OXFORD — The University of Mississippi football team’s stunning recruiting class included the nation’s consensus No. 1 overall recruit, one of the top receivers, and one of the best offensive tackles.
The Rebels had such a good day that even LeBron James was impressed.
“Ole Miss ain’t messing around today,” the Miami Heat star wrote on Twitter.
Yes, it was quite a day for a Southeastern Conference program that’s usually an also-ran on the field and in the recruiting rankings. But on Wednesday, second-year coach Hugh Freeze and the rest of the Rebels were the talk of the college football world.
The 28-player class centers around Robert Nkemdiche, a 6-foot-5, 260-pound defensive end from Loganville, Ga., who was the No. 1 recruit in the country according to Rivals.com, Scout.com, ESPN, CBS Sports, and 247Sports.
He’ll be joined at Ole Miss by receiver Laquon Treadwell (Crete, Ill.) and offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil (Lake City, Fla.), forming the foundation for a consensus top-10 class nationally.
“The biggest vision we have is to do something new and fresh,” Freeze said during Tuesday’s press conference at the school. “To convince a group of young men to come together, want to be different, and to do something different and fresh at a place that might not be the norm. To upset the apple cart, so to speak.”
Nkemdiche, Tunsil and Treadwell are all 5-star recruits according to Rivals.com. The Rebels also landed nine 4-star recruits, including safety Antonio Conner (Batesville, Miss.) and offensive tackle Austin Golson (Prattville, Ala.).
Nkemdiche had been on several programs’ wish list for more than a year, but family ties gave Ole Miss the inside track. His brother Denzel Nkemdiche plays for the Rebels and led Mississippi’s defense with 82 tackles, including 13 for a loss last season.
“I do think (this class) has the possibility of being a program changer,” Freeze said. “But it’s all on paper right now. We’ll have to start managing expectations right now because we’re still in the second year of our journey, but I do think we took a huge step forward today toward getting to where we all want to get, and that’s competing for an SEC West championship.”
Robert Nkemdiche went on an official visit to LSU last week, but when it was all said and done, he signed with the Rebels, donning a red Ole Miss hat after he made the announcement.
“I feel like it’s the right place for me,” Robert Nkemdiche said during his press conference. “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.”
Freeze led Ole Miss to a 7-6 record last season, improving from a 2-10 mark in 2011.
When Nkemdiche, Treadwell and Tunsil announced their decisions, the Ole Miss coaching staff celebrated. Freeze credited his assistant coaches and players for doing a great job selling the program throughout the year.
Ole Miss doesn’t have the pedigree to usually recruit toe-to-toe with the likes of Alabama, LSU and other Southeastern Conference powerhouse programs. But at least on paper, the Rebels have a class that measures up quite well with the nation’s best.
“I feel like he’s a good man, he’s special,” Robert Nkemdiche said of Freeze. “I feel like he’s a man of his word. I respect him a lot and I feel like he has good things coming.”
Denzel Nkemdiche said he and his mother pushed hard for Robert to choose Ole Miss, but ultimately the decision was his. Denzel said his individual success at Ole Miss — along with the big improvement for the program this season — were important factors in Robert’s choice.
“The feeling right now is unreal,” Denzel Nkemdiche said from Robert’s signing. “It’s real hard to explain. I’m glad it’s over. I wanted him to make the right decision that he wanted to make and I wanted him to feel comfortable with the decision he made because he’s going to be where he’s going to be for the next three years. I’m glad he’s going to be there with me. I’ll be able to look after him and take some care of him and we’ll be able to win the national championship together.”