The Commercial Appeal

Ole Miss’ Hugh Freeze brings in nationally stellar haul.

Rebels lock down three players ranked No. 1 nationally at position

- By Ron Higgins rhiggins@commercial­ 901-529-2525

OXFORD, Miss. — Ole Miss football coach Hugh Freeze’s mantra is “Win the Day.”

He might have to change that to “Dominate the Recruiting” after he and his staff landed the first top 10 recruiting class in school history on National Signing Day Wednesday.

Three high school players rated No. 1 nationally at their positions by various recruiting services — defensive end Robert Nkemdiche, wide receiver Laquon Treadwell and offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil — and No. 2 rated safety Tony Connor were part of Ole Miss’s 28-member class that including four Memphis-area players.

Already signed and enrolled at midsemeste­r are five players, including defensive tackle Lavon Hooks, the nation’s top-rated junior college player. Freeze said of the latest 23 players signed, he feels confident 21 have or will academical­ly qualify.

For a program that was 7- 6 in Freeze’s first season in 2012 after the Rebels won one SEC game in 2010-11, it was an astounding haul. Ole Miss’ class was rated No. 5 by ESPN, No. 6 by, No. 7 by Rivals. com and No. 10 by

“The biggest vision we have is to do something new and fresh, convince a group of young men to come together and want to be different at a place that may not be the norm, to want to upset the apple cart,” Freeze said.

While Freeze knows his staff had unique edges in getting Georgia native Nkemdiche and Treadwell, from Crete, Ill. — Nkemdiche’s brother Denzel is a starting linebacker for the Rebels and Treadwell’s best friend is Ole Miss reserve cornerback Anthony Standifer — he said it took a village to sign the biggest collection of incoming talent in Rebels history.

“Our staff is full of rising stars in this profession, and our current players did a phenomenal job helping us recruit,” Freeze said. “And I don’t know if I’ve ever been part of a recruiting class with our commits being so active in helping us recruit the class.”

Nkemdiche, a 6-5, 260-pound backfield-wrecking defensive end who had 41 career sacks for Logansvill­e (Ga.) Grayson High, committed to Clemson last summer, then de-committed in November.

“I feel like they (the Rebels) can do special things, they are on the rise, plus playing with my brother,” said Nkemdiche, explaining why he chose Ole Miss.

Freeze said he was told by Nkemdiche’s mother early in the process that the Rebels’ performanc­e in 2012 would be a factor.

“Robert and Denzel’s mom told me from the get-go that we had a chance to get them together if we could create some excitement, if could win some games and show some improvemen­t,” Freeze said. “We were fortunate to create a lot of buzz all year.”

Tunsil, a 6- 6, 305-pound offensive tackle who starred for Lake City (Fla.) Columbia High, Grayson (Ga.) star Robert Nkemdiche (right) celebrates with big brother Denzel after signing to join him at Ole Miss. said his developing relationsh­ip with Rebels defensive line coach Chris Kiffin was a key. But he also said his Jan. 25 official visit to Ole Miss was an eye-opener.

“I didn’t expect much when I went there, but I saw a lot of things — the campus, the fans, the atmosphere,” Tunsil said.

Freeze said he understand­s the expectatio­ns that are linked to such a historic recruiting class.

“This (class) has a chance to be a program-changer; there’s a lot of immediate impact players,” Freeze said. “But it’s all on paper right now. We’re just in the second year of our journey, but we took a huge step forward to compete for a SEC West championsh­ip.”


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