NCF On The Trail: Ole Miss Rebels

Some players flipped their commitments while other’s had memorable signing-day moments. Here is a closer look at the five most intriguing recruitments from the SEC.

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Ole Miss may have not closed out the 2015 class like it wanted to two weeks ago, but the Rebels' Class of 2016 is off to a great start with the makings of a potential top-5 haul. While Hugh Freeze and his staff already had six ESPN Junior 300 commitments in the fold, Ole Miss reeled in the most important big fish in the class Tuesday in No. 3-ranked quarterback Shea Patterson.

Significance of impact: The verbal of Patterson is as important as any recruit since Robert Nkemdiche and Laremy Tunsil for Ole Miss. The Rebels had serious questions about the future of the quarterback position following 2014, and getting Patterson on board is a big answer for the most important position on the field.


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SEC 2015 recruiting in review 

February, 13, 2015
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It was another incredible year of recruiting in the SEC. More than one-third (117 prospects) of the ESPN 300 signed with SEC schools. The conference also signed 12 of the 20 five-star prospects, and 218 four-star prospects. All but two of the 14 SEC schools finished in the top 40 of the final ESPN class rankings. Here is a closer look at the 2015 recruiting cycle in review.


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Quarterback Kyler Murray grabbed all of the headlines at Allen (Texas) High School over the past few seasons, but it’s actually junior offensive tackle Greg Little who is a higher-ranked prospect.


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SEC signing day roundtable: Coach under pressure

February, 10, 2015
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There is only one new face among SEC head coaches this year -- Florida’s Jim McElwain -- but a number of the league’s head honchos face increased pressure to perform in 2015.

Continuing this week’s SEC series of post-signing day roundtable discussions, today we’ll examine the conference coaches who are under pressure to make something happen after signing their newest class of recruits.

Edward Aschoff: Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss
Year 4 of the Freeze era is beginning, and expectations are about to explode in Oxford. After being on the cusp of an SEC West title and a spot in the first College Football Playoff, Ole Miss now has to stay in the thick of the title hunts. While Freeze has been enormously successful during his time at Ole Miss, he has now signed three straight top-20 classes, and now the 2013 class (the crown jewel of Freeze’s tenure) will be all grown up. If the bulk of that class is going to bring a championship to Ole Miss, the time is now because the heavy hitters, like Robert Nkemdiche, Laquon Treadwell and Laremy Tunsil, will likely head to the NFL after this coming season. There’s too much talent in Oxford for Ole Miss not to compete for a spot in Atlanta, and anything else will be considered a failure.

David Ching: Derek Mason, Vanderbilt
I was tempted to focus on Mark Richt or Les Miles because the natives seem to be getting restless at Georgia and LSU, but let’s go in a different direction. Mason probably needs to get more out of this 2015 class immediately than those two SEC veterans. Last season was a mess at Vandy, with the Commodores failing to put up a good fight in most of their nine losses. Their three wins came against UMass (by three points), Charleston Southern (by one) and Old Dominion (by 14), and they lost by an average of 18 points per game in SEC play. Now Mason enters his second season with two new coordinators (actually he’ll be his own defensive coordinator) and a recruiting class that ESPN ranked No. 44 nationally, dead last in the SEC. Mason told reporters on signing day that he staked his reputation on the quality of this class, which is all well and good. But if the Commodores don’t start looking like a more competent team this fall, I’m not sure Mason’s reputation as a head coach will be too great.

Sam Khan Jr.: Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M
I think Travis Haney said it best Insider that Sumlin must begin to reap the fruits of the recruiting labor he and his staff have put in over the last three years. The Aggies' classes ranked eighth, fourth and 12th nationally in Sumlin's first three full recruiting cycles, and the team now enters its fourth year in the SEC. He made significant coaching staff changes (including paying a pretty penny for former LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis), and overall the Aggies have recruited better than any team in their own state -- which is talent-rich -- since Sumlin has been there. It's time for the recruiting hauls to translate to the standings.

Chris Low: Mark Stoops, Kentucky
As it turns out, the sky didn't fall at Kentucky after the Wildcats lost six commitments in a span of eight days leading up to signing day. Thanks to some hustle by Stoops and his staff, Kentucky was able to plug some of the gaps late and finish with the nation's 43rd-ranked class. The problem was that Stoops reeled in the 20th-ranked class the year before, so expectations were lofty. As Stoops enters his third season at Kentucky -- with a brand-new contract that will pay him an average of $3.57 million per year -- expectations will be equally high on the field. Kentucky will be aiming for its first winning season since 2009. The Wildcats looked like they were on their way in 2014 after starting out 5-1, but wound up losing their last six games.

Greg Ostendorf: Jim McElwain, Florida
All things considered, McElwain deserves credit for this class. He took over two months before signing day and closed with a top-20 class that included five-star prospects Martez Ivey and CeCe Jefferson. But this class had a chance to be more than solid. It had the potential to be great. Florida missed on a number of homegrown prospects, including Byron Cowart and Jeff Holland, who both decided to leave home to play at Auburn for the man McElwain replaced. The first-year coach deserves a pass for this class, but he can’t keep letting the top players out of the state. Losing battles to Florida State is one thing. Losing battles to Will Muschamp and Auburn is another.

Alex Scarborough: Steve Spurrier, South Carolina
The great thing about Steve Spurrier is that you can take him at his word. But this time I think his openness hurt him. By telling reporters he thought he'd stay at South Carolina 2-3 more years, he had to turn some recruits off. I mean, who would commit to a program knowing the head coach wouldn't be there the whole way through? Though his 31-man signing class was solid, coming in at No. 21 overall in the country, it was what was missing that Gamecocks fans should find troubling -- most notably, four-star defensive players Damon Arnette and Arden Key, who both decommitted heading down the stretch. While you have to appreciate Spurrier’s honest assessment of himself, reading a head coach say this has to be jarring: "I don't think I did a very good job of maybe going full-speed as much as we needed as it turned out."

Derek Tyson: Butch Jones, Tennessee
After two top-five recruiting classes in a row, Tennessee head coach Butch Jones now has the talent on his roster to make a move in the SEC East. With Josh Dobbs showing promise last season and several other freshmen having standout years, including Derek Barnett, Jalen Hurd and Todd Kelly Jr., the talent is in place to have a big season on the field this year. Another 7-6 season could have Tennessee fans getting a little restless.
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OXFORD, Miss. -- Just like every other coach, Hugh Freeze stood in front of the media on national signing day and discussed his 2015 recruiting class. He said it might be the best class, top to bottom, since he has been at Ole Miss. He called the mid-year group a home run.

That’s all fine and dandy, but it didn’t hide the fact it was a disappointing finish for the Rebels. The fans were hoping for more.

Maybe it was because the memory of signing day two years ago was still fresh in their minds. The day started with Robert Nkemdiche choosing Ole Miss and by the time it was over, fellow ESPN 300 stars Laremy Tunsil, Tony Conner and Austin Golson had followed suit.

[+] EnlargeOle Miss coach Hugh Freeze
Chris Graythen/Getty ImagesOle Miss' Hugh Freeze wouldn't object to an early signing period, but he's just not sure what it would look like.
Or maybe it was the sting of losing two longtime commitments, offensive tackle Drew Richmond and linebacker Leo Lewis, in the final weeks leading up to signing day. Both players were ranked among the top five nationally at their position, and both would have been cornerstone pieces for the Rebels in the future.

Freeze made sure to touch on that, too, when he addressed the media on Wednesday.

“I have kind of had that on my soap box this morning with our coaches,” he said. “We have created a media frenzy around this circus, and so many more people have become involved in the recruiting process. The kids are genuine and nice and want to communicate with every staff. Every staff is good at recruiting. The last one that is on the phone with them sometimes has them confused and leaning that way. As long as they are taking those calls, there are possibilities.”

The number of recruits to switch their commitments in the final weeks has seemingly increased every year, and this year was no different.

Richmond signed with Tennessee. Lewis signed with Mississippi State. ESPN 300 defensive end Arden Key flipped from South Carolina to LSU in the days leading up to signing day, and Van Jefferson, a longtime Georgia commitment, flipped to Ole Miss in late January and nearly switched again before ultimately signing with the Rebels. That's just the SEC.

And how about Kentucky? After losing six straight games to finish the season, the Wildcats had nine players decommit from their 2015 class. It was no wonder third-year coach Mark Stoops was calling for an early signing period.

But he wasn’t alone.

“I have always been in favor of it,” Freeze said. “Always. The only problem is, I do not know if any of us could ever agree on what it looks like. But, I think an early signing period in some form or fashion would be good.

“I actually like the idea someone had of as soon as someone commits, having them sign the paper. So you will know right away who is really committed. Then we can save a lot of time and money in the last six weeks on the ones who really are.”

It looks easy in principle, but just like adding a ninth conference game, good luck getting all the SEC coaches to agree on it. When would the early signing period be? Before the season? During the season? What about the kids? Is it fair to make them sign early before they have looked at all their options? There are a lot of variables involved.

In the meantime, Freeze says he plans to revisit the entire recruiting process, including the idea of letting committed guys take visits to other schools. Maybe Richmond and/or Lewis would have signed with Ole Miss if not for visits taken to other schools. Or maybe not.

The important thing for Freeze now is that he has a group of 22 signees who will be the future of Ole Miss football. And he’s happy with that group … even if he missed on a few.

“You always lose some when you are battling for the best,” he said. “Every school does. We had a few of those, but we also won many battles of kids who really want to be at Ole Miss, in this program, and representing this great university. I am excited to get to work with them.”

2016 recruits to watch in the SEC 

February, 6, 2015
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With national signing day 2015 complete, attention will now turn to the Class of 2016. There are 33 prospects in the ESPN Junior 300 already committed to SEC schools. Here's a closer look at five players who could be grabbing headlines a year from now.


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When five-star defensive end and ESPN 300 No. 9-ranked CeCe Jefferson announced his commitment to Florida over Alabama, Auburn and Ole Miss on national signing day, it appeared as if the Gators had locked up two of the top three prospects in the Sunshine State along with No. 1-ranked offensive tackle Martez Ivey.

Fast-forward nearly 24 hours and Jefferson has yet to fax his letter of intent to the University of Florida. According to Jefferson’s father, Leo Jefferson, Jefferson is still thinking about his decision.

“No, we are not sending it yet,” Leo Jefferson said. “CeCe is still thinking about it. He wants time to think about it.”

Rumors have circulated that Jefferson’s cold feet have been caused by Florida defensive line coach Terrell Williams leaving for the Miami Dolphins. Jefferson’s father declined to comment on what was delaying the decision.

“I don’t know. I don’t want to speak for CeCe,” Leo Jefferson said. “These young kids change their mind all the time.”

Whatever the reason for Jefferson rethinking his decision, a resolution might not be coming any time soon.

“We don’t have a timetable,” Leo Jefferson said. “CeCe could change his mind about everything.”

Jefferson, who still favors the Gators, made official visits to Ole Miss, Auburn and Alabama during the recruiting process, as well as a number of unofficial visits to Gainesville.

Schools that need a stellar recruiting class in 2016 

February, 5, 2015
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Now that the 2015 class is in the books, it's time to take a look at which teams need to make a big recruiting splash for the 2016 class. Here are five schools that have to recruit well to move forward and reestablish their programs among the elite:

Michigan: Coach Jim Harbaugh is not going to be judged upon his 2015 class, but the blueprint he lays out going forward -- especially in his first full calendar year -- will be crucial to revamping the Wolverines' roster. Because he was hired after the San Francisco 49ers' season ended, Harbaugh got a late start with Michigan, and his staff had only nine commits heading into February. The focus for 2016 will be on toughness, even if it means taking a kid who, athletically, isn't ideal, especially along the offensive line and at tight end and fullback. It is going to be a pretty strong year in the 2016 class in the Midwest, which is good timing for the Wolverines.

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Completed class: Ole Miss Rebels

February, 4, 2015
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Ole Miss has announced its 2015 class:

ESPN 300
DaMarkus Lodge WR -- Cedar Hill High School, Texas
Javon Patterson, OG -- Petal High School, Mississippi
Van Jefferson, WR -- Ravenwood High School, Tennessee
Eric Swinney, RB -- Sandy Creek High School, Georgia
Jalen Julius, ATH -- West Orange High School, Florida
Michael Howard, OT -- Clay High School, Florida
Cameron Ordway, S -- Giles County High School, Tennessee

ESPN JC 50
D.J. Jones, DT -- East Mississippi Community College, South Carolina
Tony Bridges, CB -- Mississippi Gulf Coast Comm College, Mississippi
Chad Kelly, QB-DT -- East Mississippi Community College, New York

Four-stars
Willie Hibbler, ATH -- North Panola High School, Mississippi
Jason Pellerin, QB-DT -- Catholic High School, Louisiana
Ross Donelly, DT -- Cy-Fair High School, Texas
Joe Anderson, DE -- Riverside Academy, Louisiana

Three-stars
Armani Linton, ATH -- Walnut High School, Mississippi
Montrell Custis, CB -- Lovejoy High School, Georgia
Rasool Clemons, DE -- South Aiken High School, South Carolina
Terry Caldwell, ILB -- Northeast Mississippi Comm. College, North Carolina
Alex Givens, OT -- Nashville Christian Advancement Academy, Tennessee
Austrian Robinson, DE -- Trinity Pawling School, New York
Shawn Curtis, DE -- Ronald W. Regan/Doral Senior High School, Florida
Zedrick Woods, OLB -- Columbia High School, Florida
DaMarkus Lodge, Justin HunterESPN, USA TODAY SportsDaMarkus Lodge, the No. 7 WR in the ESPN 300, should contribute immediately as a freshman with his size and strong hands.
DaMarkus Lodge, No. 57 in the ESPN 300 and the No. 7-ranked wide receiver prospect, committed to Ole Miss on Wednesday afternoon at Cedar Hill High in Texas. The 2015 Under Armour All-American is a considered a huge win for Ole Miss in the state of Texas, with the two-time class 5A state champion spurning Texas and Texas A&M, where he was once committed.

Commitment impact: For the Rebels, the silky smooth Lodge is another talented receiver to add to a rotation that will feature Laquon Treadwell, Quincy Adeboyejo, Cody Core, Markell Pack and Damore'ea Stringfellow, who sat out this season due to transfer rules. While Lodge has family in the state of Mississippi, having former Cedar Hill teammate Adeboyejo in the program was key for Hugh Freeze and staff in reeling in Lodge.

[+] EnlargeDaMarkus Lodge
ESPNDaMarkus Lodge adds to a deep and talented group of receivers at Ole Miss.
What he brings:

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Weekend recruiting wrap: SEC 

February, 3, 2015
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With national signing day only one day away, it is officially crunch time in recruiting. While some schools hosted several underclassmen for their junior day events, other schools hosted several official visitors in hopes of getting last-minute additions to their 2015 classes. Here is a closer look at some of the top news from around the SEC this weekend.


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We're officially less than 24 hours from signing day. Seventeen of the nation's top high school recruits will announce their college decisions on live television Wednesday, and if we've learned anything from the past five years, expect the unexpected.

Players have become more creative. Parents have become more involved. And nothing is official until the fax comes in.

Here are five of the SEC's craziest signing day moments in recent years.

Not so fast (2011): On national television, five-star offensive tackle Cyrus Kouandjio announced he would be attending Auburn. There was just one problem. The fax never came through. Instead of signing his letter of intent and sending it off to the Plains, Kouandjio left his high school to "figure things out." Three days later, word got out he would be joining his big brother at the University of Alabama. Kouandjio went on to play three seasons in Tuscaloosa, won two national championships, and now he's in the NFL as a member of the Buffalo Bills. He not only spurned Auburn. He spurned Auburn for its biggest rival.

Puppy announcement (2011): In a world dominated by Twitter and Instagram, high school recruits have gotten more creative when it comes to announcing big decisions. The hats on the table are still popular, but baby alligators and break-dancing elves have both been used in the past year. Still, nobody can top five-star running back Isaiah Crowell and the bulldog puppy he pulled out when he committed to Georgia on signing day. Does it get any cuter? It's a good thing he didn't choose Alabama. How exactly does one go about obtaining a miniature elephant? I'm sure it's only a matter of time before we see one at a recruit's news conference.

Going against mom (2011): Floyd Raven was torn between Ole Miss and Texas A&M all the way up until signing day. When the big day arrived, his mother was happy to lend a hand. And by lend a hand, I mean forge his signature and fax a letter of intent to Ole Miss without him knowing about it. Awkward. The Rebels thought they had inked the three-star cornerback only to find out that he was not the one who sent the document. Later that day, Raven faxed a real letter of intent to Texas A&M where he went on to play the next four years. For what it's worth, former Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt was a good sport about the whole thing.

Going against mom, Part 2 (2013): Forging your son's signature might be in a class of its own. But Alex Collins' mother deserves runner-up honors after she refused to sign her son's letter of intent on signing day two years ago. She wanted her son to stay close to home and play for Miami, but the ESPN 300 running back had other ideas. He was ready to join new coach Bret Bielema at Arkansas. The saga dragged on for an entire day before eventually the father stepped in and Collins was able to send off his papers the next morning. This past season, the sophomore back rushed for 1,100 yards and 12 touchdowns.

In-state shocker (2014): The Iron Bowl rivalry is no joke. So when Rashaan Evans holds a signing day news conference at Auburn High School, there's no way he picks Alabama right? Wrong. To the chagrin of most everybody in attendance, Evans announced his intentions to sign with the Tide. It went from bad to worse for Auburn when the university website added Evans' bio to the page with all of the 2014 signees. Too soon? The ESPN 300 linebacker played sparingly at Alabama this season and finished with 14 tackles, two for a loss and one sack. He'll make his return to the Plains next fall for the Iron Bowl.
It’s always fun to look into the history books to see how certain players lived up to their rankings. With signing day fewer than 24 hours away, here’s a look at the last five No. 1 and where I think they would rank stacked up against each other.


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GLEN ST. MARY, Fla. -- For five-star defensive end CeCe Jefferson, his recruitment has come down to the wire. The second-ranked defensive end in the country visited LSU this weekend, but sent out a tweet this morning with a final list of schools that included Alabama, Auburn, Florida, and Ole Miss.

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