Ole Miss crashes recruiting party

For one seismic signing day, the fax machine supplanted the Rebel flag as the antiquated symbol of Ole Miss football.

Winless in the SEC two autumns ago, the Rebels stood toe to toe with Alabama and Florida, among others, in the quest for college football's premier paper championship Wednesday.

When dusk settled on national signing day, the first day high school seniors are permitted to sign with colleges, the Crimson Tide had prevailed again with the consensus top class. But the statement made by Ole Miss was a veritable Rebel yell carrying across four time zones.

The consensus national player of the year (defensive end Robert Nkemdiche of Loganville, Ga.), consensus top offensive lineman (Lake City's Laremy Tunsil) and arguably the country's best receiver (Laquon Treadwell of Crete, Ill.) will play in Oxford next season.

Those three were the most shimmering in a constellation of five- and four-star recruits hauled in by second-year coach Hugh Freeze, giving Ole Miss a class ranked among the top 10 by all the major recruiting services. ESPN ranked it the highest, at No. 5.

Even LeBron James tweeted about it.

"Ole Miss ain't messing around today!" the NBA star wrote on Twitter. "Big time recruits coming in. SEC is crazy."

"Most of the guys we predicted would sign with them did," said recruiting analyst Andrew Bone of rivals.com, which ranked Ole Miss' class seventh.

"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. I think once they leave campus, they feel a different comfort level than some other places that they may visit."

Yet not even the most quantum signing-day strides enabled the Rebels to overtake Alabama. The two-time defending national champion's 25-player class was ranked first by most national services, with 13 signees among ESPN's top 100.

Buoying Alabama's class is Auburn (Ala.) High four-star inside linebacker Reuben Foster, a one-time Auburn commit who has an Auburn tattoo on his right forearm, and 320-pound Fort Worth, Texas, defensive tackle A'Shawn Robinson, who made an 11th-hour flip from Texas to the Crimson Tide.

"They never get lazy," ESPN Southeast recruiting coordinator Corey Long said of Tide coach Nick Saban's staff.

"They can get the best players in the country, but they know not everybody is the right fit for them. They work meticulously to find the guys that will produce. And that's why they stay on top, because they don't get complacent."

Finishing just behind Alabama in ESPN's ranking was Florida. Rivals and 247sports ranked the Gators fourth. Florida State's 22-member class was ranked from eighth (247Sports) to 15th (scout.com).

Three Gators signees, including Wharton cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III, are five-star recruits, according to 247Sports. Eight of the 28 signees already have enrolled, including tailback Kelvin Taylor, whose father, Fred, had a few carries for Steve Spurrier in the 1990s.

"It's a high-character class with toughness," coach Will Muschamp said.

"A lot of these guys were guys that have been committed to us a long time and never took other visits. There wasn't a lot of flash in their recruiting process, and that's the kind of guys you want."

Elsewhere, new USF coach Willie Taggart made a resounding local, if not national, statement with his inaugural 23-member class. The group includes 10 players from the bay area (including Polk, Manatee and Sarasota counties).

Former coach Skip Holtz's three signing-day classes had eight bay area players combined.

Taggart said he was pleased with the class he put together in less than two months on the job but said he would be better equipped to go up against the state's "Big Three" traditional powers in 2014.

"It's really difficult when you've only been here a month and didn't have a staff together," Taggart said. "Ask me that question in about a year. I think I'll have a better answer for you."

Similarly, one signing class isn't likely to make Ole Miss an SEC West heavyweight overnight, even if it could be the program's best.

Nkemdiche (6 feet 5, 265 pounds), a nimble-footed sack machine and two-time USA Today All-American, reportedly was bench pressing 350 pounds and squatting more than 500 before his senior year. His older brother, Denzel, is a Rebels linebacker.

Freeze also landed safety Antonio Conner, Mississippi's top high school player, and four-star offensive tackle and one-time FSU commit Austin Golson of Prattville, Ala.

Freeze "is a guy that coached (Ravens tackle) Michael Oher," ESPN's Long said of the player who helped inspire the film The Blind Side. "He has a tremendous story to tell. Kids love him. Adults love him. The minute you talk to him, you want to play for him."

Times staff writers Greg Auman and Antonya English contributed to this report.

.fast facts

The top classes

ESPN.com

1. Alabama

2. Florida

3. Ohio State

4. Notre Dame

5. Ole Miss

6. Michigan

7. LSU

8. Texas A&M

9. Florida State

10. Georgia

Rivals.com

1. Alabama

2. Ohio State

3. Notre Dame

4. Florida

5. Michigan

6. LSU

7. Ole Miss

8. Auburn

9. Florida St.

10. Texas A&M

247Sports

1. Alabama

2. Ohio State

3. Notre Dame

4. Florida

5. Michigan

6. Ole Miss

7. LSU

8. Florida State

9. UCLA

10. Texas A&M

Ole Miss crashes recruiting party 02/06/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 6, 2013 11:17pm]

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