Ole Miss Head Coach Huge Freeze has the Rebels doing something that has never really been done at Oxford: competing with the nation’s best for recruits.
Building on what was already shaping up to be a strong class for Ole Miss, Freeze landed Laquon Treadwell from Illinois, a five-star on Rivals.com who narrowly missed being ranked in the top 25 by Breitbart Sports, and has the Rebels in a good position with a number of the nation’s top recruits. According to Neal McCready, publisher for RebelGrove.com, which covers Ole Miss recruiting, this is shaping up to be a class that the Ole Miss faithful could be pointing to for years to come. Ole Miss is also one of two teams (the other being Auburn) that could play the role of “spoiler” on National Signing Day.
Freeze is in uncharted territory. The University of Mississippi has never been among the SEC’s elite, and schools like Alabama and LSU are used to poaching Mississippi for talent and leaving the scraps for the Mississippi State Bulldogs and the Rebels. The highest finish the Rebels have had in the recruiting rankings came in 2009 and 2010 when they finished 18th in both years, which was still well below the elite teams in the SEC West who simply compete amongst themselves and the nation’s top teams for the cream of the crop. Since coming on board at Ole Miss, Freeze has worked relentlessly to change that.
McCready points to the hard work Freeze has put in as the catalyst for the class, currently ranked 10th on the Rivals.com Team Rankings. It’s also the same formula that worked with Treadwell.
“Well, the presence of Anthony Standifer, Laquon’s teammate who signed last year certainly got his attention, but it was a myriad of other things," he told Breitbart Sports. "He felt comfortable (at Ole Miss), and had great relationships with the players and coaches. He liked the idea of playing in the SEC, and simply they recruited him the hardest, they got on him early, and when he came on his official visit in December, it sealed the deal."
McCready added: "He realized he had the chance to go somewhere where, in his eyes, he can be the building block for a turnaround."
The idea of being part of the foundation of something new and great is appealing to a lot of recruits.
McCready continued, “for a lot of kids the idea of being a part of something and building towards something that’s never been is exciting.”
After just one 7-6 season, Freeze has created a sense of belief that Ole Miss is building something special.
For a lot of these recruits, it is a belief in Freeze himself.
“Kids just like him. Sometimes we try to make this more complicated than it is. Recruiting is about relationships, it’s not about schemes, it’s about trust," McCready said. "He’s unassuming and he’s real. When they first introduced him, you couldn’t help but wonder is this guy for real. The answer is yes. He’s passionate, he’s intense, but he’s real and he inspires.
McCready added: “He’s able to get kids to buy in quickly. He did it at Arkansas State, he’s doing it at Ole Miss, and he does it in recruiting.”
What has Rebel fans so excited is not just the class that Freeze has already put together, it is the number of top prospects Ole Miss still is in contention for. When asked whether he felt the consensus was that Ole Miss leads for 4-star defensive end Elijah Daniel, 4-star safety Antonio Connor (who, like Treadwell, was one of ten who narrowly missed the cut for the Breitbart 25), and Breitbart Sports’ #2 player in the country Robert Nkemdiche, McCready replied, "yeah, I think Ole Miss gets Daniel and Connor, and if you’re betting on Nkemdiche, Ole Miss is the favorite. Yeah, I think they will get those three guys.”
McCready also acknowledged that Ole Miss has an “outside chance” with Breitbart Sports’ #1 player in the country, Carl Lawson (who McCready thinks will likely stay committed to Auburn), has a shot with another 4-star running back, Jordan Wilkins, and is in contention to land 4-star wide receiver Stacy Coley and Breitbart Sports’ #14 player Laremy Tunsil.
“There’s some buzz with Tunsil similar to Nkemdiche and Treadwell. I think Georgia is the favorite, but he wasn’t exactly raving about his Alabama visit. His visit (to Ole Miss) will be interesting,” McCready said.
After a strong visit this weekend, Ole Miss also is well positioned to make a move for Florida State commitment Austin Golson, one of the nation’s top offensive tackles.
Regardless of how high Ole Miss climbs in the rankings, the team will need this class to contribute right away. McCready says “everyone gets hung up on stars, but the bottom line is that you better have big time athletes to compete in this league,” and cites the success of Alabama head coach Nick Saban, which has largely come through outstanding recruiting hauls.
Treadwell will be one who is relied on to make an immediate impact to help close the gap. According to McCready, “if he is able to make the adjustment as quickly as some think he will, he will punish defenses for doubling up on Donte Moncrief. There are some things to build on in the passing game and he’s a major weapon added into that mix.”
Two others that could make an impact are two JUCO signees in defensive tackle Lavon Hook and wide receiver Nicholas Brassell. Hooks, in particular, will be relied on to “give an interior defensive presence that they have to have.”
In addition to those players, Ole Miss also is bringing on quarterbacks Ryan Buchanan and Devante Kincade to groom under Bo Wallace, and has some great running backs in Kailo Moore, Peyton Barber (teammate of Carl Lawson), and Mark Dodson Jr. (whom McCready described as a “terrific back”) coming on board. If Freeze can even land a couple of Lawson, Nkemdiche, Tunsil, Connor, Daniel, Coley, or Wilkins, this will be a class for the ages at Ole Miss.
McCready believes this class could end up ranked eighth or even higher when all is said and done.
However, he is clear that Freeze will not be able to rest on his laurels.
“You cannot catch Alabama or LSU with one great recruiting class,” he said.
At the same time, Freeze must get credit for bringing in what McCready says could be “potentially, the best class in the history of the program and the first class where you can see people contributing right away and becoming stars down the road.”
Yet, in a final word of caution, McCready tapped the brakes a little bit.
“For all the giddiness, this has to become the new normal," he said. "If the goal for your program is to get to the SEC Championship game, you have to get through the best program in the country. If you’re going to get there, you have to recruit at an elite level. Saban is winning because he has great players and because he has so many of them."
While the ability of Hugh Freeze to recruit at this level remains to be seen, one thing is certain. For the first time ever, coaches like Saban are having to look over their shoulders … toward Oxford, MS, where some of the best in Class of 2013 may be spending their next four years.
The Rebels will be a fascinating team to watch on Signing Day.
Follow Cole Muzio on Twitter @ColeMuzio. Follow Breitbart Recruiting on Twitter with #BreitbartREC