Maybe Denzel Nkemdiche’s college football career ends with greatness. It’s certainly off to a good beginning.
His path might have been much different if another college football coach hadn’t let location affect his timing.
Nkemdiche, well known in some football circles as the brother of Loganville, Ga., defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche – the No. 1 recruit in the 2013 class – is one of 10 Ole Miss players returning to their home state this weekend when the Rebels visit No. 7 Georgia in Athens.
Both teams are coming off wins, Georgia against then-BCS No. 2 Florida in Jacksonville and Ole Miss against Arkansas in Little Rock.
Nkemdiche – of Loganville, Ga., less than 40 miles from the Georgia campus – had eight tackles, an interception and broke up two passes against the Razorbacks. He leads the Rebels in tackles with 52 and tackles for loss with nine.
He might have been with the Bulldogs if Georgia coach Mark Richt had shown interest in him earlier in the recruiting process.
“They just felt like because they were right there, that they were UGA, that they could wait till the last minute and still get me,” recalled Nkemdiche, a redshirt freshman. “When they offered me that just made me want to go to Ole Miss even more. I knew then that I was going to commit to Ole Miss.”
There’s a different motivation for Mike Hilton, who grew up in Fayetteville, Ga., about two hours from Athens.
Hilton had been like football’s version of a Swiss Army knife but has settled in at defensive back, recently cracking the starting lineup, and is one of three true freshmen receiving extensive playing time in the secondary.
A Class 3A honorable mention all-stater, Hilton didn’t get to decide between Georgia and Ole Miss. Georgia never offered him.
“Yeah, I met Coach Richt one time. His words were, ‘You’re a real good player, but we’re just going to keep moving on you,’ so I was like, ‘OK That’s fine. I respect your decision, but you’ll regret it.’ We’ll see.”
That confidence has served Hilton well at Ole Miss. He’s had 11 tackles and a tackle for loss over the last two games. He also broke up two passes against Arkansas.
Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze says the excitement level among the Georgia players has been noticeable.
“Some of them will have to calm down a little bit. They’re emotional kids, and they’re young and excited about going home.”
In his first meeting with Hilton, Freeze told him he would play in the secondary.
Hilton, who grew up a Florida State fan, says he’ll have no problem channeling his enthusiasm this weekend.
“It’s going to be good. I’m going to show (Richt) that he missed out on a good player,” he said.
More than one good player, it appears.
“I feel like I made the right decision. When they did jump on me, they jumped on me and stayed with me through the long run. That played a huge part,” said Nkemdiche, who was recruited by Houston Nutt’s staff.
Georgia’s timing left Nkemdiche with no hard feelings.
“It wasn’t really an insult. They wanted what they wanted, and that was on them, and it is what it is now,” he said.