Hugh Freeze Signing Day Press Conference
Feb. 1, 2017

Ole Miss Football Head Coach Hugh Freeze met with the media on Wednesday to announce the Rebels’ 2017 signing class.

Opening statement…
“Like anyone who stands up here, you talk about how great your classes are and how good you feel about them. I probably feel great about this class for several different reasons, one of which is that these young men chose to come to our great University and our program amid extreme pressure, amid extreme rhetoric that they’ve had to hear – some true, some not true. And yet, they and their families found this place to be the best fit for them under those circumstances, and for that, I’ll always be indebted to this group. It was a very difficult time. A lot of roller coaster rides in the recruiting process this year, probably more than others, even though that’s always part of it. But with our other issues, it made it very difficult. We really had to fight together and stay together, and our deal was, consider it all joy. We have a great place to sell and a great environment to present to people if we can get them on campus. Our staff did a remarkable job of holding things together with staff changes and with the issues we have going on around our program. I stand today feeling great about our guys and our families who have joined us. Secondly, I think we addressed a lot of needs that we have. That’s what signing day should always be about. There are a lot of great players, but you have to address the needs you have, and we feel we did that in a lot of ways.”

On the offensive signees
“Offensively, it’s a small class. We signed the two quarterbacks to get us spread out and back to the right format in the quarterback room – the freshman, sophomore, junior, senior type deal. With Jordan Ta’amu and Alex Faniel, we have four guys on scholarship after playing last year on three.

“At running back, we knew we wanted to take one guy. We obviously went hard after another kid in our state early on that chose to go to another place. Then you turn your attention to what’s next for us. Without going into the recruitment of others, we really could’ve had a lot of backs we wanted. But, it comes a point sometimes in your gut, and I got it in my gut last night, and I called (running backs coach Derrick) Nix down and laid in my office for a little while, my head was hurting. It comes a point where you need to do the right thing, and the right thing for us was to sign the state’s all-time leading rusher in Isaiah Woullard. His granddad played here. Obviously, they’ve had tremendous loss their recently. That didn’t weigh totally into it, but you can’t help but say that’s a factor. When I watch his tape, which I watched a hundred times, if he were playing in a different league, I think he’s a no-brainer. That’s the question mark you have on him. But I know this: He immediately makes our university better, he immediately makes our locker room better, and I have a sneaking suspicion he’s going to be an Evan Engram type where you look back in a few years and think, ‘Wow, we almost messed that one up.’ Glad to have him.

“At wide receiver, another great year, another great haul there. We didn’t lose a lot so we didn’t need many, but getting JaVonta Payton and Braylon Sanders are two Van Jefferson-type ball skill guys and route runners. Braylon is extremely explosive. Watch him play basketball, he’s really explosive. Payton is a slot guy we’re looking at, the Markell Pack type.”

“At o-Line, another small year. Ben Brown, what a wonderful Ole Miss family. Three to four generations of it. To see the joy that’s in his grandfather and father and him together on their official visit is pretty rewarding to experience. He’s been solid with us for such a long time and knows us for who we are. He doesn’t let the stuff bother him that may or may not get said. We’re just thrilled to have him. And then Tony Gray; speaking candidly, we really, our coaches with all that we had coming at us, our coaches did a phenomenal job getting right to the end to the nation’s top two tackles in Walker Little and Trey Smith, who chose to go other places. The third guy on our board that we evaluated was Tony. We knew it’d be a fight to get him. But his mom fell in love with the place and fell in love with us in the home and really didn’t care what other people said. I loved her. She made up her mind based on her dealings with people and he got his papers in today, so that was a big get.”

On the defensive signees
“Defense was the priority of our class, to get it fixed. A lot of defensive changes. Jason Jones returning here helped stabilize some of the recruiting class. And then you bring in Tray Scott and Wesley McGriff and Bradley Dale Peveto. With their ties, I think we were able to fill significant needs, starting with the defensive line. The first guy I’d like to mention is one that doesn’t get any attention but just went on scholarship this past year is Qaadir Sheppard. I think he’s going to be a phenomenal talent in this league. That’s one that we had planned in this class, even though you don’t announce him in this class. He’s a phenomenal player. Ryder Anderson and Markel Winters are the two defensive ends in this class, then inside guys Sincere David and Tae-kion Reed, that helps round of the defensive line. Coach McGriff did a wonderful job with Sincere. At the late hour, when things get kind of crazy, you always have a few different plans. He showed me his tape. At 320 pounds, he’s lined up at tailback, quarterback, kicker, ust an athletic big dude. Tray is confident that, you get him an athletic big dude, he can get him to be a dominant d-lineman. We’re excited about him. Tae-kion and coach Matt Luke had the neatest relationship throughout the recruiting process. His mom and I, we hit it off, and that’s always a tough battle when you’re in a certain part of the state, but I felt really comfortable after our home visit that they knew that they fit with us and he would come with us today. He’s one of these 6-foot-4 guys waiting to develop and blow up and be a dominant football player.”

“At linebacker, it’s well documented that this was a place that we needed to improve. We’ll start with Momo (Mohamed Sanogo), who got the MVP last week at the US-Canada game. I think he had 3.5 tackles for loss, a sack, seven tackles total. Getting him out of Plano West, it’s another family that fits really well with us. Coach Maurice Harris, Coach (Jason) Jones, those guys did a great job coming in to get him to the finish line. He’s a big physical guy. Brenden Williams is a mid-year guy, already up here with us. He’s at 237. We think he’s going to blow up and be a 250-pound linebacker. Josh Clarke is another guy who stayed loyal to us all the way through the recruiting process. Then looking for those hidden gems like a Mike Hilton type, we believe Zikerrion Baker is going to be one of those. He qualified late, and he’s long and tough. When you grab his arm, you feel like he’s been swinging an axe handle. He’s one of these country Louisiana kids with a great family. When he gets an offer like this, he sees it as a blessing. He’s not into all the hoopla or anything, just wants an opportunity to come and work. Excited about those guys at linebacker.”

“On the back end, we needed help at both corner and safety. We’re really excited about the prospects of D.D. Bowie, Breon Dixon, Javien Hamliton, A.J. Harris, C.J. Miller and Kam’ron White. Those six guys there, D.D. we think is athletic as any kid that’s come out of this state since I’ve been here. He’s really, you watch him play other sports, and he’s just really athletic. Breon is a football player. He just makes plays, makes your team better. You wish you were bigger, you wish you were faster and all of those things, and then you put his tape on and he makes 14 tackles and is always around the ball. Hamilton is another mid-year DB. I love his change of direction and he needs to gain weight, and Paul Jackson is working on that right now. A.J. Harris, loyal all the way through. (He’s got a) wonderful family and stayed with us all the way through the recruiting process. C.J. Miller decommitted from USC, wasn’t quite sure, and they just kept working at the relationship and they were able to swing that our way late last night. Kam’ron White came with us earlier, not publically, but he is the rangy safety you need in this league who has great ball skills. I’ve come to the conclusion, if kids aren’t picking the ball on Friday nights, they’re not going to intercept it on Saturdays. That guy intercepts the football. Another in-state kid that we’re glad to have.”

“I think this class; I’m indebted to them. I think it’s great because they chose what they knew was best for them 20 years down the road. They’re not looking at one season, but looking over the whole of the career and who they wanted to do it with, and where they wanted to do it at. They made a decision regardless of what other peoples’ opinions were, they made it for themselves. I do think we met a lot of needs. How much difference is there between the No. 10 class and the No. 40 class? I don’t know. Probably very small. Those top 10, there probably is some difference, after that, it comes a question of what the kid does when he gets there. We’re excited to go to work with these young men who have chosen our program.”

On what was able to be mentioned during the recruiting process as it relates to NCAA investigation…
“Anything that was already public, I could talk about. Other than that, just gave them a timeframe of when our best guess was that this could be moving in what direction. I was able to give them what I considered to be an educated guess on worst-case scenarios. We didn’t run from it, we hit it head-on. One of the things we were able to discuss is when we started paying penalties for things a couple of years ago, and that’s not really well known. You can tell them those things. My whole thing was, you know us for who we are. Look at the 20-year picture; what is the best place for your son? If the penalty doesn’t affect your son’s development as a person and doesn’t affect his scholarship, is this the right place for him? That’s the question they all had to answer. We had to work very hard at that. Unfortunately, whether the information is right or wrong, I don’t really know. But there are a lot of people who chose to talk about us a lot throughout the process.”

On the worst case scenario relating to NCAA investigation…
“I don’t know. I was the first to tell them that I have no clue what the end of this is. I know who we are, and I know that, if wrongdoing has occurred, there will be penalties. We’ve already started paying many of those. But I know who this administration is and I know who our coaches are, I know how college football is and how many things you can and cannot control. I don’t know what worse-case is, and we talked about scholarship reductions and bowl ban, but who knows. Because we haven’t had a chance to see what the charges are and to argue our case, everything is just speculation. But I wasn’t afraid to show them what they consider as penalties and go through that with them.”

On the recruiting success at linebacker position…
“Time will always tell. I think we got quality individuals there first. Brenden Williams is like, ‘Tell me what to do, coach. If you tell me what to eat 8,000 calories or do 8,000 push-ups today, that’s what I’ll do.’ That’s what you want. He’s already started to mature nicely and he’s got three years to play. You can’t get a better family than Momo’s (Mohamed Sanogo) family, and he’s big solid kid. Then Josh Clarke, he’s an athletic guy on the outside and long. We have length, which is something we haven’t had enough of. These ‘backers are long. Really excited about Baker and seeing what he can develop into.”

On holding back any scholarships following Wednesday…
“Our plan going into today was, we signed six kids at mid-year. Two of those were able to count back, because we undersigned last year. So only four went to this year. That left us with 18 today. We’re around 15 or 16 today, so we’re saving a couple, whether they are for transfers or a late signee or for next year and counting back, I’ve always liked to do that. I don’t ever want to be caught the night before calling a kid to say we’re over. That’s a difficult conversation that I would have a very hard time doing. Not saying that I would never have to do that, but I sure don’t want to. I try to take precautions not to. There’s always a good transfer here or there or count them back at mid-year.”

On dealing with other schools’ recruiting tactics…
“It was ugly and I didn’t enjoy it. You take great pride in who you are and how you do things. That’s not to say that we’ve been perfect. But I know the value I place on this job and my name and our coaches’ names and our administration’s name, that I’m the leader of the program, so everything gets directed pretty much at me. Some of it is personal with some people probably. I don’t talk about other schools in recruiting. I will not do that and our staff has been charged to do the same. There are several others that they thought it was a prime opportunity to use it in recruiting and that’s the route they go. I won’t forget who they are.”

On quarterback signees…
“Quarterbacks, you’re one play away from playing. You get an opportunity to come play in the Southeastern Conference and compete. We’re going to compete for the starting job, even though we all feel like Shea Patterson is the guy. Phil Longo is here and he’s new and he hasn’t seen any of those. They’ll go out and compete this spring. Part of the thinking process is Jason Pellerin and where does he fit in? Is he Evan Engram? If there’s a backup or two, you can do that with him. Or is he the best guy to play quarterback? Or is it a combination. I didn’t want to sign two freshmen. I wanted to sign a JUCO guy and a freshman and battle it out in the spring and figure out who the one, two and three guys are and figure out where Jason fits in that. Jason needs to be on the field somewhere.”

On deciding where to play D.D. Bowie…
“(There was some question) early on. And then my conversations with him probably three, four months ago, I just wanted to tell him where my gut was. I watched his tape, and while he can be a really good receiver, the length and flexibility and change of direction he has, if he’s able to adjust to the corner spot, I think the potential is really off the charts. There are very few long corners like his who are athletic as he is, and there’s an immediate need there for us, and I think he likes that idea. We’re going to get him the ball, and punt returns, kickoff returns, we think he can fill a void there too.”

On the dramatics of signing day…
“I’m not a fan of the making videos for commitments and using signing day to be a commitment day and then sign later. I’m not a fan of all of that. I wish recruiting could get back to people saying they’re coming and coming, and we say we have a place and we have a place. It’s very difficult on both sides, I’ll be the first to say that. It’s difficult to manage the numbers, and you’re not sure what everyone is going to do. As far as the drama that surrounds it all, it’s been driven by TV and social media, which I’m not a big fan of. I think that’s one of the worst reasons to make a decision – something people are encouraging you to do on social media or something to feed your ego. We men struggle with that anyway, our pride and ego, and we certainly don’t need anything else adding to that. I’m not big on all the drama.”

On the proposal of new signing period in December…
“It depends on what all comes with it, but yes, I have voted for that. There are so many things that are involved. I’ve always said, I’m for kids, August of their senior year, I think they should be able to sign any day they want to with any school they want to. I think it’d stop all the over-offering. They’d find out if we’re serious right now. If we offer a kid and he says, ‘Great, send me the papers.’ And if a kid wants to commit, we’d find out if he’s really committed. We’d send him the papers. We’d still have the February signing period to give them a one-time out if there’s a coaching change. Then they could go to the February period. I voted for the December signing period.”

On what he's learned through the adversity of this recruiting class…
“You’ve got to stick together. Ross (Bjork) and I have a lot of talks. Facing the truth, whatever it is. Facing whatever comes our way together and believing in who you are, and who your coaches are and get up in the morning and take great joy and pride in that. There are a lot of issues around college football, and we’re certainly having our share. It has gone on for a long time. We’ve suffered penalties, and this recruiting class, it was a penalty to be under the cloud we’re under. During that time, it’s like a family going through difficulty, which I’m sure all of you have. If you haven’t, keep living, you will. You really find out who is with you and you join arms and say, ‘You know what, we’re going to face it and get through it.’”

Follow Ole Miss Football on Twitter (@OleMissFB), Facebook and Instagram in addition to www.OleMissSports.com.



 

 

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