Mississippi crashes recruiting party

McClatchy news servicesFebruary 7, 2013 

Alabama. Ohio State. Michigan. Florida. Notre Dame.

Mississippi?

Ole Miss muscled in on the powerhouses that usually dominate national signing day, landing some of the most sought-after prospects in the country on college football’s annual first-Wednesday-in-February frenzy.

“I think the biggest thing they’re doing right is they’re building relationships with these players, getting these guys on campus and making them feel comfortable,” said recruiting analyst Andrew Bone of rivals.com, who ranked the Rebels No. 7. “I think once they leave campus, they feel a different comfort level than some other places that they may visit.”

The Rebels, coming off a promising 7-6 season in their first season under coach Hugh Freeze, had the experts swooning by signing three of the bluest chips still on the board and building a well-rounded class.

“I do think (this class) has the possibility of being a program changer,” Freeze said. “But it’s all on paper right now.”

The day started with defensive end Robert Nkemdiche from Loganville, Ga., rated the No. 1 recruit in the country by just about everyone who ranks them, deciding to join his brother, Denzel, in Oxford, Miss.

“I feel like it’s the right place for me,” Nkemdiche said after slipping on a red Ole Miss cap. “I feel like they can do special things and they’re on the rise. I feel like going to play with my brother, we can do something special.”

Nkemdiche originally committed to Clemson last year, then backed off that and narrowed his picks down to LSU, Florida and Mississippi — and the Rebels beat the big boys.

They weren’t done. Coaches in the Ole Miss war room were exchanging hugs and high-fives again a couple hours later when Laremy Tunsil, a top-rated offensive tackle from Lake City, Fla., picked the Rebels over Florida State and Georgia.

“Tunsil to Ole Miss, I think, was the biggest surprise of the whole (recruiting season),” said JC Shurburtt, national recruiting director for 247Sports.com.

And, as if the Ole Miss needed more good news, highly touted defensive back Antonio Conner from nearby Batesville, Miss., chose the Rebels over national champion Alabama.

Ole Miss also landed Laquon Treadwell from Crete, Ill., one of the best receiver prospects in the country.

He made a verbal commitment to the Rebels back in December, and sealed the deal Wednesday, the first day high school players were allowed to sign binding letters of intent.

The end result was a class good enough to catch the attention of even LeBron James.

“Ole Miss ain’t messing around today! Big time recruits coming in. SEC is crazy,” the reigning NBA MVP posted on his Twitter account.

Crazy good.

While the Rebels racked up, it’s important to remember they still have plenty of ground to gain on the rest of their conference. Nick Saban reloaded the Crimson Tide with a class that Rivals.com ranked No. 1 in the country.

SEC powers Florida, LSU and Georgia pulled in typically impressive classes. SEC newcomer Texas A&M cracked the top 10 of several rankings. Even Vanderbilt, coming off a nine-win season, broke into the top 25.

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