. I think we’ll still do OK in this recruiting class.”
Currently, Ole Miss has a class of 13 verbal commits that is ranked No. 67 by Scout.com.
Freeze feels like he addressed need positions earlier this month in the junior college signing period. Offensive tackle Pierce Burton (6-7, 290) of City College of San Francisco is considered an important pick-up. Freeze had identified depth on the offensive line, particular at tackle, as a chief concern. Burton gave strong consideration to Florida before signing with Ole Miss.
Freeze further addressed line depth with guard Darone Bailey of Coahoma CC and secondary depth with Copiah-Lincoln cornerback Dehendret Collins.
Freeze said the contacts his staff – which still has three openings – have built over time has helped ease the transition. He cited defensive coordinator Dave Wommack and administrative assistant Barney Farrar specifically and said getting former Ole Miss offensive lineman Matt Luke on staff was a “home run” hire because of his history with the program as a player and later as an assistant coach.
“We’re not near as far behind as we would have been had I gone somewhere that I didn’t have these connections,” Freeze said.
Recruiting has been the primary objective for all new coaches, video evaluation of the existing roster taking a backseat.
Defensive line coach Chris Kiffin was able to identify two of his players – tackles Bryon Bennett and Carlton Martin – by number, but not by name.
“I know at the tackle spots we have a couple of young guys, 95 and 92, not even familiar with names yet, but I did see a little talent there,” Kiffin said.
The brother of Southern Cal coach Lane Kiffin and son of long-time NFL defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, the family name is a bonus when Chris Kiffin is recruiting.
“Dad’s well-respected, and high school coaches know of him and his career. Usually when I go into a school they’ll put two and two together with the last name and always want to talk about that,” Kiffin said.
Arkansas State had compiled 17 verbal commitments at the time of Freeze’s resignation.
ASU coaches might start out recruiting the top players in the area but drift out of the chase when the players made it clear they would not be playing college football in Jonesboro.
aiming higher
“The biggest difference now is just going after the top-tier athlete as opposed to competing against Memphis and Southern Miss,” said Maurice Harris, who will coach tight ends and serve as recruiting coordinator. “Now we’re going against Alabama and LSU, and those are the guys we have to get to compete in the SEC.”
Harris, like Freeze is a former Memphis high school coach, going 23-12 in three seasons at Whitehaven.
Luke was hired on Dec. 12 – lured away from Duke and former Ole Miss coach David Cutcliffe – and immediately made an impact for Ole Miss by “solidifying” the standing with some key recruits, Freeze said.
“Recruiting better talent to join with our current players is a necessity,” Freeze said. “The relationship-building is something we like to take over a year or two, and we were trying to do that in five or six days in the mid-year (juco) signing period, but I’m optimistic that on Feb. 1 we will still get a good class.”
parrish.alford@journalinc.com