Freeze and his staff locked up one of the country’s best recruiting classes Wednesday, so the talk now is less of wilderness and more of just how far this program can move forward.
“It was thrilling to finish strong today with the year-long plan that we had,” said Freeze, 7-6 in year one. “It all came together very nicely, and today to receive all our NLI’s back except for one that we sent out made for a hugely successful day. I do think it has the possibility of being a program changer. It’s all on paper right now.”
Now it’s on to year two and another year-long plan. But there is some caution. Freeze admits several connections, like Denzel Nkemdiche being on the team and his brother Robert being the No. 1 recruit in the country, and Anthony Standifer being on the team and his high school teammate Laquon Treadwell joining this class of Rebels.
The coaching staff has already begun to look for any type situations that might help next year’s class. And Freeze also wants to be enthusiastic about it but also remain grounded through it all.
“We’ll start having to manage expectations right now, because we’ll be in our second year of our journey together,” he said. “But I do think we took a huge step forward on that journey to get where we all want to get.”
Freeze said he knows Ole Miss fans are excited, and for them he is as happy as for anyone.
“I just left the Quarterback Club meeting and saw again the energy and the passion of the Ole Miss people,” he said.
“One of the things that I think motivates this staff and drives us daily is that we take a great sense of pride in knowing we can bring joy to the Rebel faithful. I think that’s one of the reasons we fit so well here and can share the message of Ole Miss and who we really are here.”
To truly build a program, there will have to be follow-up classes that are also strong and highly ranked. Freeze knows that’s the case and looks forward to the challenge.
“You have to be adequate evaluators of talent. I don't even know if we were ranked last year. We found some pretty good gems in it. Everybody focuses on the top players, but there is depth in this class. Some of those we think are superstars, and they're not even getting talked about. Only way we can compete like we want to is to put two or three of those classes together."
Freeze said some early commitments helped recruit this class, and getting a few of them in the fold early was a key.
“We were real fortunate that we got some guys early that were very vocal and had great leadership qualities,” he said. “They helped us recruit and sell the program and sell the coaches and the philosophy."
Freeze said his program was helped by signing two quarterbacks in Devante Kincaid and Ryan Buchanan. He said there was help needed at running back, and Eugene Brazley, Mark Dodson, Kailo Moore, and Jordan Wilkins were signed.
He said there’s receivers help in Quincy Adeboyejo, Derrick Jones, Laquon Treadwell, and Trey Bledsoe. Tight ends are all gone from last year, and Even Engram, A.J. Jackson, and Christian Morgan are all signed to potentially take those spots.
Ole Miss loses six offensive linemen after the 2013 season.
“It was a huge need for us to get some who could come in and play and then be ready to start a lot of games in their career,” Freeze said.
Laremy Tunsil, ranked No. 1 nationally, and Austin Golson, ranked No. 3, lead the way there, and are joined by Daronte Bouldin and Davion Johnson, both top Mississippians, “We think we have four really top linemen,” Freeze said.
Nick Brassell is back, and Freeze said “he will have an opportunity of earning eligibility by going through the process we’ve outlined for him. Should he make it, he will play defensive back and corner.”
There’s Q Mirales at corner, and he should help soon. Tony Connor is “an immediate difference maker for us,” Freeze said.
Bobby Hill is a corner Freeze said he is “really, really high on. A phenomenal player.”
There’s also David Kamara, another outstanding cornerback.
Two linebackers were signed – Marcus Robinson and Ray Ray Smith. “We needed to increase our range at linebacker, and I believe we did that," Freeze said.
The Rebels added two defensive ends and two interior players. Lavon Hooks and Herbert Moore were signed along the defensive line.
Placekicker Andy Pappanastos was added and there’s a future need at kicker for the Rebels.
And the No. 1 player in the nation, Robert Nkemdiche, decided he wanted to play with his brother at Ole Miss.
“He’s No. 1 in the nation in every service, and he remained that from start to finish,” Freeze said. “That doesn’t always happen. But his skill set is way beyond his years. He will be an immediate impact player for us here at Ole Miss.”
Wilderness? There is a path out of there now. Freeze and company are moving swiftly down it, it appears for certain, after Signing Day 2013.