Feb. 6, 2013
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Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze met with the media on Wednesday and discussed the Rebels’ highly rated 2013 signing class.
“Obviously, we’re thrilled today. We just left the quarterback club meeting and got to see the energy and the passion of the Ole Miss people. 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 that we can bring joy to the Rebel faithful. I think that’s one of the reasons we fit very well here and can share the message of Ole Miss and who we really are here and what we have to offer these young men and the families that go and recruit here to join our family in Rebel Nation as student-athletes. It was thrilling to finish strong today in the year-long plan that we had. There are so many people that play a huge part of this process that it’s hard to thank them all. Obviously, our staff, who I think we have some of the rising stars in this profession and the way they went about recruiting and building relationships over the course of the year and executing our 12-month plan. I thought they were pretty flawless in that in most regards. Also, our players - I can’t give them enough credit. They sold our program. I’ve often believed and will say that if we can get a young man to campus, and they see the beauty of Ole Miss, the passion of its people, the love that they all have for this great university, the fact that there’s a rich tradition and six SEC championships, three national championships. They are somewhat far removed, so it doesn’t get talked about a lot, but what we use here in our recruiting sales helps our sales pitch. The biggest vision that we have is to do something new and fresh, to convince a group of young men to come together and to want to be different. To do something different and fresh at a place that may not be the norm, to upset the apple cart, so to speak, that’s what we’re about in this recruiting class. We did it under extreme criticism and negativity, particularly the last 48 hours. It’s been difficult to sit by and know that our coaches have executed our 12-month plan with great integrity. Obviously we have some great ins to national guys. I think that’s something that people criticize. They don’t understand that we have the brother of the number one recruit in the country who just had an incredible experience at Ole Miss this year. Family is very important to that family, to the mom, to the dad and to that brother. Obviously, that was a great in. To have the best friend of the number one wide receiver in the nation on our team, that we signed last year, and his high school coach be dear friends with one of our coaches, it’s a great in. To have those two young men, Laquon Treadwell and Robert Nkemdiche, recruiting, it carries weight. We were fortunate that we had those ins to those young men. I think it was, obviously, God’s favor to us. It’s been great, and He’s put us in that position to have those ties that really gave us a leg up on the competition. Then the job that Chris Kiffin did in recruiting Laremy Tunsil was just phenomenal. It took every one of our players to get that national guy, but once we got him here on that weekend with all the other national guys, I knew we had a chance, because the mom fell in love with it. If you win the mom in the South, you’ve got a good chance at winning the recruit. Ms. Desiree loved Ole Miss. Tony Conner throwing up the Landshark on TV today, our room erupted. What a great guy to get. He wants to represent this state. Our message to him was real simple: man, come help us right here, in our own state. A state that I’m from, a state that he’s from, right down the road, was great. Our players did a great job. Our student body and faculty, I can’t tell you how phenomenal they were on these official visits, better than we could. Ethel Young-Minor, when she stands before the parents that we bring these weekends, is a home run for us. She does just such a phenomenal job of explaining what we are about here at Ole Miss. It all came together very nicely. To receive all of our NLI’s back, with the exception of one we had sent out, we went to bed last night hoping that we would get back for a hugely successful day. I do think it has the possibility of being a program changer. It’s all on paper right now. We’ll start having to manage expectations right now, because we’ll still be in our second year of our journey together, but I do think we took a huge step forward today on that journey toward where we all want to get, and that’s competing for an SEC West championship. We’re thrilled with the day.”
“To get two four-star guys in Ryan Buchannan and Devonte Kincade, just real pleased. Ryan has been such a solid recruiter also. One of the things we’ve been fortunate with is we got some guys early that were very vocal and had great leadership qualities. They were able to help us recruit and sell the program, the coaches, the philosophy. Ryan and Devonte both did this very nicely for us. To get two four-stars guys, they’re a little different. Ryan is pro-style, Devonte is more of a dual-threat guy. But they both would have great use in our system.”
On running backs:
“We’re a little thin at running back, so we had to go heavy to try to solve that problem, to get Eugene Brazley, Mark Dodson, Kailo Moore and Jordan Wilkins. Jordan and Kailo and Mark are all highly rated in the ESPN rankings. I think we’ve got some great, great young backs that are already on campus. Then you add these guys to it. To land Kailo from in-state is always a huge get. The guy’s a speedster; you can’t always run like he does. Mark Dodson, a midyear, is one of the leading rushers in the history of Tennessee high school football. I’ve been really impressed with the way he’s gone about his business since he’s been here. Eugene and Jordan give us two bigger backs, something we don’t have a lot of here. They will give us a different look and a different dimension there.”
On wide receivers:
“Quincy (Adeboyejo), Derrick Jones, Laquon Treadwell, Trey Bledsoe, just thrilled with those guys. Laquon’s the number one receiver in the nation. I mentioned about our ties with him and him maybe becoming our biggest recruiter, nationally, for us with his use of social media and how he went about publicizing the good things about Ole Miss. Quincy, to be able to snatch him out of Texas and a really good recruiting war with Texas Tech, UCLA, Baylor and Nebraska - I thought coach (Wesley) McGriff did a good job with that battle. Derrick Jones may be one of the hidden gems in this class. I think the guy’s a phenomenal athlete. I’ve seen him play basketball when I’m out in my visit. He plays above the rim. I think he can play a lot of places for us, from safety to receiver. Thrilled to have those guys.”
On tight ends:
“Everyone knows we graduated all three from last year, so we’re going to have to play some young kids. At tight end, Evan Engram, A.J. Jackson, Christian Morgan. Christian arrived at mid year. He’s a big, physical tight end from Texas. A.J. is a physical tight end out of the state of Georgia, he’s the total package. Evan is a guy we can flex out and move around. He’s a guy who has tremendous ball skills to run great routes. A year or two in the program with Paul Jackson, I think that he’ll be an all-around tight end.”
On offensive line:
“We graduate six kids this coming season. It was a huge need for us to get some offensive linemen that can come in and play and be ready to start a lot of football games in their career. I think that Matt Luke is very happy today to sign the number one offensive lineman in the nation in Laremy Tunsil. Chris Kiffin led the recruiting on that and did a phenomenal job. Austin Golson, the number three tackle out of Prattville, Ala., it came down to us, Alabama and Florida State. Matt personally recruited him, and he fell in love when he came on an official visit here, with the place, he fit with us, his grandparents fit with us. That was probably the most anxious one we had today, whether or not we were going to get him. I’m so glad he came with us, then to have the two in-state guys that we think were the best guys in the state, Daronte Bouldin and Davion Johnson. I think we have four really quality offensive linemen.”
On the return of Nick Brassell:
“After some academic issues and him coming back, he’ll have an opportunity to earn eligibility by going through the process that we’ve outlined for him. Should he make it, he’ll play defensive back for us at corner. He’d be a welcome addition to us on the defensive side of the ball.”
On Quadarias Mireles:
“Another mid-year junior college transfer student from Hinds Community College will be another asset at corner and could also see time at receiver, but a tremendous athlete.
On defensive backs:
“Defensively, to sign Tony Conner out of Batesville, I think he’s one of the best safeties I’ve seen out of high school football in a long time. He is so physical, so rangy, so fast, that I knew he’s an immediate business maker in what we do. We need an athlete to play our husky position, and we’ve identified him for that type of guy. Bobby Hill out of Georgia is a corner we are really high on, has played a lot of quality football. We thought he was a phenomenal player, we are glad to get him and David Kumara out of Grayson, Georgia, a cornerback.
“We signed two. Marcus Robinson out of Memphis East. He is the perfect size for the SEC, again a year or two in the weight program and he’s going to be a real specimen. He reminded me of a Patrick Willis type out of high school. Ray Ray Smith, out of Florence, Alabama, another 6-3 range. We need to increase our range at linebacker, and I think we addressed that very nicely with those two guys.”
On defensive line:
“We lost two interior guys and two defensive ends off of last year’s team. We were thrilled to sign the number one junior college player in the nation at mid-year in Lavon Hooks. He’ll play inside for us. Herbert Moore’s another inside guy for us who I think has a huge ceiling that he hasn’t even gotten close to yet. He has a tremendous get-off in athleticism for a big man, and he needs to get here and get in our weight program in a hurry. Obviously, arguably the crown jewel of the class is Robert Nkemdiche, the number one player in the nation. His ability is well-documented, he’s number one in the nation in every single service. He remained that from start to finish. That doesn’t always happen, but his skill set is way beyond his years. He is that talented, and he will be an immediate impact player for us at Ole Miss. We’re thrilled that we had his brother Denzel here and that his mom wanted them together.”
“We signed a kicker, Andy Pappanastos, from Montgomery, Alabama, and he was actually out of last year’s class, but we talked him into waiting to join us until January, and he’s here now. But he’s going to be a superb kicker.”
“So, that’s a quick run through of the class, I know you have questions. We are thrilled, again. We think we addressed a lot of needs and couldn’t be prouder of the job that our coaches did.”
On the buzz about Ole Miss nationally, including LeBron James:
“I don’t think you could go out and purchase the exposure we got today. It’s unbelievable, and it’s still ongoing. As I sat there this morning early, from 6:30 to 10, it seemed like Ole Miss was popping up on the screen quite a lot. To take to the Twitter world and see people like LeBron James recognize that fact was pretty nice. I think he got retweeted a few times. Hopefully Ross is already underway to get him to do an “Are You Ready” for one of the games.”
Did the momentum created by gaining top recruits help to attract others?
“No question. I think the recruiting by Laquon Treadwell, and our current players. Our current players did a phenomenal job. But the recruiting of people like Ryan Buchannan and Laquon Treadwell, even Robert Nkemdiche behind the scenes somewhat, and Devante Kincade and Derrick Jones, those were all very vocal in trying to help us put a class together. Mark Dodson and Herbert Moore, too. That was kind of the unique thing for me this year. I don’t know if I’ve ever been a part of a recruiting class where the active commits were so active in helping you recruit the class, so I think for Quincy, Laquon did a pretty good job of recruiting him, also. I think that this whole recruiting cycle, I don’t think she will mind me saying, but Robert and Denzel’s mom told me from the get-go that we had a chance to get them together if we could create some excitement and win some football games and show some improvement. That’s the way it started with me and the recruitment of Robert. We were fortunate that we were able to create a lot of momentum and buzz at the end of the year. We were competitive in some big games, with Texas A&M, Alabama, LSU, on and on. Certainly we want to be more than just competitive, but there was no question in their minds there was improvement. Denzel had such a phenomenal year. Then we win the Egg Bowl, then we win the Compass Bowl. That momentum helped us go into recruiting and then to land Laquon early, a national guy that gave us some validation maybe. For him to help us start recruiting others, along with the other commits we already had, I don’t think there was any question that that was a big part of this process.”
Were you surprised by the negative accusations?
“I have to be candid, I was really shocked. I didn’t expect it. I know people have their own opinions and they have the freedom now in social media to voice that very freely. I was shocked at how much it was, I really was. I think if people knew the whole story of the natural tie-ins with the mom of the number one recruit wanting their sons together and the tie between Anthony Standifer and Laquon Treadwell, Coach McGriff and their high school coach, those natural ins, and Tony Conner is right down the road. The people that obviously we get criticized for are Robert Nkemdiche and Laquon Treadwell, Tony Conner, Laremy Tunsil. Maybe Austin Golson. But those are the ones that get pointed out, and three of those kids we’ve got great tie-ins with that helped us get way ahead of the competition in those. Yet they felt the freedom to do that, so I asked our administration. I’m a head-on guy, I don’t like to see people just randomly feeling the freedom to take shots. We had a plan. We executed our plan. Obviously we had some luck to have some ins to some of those, and I readily admit that. But we did it with integrity within our coaching staff. My whole point in saying that is if there’s something that’s out there that has some factual basis to it, we would like to know. I said that, and obviously after about 4,000 retweets, national media picking up on it, then I decided to take it down because of some of the cruel shots I was taking. My daughters follow me and the coaching staff’s kids follow me. Then I got ripped for that, too, so I don’t know that you can win when you engage in the social media, but I still stand by, if there’s something going on that is wrong, that’s not the way Ross wants the program run, the chancellor wants it run or I want it run. That’s all I was meaning by that statement. I know the way our staff’s doing it, and again I think if everyone understood that there’s more to getting these guys than just us walking out there and recruiting them. We had some natural ins to them, and certainly that proved to be very advantageous to us.”
Do you have to follow this up with another top-10 class next year in order to rise through the SEC West on the field?
“I don’t know if it has to be top 10, but certainly you’ve got to be adequate evaluators of talent. I don’t even know if we were ranked last year in the recruiting class, but we found some pretty good hidden gems in that class, and I think we’ll see the same in this. I think one of the strengths of our class are those 4-star and high 3-stars we got in there. Those are not even getting talked about a whole lot, and we think they’re superstars. I don’t know if next year’s class has to be as top-heavy as this one appears to be, but it certainly needs to in the middle area like the ones I mentioned, the Ryan Buchannans, Devante Kincades. We need another solid class of those 3- and 4-star guys, for sure. The only way you’re ever going to compete at the level you want to is if you put two or three of those classes together, because that’s what the other schools are doing. No question this class and the exposure that we received today is already helping us in 2014. It gives us momentum, it gives us some validity, and now we can use it to hopefully start building relationships with a few national guys. We can’t go after an enormous amount, but we can go after some, and they’ve definitely heard about Ole Miss and probably are intrigued about what’s exactly going on there. I want to see it for myself. They can come and get to know us. I think that if they get to know our staff, it kind of becomes contagious that people want to play for these coaches.”
On recruiting success in Memphis:
“We’ve got a great guy up there in Maurice Harris. Born and raised in Whitehaven, coached in the inner cities there, everybody there knows him. I’ve spent my share of time there also. We’ve got great connections there with the high school coaches and people there. I’ve said all along, Mississippi - and we include Memphis in what we consider our in-state region - that we think we have to win in, so I think Coach Harris does a great job covering up those kids. Really felt like a couple days ago we might slide another one or two out of there that are going elsewhere, but we were a little late to the party on those. Coach Harris did a great job there.”
On the importance of recruiting well in Georgia:
“Georgia is very important to us. So many players have got a good reputation there right now with the coaches. It’s an area that McGriff has recruited many times before in his other stops. He’s kind of helped those other two guys get in there and find their niche. We certainly will return there.”
Does getting Treadwell open up the Midwest?
“I think we will look for our national guys, and certainly that school will be one that we will visit.”
How much pressure did you have to win the recruiting in Batesville?
“That was probably as much pressure not because anyone put it on me, but I’m from here. I understand we’re supposed to win that recruit. Tony was a great master of his emotions. He doesn’t communicate all the time, as much as you would like for him to. What a wonderful mother in Ms. Mary, though, she is just a champ. I always felt good when I was around him, but I knew that there were a lot of other coaches that were around him, also, and so I never really was quite sure. But yeah I felt the pressure to win this kid, not only because he’s a tremendous football player but because it’s an area Ole Miss is supposed to get the kid from, so Derrick Nix did a tremendous job of recruiting in-state for us. The recruiting job was very strong. Last night I went to bed about one, I didn’t sleep, I got off the phone about 12:50, and I felt real good about it. I was glad everything stayed the course today with him. And when he threw up the Landshark, that was pretty special.”
On the national perception of Ole Miss and the importance of official visits:
“I really think there’s a strategy to when you bring a kid to campus and how many times you get him here and who you try to get him here with. We don’t get a lot of credit right now, and again I’ll be the first to say we had some natural ins, and without those would we be talking about a top ten class? I think we would still have a great class, don’t know if it’d be quite as high without those. But still, even with those, you can’t flub it up on bringing him here on the wrong weekend. I think we were very strategic as to when we got a Laquon Treadwell to campus, when we got Laremy Tunsil to campus, and who they were with when they got here. I think that was all part of our plan, and we laid it out a year ago. We knew a year ago what weekend we were going to try to get this guy and this guy, all here together at the same time and sell our vision to do something new and fresh. It worked for us, but again I’ve always said that if you get a kid to campus and have a chance to develop a relationship with him, one, get him to this campus. The same people that are always talking about Oxford, Mississippi, one of the top college towns to live in in the nation, Ole Miss top tailgating town in the nation, safest campus in America, top five year-in, year-out, those same people should understand if you get someone here, you’ve got a chance. Our facilities are great. The vision of our AD and our administration is awesome. He gets to stand up with those recruits and families and our chancellor does and says ‘here’s where we’re going, we’re putting resources behind getting there.’ I think all of that is strategic in the plan, when to bring them, who to bring them with and how many times you bring them. I think all of that was part of the plan, and it worked out pretty well for us.”
How do you make a player feel like they fit in after a visit?
“We’re ourselves with them. I think that weekend just confirmed it (with Conner). We built that relationship with him from last February to that point, to where he felt comfortable with who we are and what our vision is. Then it’s just a matter of experiencing a weekend where they get academics first, presenting a degree plan for them, then our faculty and our professors. We get them from every department that the kid has an interest in, and they spend time with them. Our faculty shows up on Friday nights, they hang out with us and do a phenomenal job. Then we do football and show the facilities and the campus, but we do some unique things, too, I think. I don’t like to go into all of those, but we do some things that we have a lot of fun together. We show them that the fun we have with our team, we can go about our process here, and it is hard work, but we’re going to enjoy the process. Hopefully they leave here having a great knowledge about what Ole Miss is, who Ole Miss is and at the same time saying, ‘I’d like to play for that staff. I think they’re consistent in their message, consistent in their approach to coach us in a certain way.’ There’s not going to be a rollercoaster of who you’re going to get from day to day, but the best sales people for that are our current players, and I think they did a phenomenal job, as did our community. That one weekend we had, it was so hyped up around here, all of us were on edge because everybody was so excited about the possibilities of what we could become. I think it all helped us sell Ole Miss.”
Why was the big weekend January 25?
“Laquon Treadwell, we felt like, needed to see a game day experience. I believe it was the Texas game for him that we officially brought him. That was an enormous atmosphere. Certainly we tried to get others here for the State game, we thought that would be a tremendous atmosphere also. Robert Nkemdiche was here unofficially for that game, but obviously he has a brother. We really just looked at the calendar. We’re unique for our official visits. We start school so late in January, and that 1/25 weekend was the first full weekend back in school. This place is a different place if all the students are here. That was the target weekend, and we worked all year to make sure we worked hard to get certain guys here on that trip.”
How many of today’s signees do you expect to qualify?
“I feel confident with 21 of the 23 of them, that they’ll qualify.”