Hugh Freeze Press Conference: NSD12
(Photo by UM Photographer Kevin Bain)

Feb. 1, 2012

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Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze met with the media on Wednesday and discussed the Rebels' 2012 signing class.

Opening Comments:

"We are excited to have this day come and get it over with and get our guys in the boat moving towards spring ball and being who we are going to become here. We are really excited about our class.  I'll never stand before you any year and say that this a great class, because I think that is proven in time. I do think it is a very good class. We had to try to develop these relationships in the tough recruiting battles that you face in this conference. We are thrilled with a lot of the outcomes that we had. Obviously, we want to compete for every kid that we go after and get all of them. We only had 13 slots for today to get to our 85. We were somewhat choosey about the battles that we fought. 

We are thrilled with our class today, starting with the quarterback position. Getting the junior college player of the year in Bo Wallace was a big get for us. Being able to do that in two weeks time was great. We had to address the need at running back. Kenno Loyal is a huge, physical back that you need in this conference. He was a guy that we were able to hold onto here in the end. Getting I'Tavius Mathers, who was the player of the year in the state of Tennessee, was big. He is probably the most complete back in the class. He has a lot of physical size to him and great speed. We are thrilled with him coming back on board with us.  He decommitted after the coaching change. It was a really good job with our coaching staff and with Coach Nix and Coach Harris getting him back into the boat. Jaylen Walton out of Memphis is a speed/skat back.  We got a great mixture there. Those young kids are going to have to come in and play right away with the depth issues we have at tailback.

Offensive line wise we think we hit a home run with Pierce Burton. He was the MVP of the national championship game in junior college ball.  He is already here working out getting ready along with Darone Bailey, who we were able to get at midyear also.  We pulled in Ben Still out of Memphis, which is a place we need to do well in. We got Robert Conyers who we think is going to be good. He is a young kid at only seventeen years old.  He wrestles alligators, so he has to be tough.  I think our fans will love him.

Wide receiver was not a position that was of need due to the numbers that we have there of young kids, but we got in a great battle for one of the top ones in the nation. It didn't go our way, but to get Cody Core out of Auburn who is a 6-3 guy who can play a lot of places was great. I think he has a huge upside to him.  Athletically, we have some swing guys in Quintavius Burdette and Mike Hilton.  Mike is a guy that schools came onto late and we were able to hold onto him out of Atlanta. Burdette is one of my favorites of the class, probably because he's from Mississippi, number one, and he is from my home town.  He is going to be a phenomenal player and I know that he loves this place. He plays with a lot of passion. 

On the defensive line is where we hit the biggest home run.  In this conference we have to win on the defensive line. To land Channing Ward and Issac Gross who are both Under Armor All-America guys was huge.  To get those guys as freshmen and get them ready to play is a huge get for us. Mississippi guys mean a lot to us all. It is well documented how good they are. We are thrilled with those two. We have Kameron Wood who had signed with the previous staff who I have watched on tape several times.  I think he is a very explosive pass rusher. I am looking forward to seeing him in spring ball.  We went late on John Youngblood whom we had at camp twice at our previous school. He is going to be a great addition to our football team, not only as a player but as a tremendous leader. He has great passion for the game. He is going to be a big kid before it is all over.  We are projecting him to be another rush-end.  He plays standup outside linebacker in high school right now, but is a  6'4" 230 pound frame kid and comes from a great family.

We got Dehendret Collins who led the Mississippi junior college ranks with 13 interceptions the past two seasons. He is already on campus getting ready for spring ball. Of course the latest news coming out today was when Trae Elston announced on ESPN that he was coming here.  He is another Under Armour All-American.  He chose us over  LSU and Oklahoma State which was a huge get for us.  Our whole staff took part in recruiting him. We are thrilled with the outcome of that. That brought our signing class to a total of 19, which put us at the 85.  We had three Under Armour All-American guys, the national junior college player of the year in Bo Wallace, the MVP of junior college national championship game in Pierce Burton, six mississippi players, which we hope to increase that number goal.  ESPN has us ranked pretty decent for the SEC after just having three weeks on the road with our staff. 

All in all, I think we addressed some needs.  I am really proud of our staff for the effort and energy and passion they put in trying to develop relationships in a lot of areas. We were able to hold onto some commitments that obviously loved Ole Miss. It is important to us that the families that chose to come here care about Ole Miss and love this place. I think it will show on the field the passion that they have for here. We are thrilled with this."

On Trae Elston:

"Our whole staff watched his decision. That was the last of the 13 names we had on the board. That was the last name we were waiting on. We had one change this morning with Kenno Loyal jumping into Jordan Taylor's spot. To get Elston at the end was a big pick-me-up for our staff.  We were thrilled. It was a little nerve racking because it was just a white cap that I could see at first and that made for a few anxious moments. He came with us and that was a great get. That deal goes back to our previous stop.  We were the first to offer that kid. Of course 25 others followed suit. It looked like he was heading to Clemson early on.  When he became open Coach Kiffin and Coach McGriff were right there to start the recruiting process with him. We battled down to the end and he and his mom  were very comfortable on their visit.  Another disadvantage I thought we had in this recruiting time in the three week span that we had our recruiting staff on the road was that we had one recruiting weekend where our students were in school. It is a whole different atmosphere when you bring a kid to campus and there are students here and the town is alive. We will be way ahead of the game next year. We had a great junior day last Saturday and we are well on our way. That makes a difference also. He happened to be here on one where there was enough activity going on."

On immediate impact players:

"Of course we look for Bo Wallace to bring great competition to the quarterback room along with the kids that we already have here.  We expect him to raise the competition level and the expectations of that room. Also, Pierce Burton we expect to come in and play. The running backs are going to have to play.  We liked them on tape as did a lot of people. They are young kids and we will see how they adapt to everything.  They are going to have to play. On the defensive line with Channing and Issac we feel like they will be pushing people for playing time. Kameron I don't know as much about, but I am impressed with the way he works and the way that he handles himself around our offices. Trae Elston will come in and play also. I don't know if we need a receiver to come in and play right now but we are all about competition.  If those kids come in and compete and earn it they certainly will."

On Pierce Burton:

"It think his signing was very critical. That was in our first week here.  Fortunately, we had a relationship with him before here or it would have been extremely difficult. That was a deal that went down to the afternoon of that junior college signing day with us and Florida and a couple of other schools. I think that was a very critical get."

On quarterbacks:

"Coach Werner and I spent a lot of time on that deal. We had four quarterbacks that we really liked and have five here on scholarship. Usually, four is the number that you have in a normal situation. To have five here and to think about taking a sixth or seventh one was a little scary to us. You can get skewed in the long run. There was one that we really wanted that we went right down to the wire with another school and he chose another place. We could have gone on another kid really late. I think he's a good player, but we thought about it and slept on it and decided that five on scholarship is a good number. We have two seniors, a junior, Bo has three years left, and a freshman in Maikhail Miller who was signed a year ago and will enter into this class."

On linebackers:

"Looking at our depth chart with our limited numbers that we had, there was not a lot of room.  Temario Strong was a linebacker  recruit to us.  We said all along that it was one linebacker and one receiver. If we had had a great second linebacker we may could have squeezed it in. Oversigning was possibly an option because maybe there could be some attrition. In my thought process with the attrition arrangement this year, I don't like planning for that. It is a natural process but certainly I don't know these kids well enough not to say where they are going to go.  I think that all of them are going to make it and we are going to have great success. I thought it was best that we plan for the future where we have a full year to recruit people.  We only signed 19 with this class that got us to the 85 and we will have six midyears next year plus the 25 to build on."

On recruiting in Memphis:

"Memphis to us is almost considered in-state.  We have to do well in Mississippi and in Memphis. I think I have the right guy there recruiting in  Maurice Harris.  He has spent a lot of years there and he is well known and well liked. I think he will do a great job there given a full year."

On four-year scholarships:

"We didn't get into that in this class.  I think that will be something we will discuss doing in the near future. Having a limited amount of time to get to know everyone is what we went about using in our sales pitch."

On Issac Gross

"Issac is a character.  He and Channing keep something stirred up all the time. He called me at midnight last night just to mess with me and have a good conversation. He ended by saying that he bleeds that red and blue, had always wanted to be a Rebel and that he was looking forward to tomorrow. I have gotten to know him, as well as Channing, the best. They have been around the most on unofficial trips and basketball games and other things. I am really impressed with both of those young men. The guy loves to compete. He wants to win and earn his way. I think he will do so very quickly. We've had that discussion many times about comparing him to Peria Jerry. I am not sure how big he is going to get, but the guy's first step is as good as I have seen. Peria's was the same way.  He plays with such great leverage and hip explosion. He is probably 260 pounds now.  He is a duel guy and can probably play inside or down at the end. I know if he gets up to 280-285 pounds and has the same quick first step that he is going to be a handful. I think he can play anywhere on the front four."

On shortened recruiting period:

"In this conference there is not anyone who is bad at recruiting. You are not going to go to a place and it not be impressive and they not do a good job on  recruiting weekends. Most of them have been recruited for a year and half and have developed relationships. Our staff was a new staff.  We were learning about each other and where our strengths were.  We didn't get to go to the spring period and get to the areas. You put people out and try to play to their strengths. I thought we were somewhat effective at getting people into some homes.  We didn't win all the battles that we got into, but to get into some of those in just three weeks time with some of the schools we were competing against was a great tribute to our staff. We are looking forward to seeing what we can do with a full year."

On Temario Strong:

"He came on his official visit and after our Saturday night dinner wanted to go workout in the IPF. I told him we could not watch him do that but he kept saying that he just wanted to find somewhere to go workout. He was begging people to play one-on-one with him or do this or that. We talk about finding guys that are gym rats, who want to play ball all the time, that love competing. He fits in that mode.  It wouldn't surprise me if he contributed right away in some facet, whether on special teams or on the linebacker core."

On early commitments:

"If kids we feel good enough to go on and their families feel good enough to do that then certainly we will take them, particularly in certain areas.  A lot of  kids like to draw those things out, even the ones who seem to be committed. The whole arena of recruiting right now has changed with the way the media covers it.  That has changed a lot of kids' philosophies.  I think that gives you some momentum. If it is a really done deal with a solid family and a solid kid who know this is where they want to be that we will.  They are going to help you recruit by talking about where they are going and where they want to be. We have already taken one and we think we've hit a home run to start."

On counting scholarships for next year's class:

"You get 25 when the new calendar year starts. If you didn't sign 25 in the previous class you could count them backwards, but you have to sign them midyear.  Right now we would have six midyear available if we have the open spots under the 85. That is our plan and our need. We want an inside defensive lineman, a linebacker, cornerback, an offensive tackle and the best available at those positions. We could add a kicker, a punter, who knows what it will be. Those are the areas we are going after midyear."

On adding to the current 2012 class:

"As long as it didn't skew our numbers to where it messes with what we  think the numbers should be in each position where it effects next year's recruiting.  It would have to be a special player. We would definitely consider it.  We wanted to stay right at the number where we are. Sometimes people get cut loose and they would be a great fit for Ole Miss, maybe at a position where we need a little depth."

On the 12-month plan:

"We are not going to stick with the actual plan. It is hard when you are dealing with those last few spots. All of us used to think in terms of it all working itself out with the numbers. We get really nervous if we put out too many because you don't want to get the 26th one back because the repercussions are pretty stiff.  I think it affects the last few spots, but I don't think it actually affects the plan itself."

On the recruiting class:

"I am more relived probably than satisfied. I am ready to go to work with our kids who are here. We are thrilled with the parents and kids here who have decided to join us. They are ours.  You never know how good classes are going to be. I feel good about the type of character and the type of young men we are bringing into our program. They will help us get back going on the right track.  I am excited about the attitudes I have seen around here. It dominates so much of your time. I am ready to get started getting our offense, defense and everything installed for spring ball.  We want to focus on developing relationships with next year's class we will be signing. Because you know you are behind, you are pressing constantly for a three week run and we all felt that sense that we are behind. We have to battle all the way to the end. The guys who chose to come with us are our guys and we are thrilled with them."

On current player's attitudes:

"We have had one team meeting. Our kids did not come back until January 23 as a whole team. That was the last weekend we had recruits. It is not that any of our kids were difficult or unwilling to help, but it was very difficult to get them to sell accurately what we are about because they don't really know yet. They are working extremely hard. Coach Jackson and his staff are doing a great job and the attitudes are great. For them to accurately portray to a recruit exactly who we are after only having one meeting is a tough order for them to do. They pitched in and helped all they could. Ole Miss sells itself to a certain extent in my opinion. It is not what it will be next year at this time.  As far as evaluating them, I am going to start watching the offense and defense and evaluating our current players. The culture and mindset is big. Kids that come on official visits feel that. They want to know if the team is together and unified.  They want to know if there are issues going on. It is a huge part of it having them on campus. You get judged in the home on the home visits, but this one weekend where you have the families here is a huge percentage of the decisions made. A huge part of that is the attitude and the way our current players act and how they act together."

On Robert Conyers wrestling alligators:

"He brought a bunch of pictures. I told him one of my favorite shows is "Swamp People". He said that they are sissies because they use hooks and stuff.  He said he just does it with his hands.  He actually had pictures of twelve foot alligators and one where he is sitting on a live one with his hands on his mouth. He is a pretty tough guy I think."



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