By Parrish Alford
OXFORD – When Ole Miss was recruiting the No. 1 prospect in the Class of 2013, it had one very big advantage that its competitors could not claim.
Robert Nkemdiche’s brother was already on the Rebels’ roster.
Denzel Nkemdiche burst onto the scene as a redshirt freshman with an All-SEC year at outside linebacker.
Good things were happening for the older Nkemdiche, and rebuilding was ahead of schedule for first-year Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze.
Robert Nkemdiche went through the modern day recruiting process. He committed to a school, de-committed, flirted with others and eventually followed his brother to Ole Miss as many observers thought he would.
Times have changed, and as Ole Miss prepares for the 2014 season, Robert Nkemdiche says he has to be a leader and a dominant player for the Rebels’ defense to be as good as it can be.
He’s had leadership practice in helping his brother through the off-season.
Denzel Nkemdiche’s production sagged in an injury-filled sophomore season. He missed three games, and his tackle numbers dropped by more than 50 percent. He defended eight passes and picked off three in 2012 but had zeros in both of those categories last year.
He was still voted second-team All-SEC by the Associated Press, but a January arrest on misdemeanor charges of disturbing the peace and disorderly conduct led to his current suspension.
Prior to the beginning of spring drills Freeze announced that Nkemdiche and linebacker Serderius Bryant were suspended but that Nkemdiche would miss the Aug. 28 opener against Boise State in Atlanta, near the Nkemdiches’ hometown of Loganville, Ga.
Denzel Nkemdiche’s status was further muddied when a spring break video appeared showing him at the beach in a profanity-laced tirade against an opposing team’s fans.
At the time Freeze said it was possible that event could lengthen Nkemdiche’s suspension depending on how he responded moving forward. It looks like response has been good.
Tuesday afternoon, Freeze said Denzel Nkemdiche would definitely be back for the Rebels’ second game, barring something unforeseen in the meantime.
Freeze said Denzel Nkemdiche has maintained a positive outlook in practice.
“I couldn’t be more pleased with his attitude and leadership. He’s accepted his punishment and gone through it nicely. Any person who makes mistakes will have decisions to make after that in terms of how they want their life’s trajectory to go. He’s made the right ones so far.”
His younger brother says he’s tried to be a positive example for Denzel during the off-season.
“Of course, of course I had to,” Robert Nkemdiche said. “As humans we all make mistakes. When a guy falls down you pick him up. When he was going through things I told him, ‘You’ve got to get this right. We need you on this team.’”
Bryant, who led the team in tackles last year with 78, is currently the starter at outside linebacker. The depth chart reads that either Denzel Nkemdiche or senior Keith Lewis will be the primary backup.
Robert Nkemdiche is the starter at defensive tackle and believes he can’t be simply good for this defense to reach its goals.
“I feel like I have to dominate on the defense for us to be where we need to be,” he said. “That’s something I’ve embraced, and I’m going to do everything I have to do to make sure we’re dominant.”
The younger Nkemdiche wants to be not only dominant on the field but a leader as well. Sometimes that begins with helping your brother … your real brother.
“We need him. He’s a piece of the puzzle to help us win. I was like, ‘You have to straighten up. You can’t keep acting out.’”