When the dust settled from National Signing Day, Coach Hugh Freeze and his staff had inked the Rebels’ second-straight, top-15 ranked recruiting class.
This is the first time in Ole Miss history the football program has garnered consecutive top-20 classes.
The most-watched recruiting services have Ole Miss ranked No. 14 (247Sports.com); No. 18 (Scout.com and ESPN.com), and No 19 (Rivals.com).
At his afternoon press conference, Coach Freeze gave credit to his staff for the work they put in to produce such a class. “Our coaches did a phenomenal job in building relationships with the prospects and their families and significant others that can stand the onslaught of the recruiting process,” he said.
Coach Freeze told reporters in attendance at the new Team Meeting Room in the Manning Center that this class “might be better, top to bottom” than last year’s top-five ranked class. He emphasized how thrilled he is with the group of young men he and his staff signed. He has every reason to be ecstatic with the group.
The 27-player class includes 19 athletes who are rated 4 stars or higher by at least one of the major recruiting services, and one athlete (OL Rod Taylor) who is listed as a 5-star prospect by 247Sports.com and 4-star by the others.
Fourteen of this year’s class are high school and junior college All-Americans. Four of those are U.S. Army-All America selections: OL Christian Morris; DB C.J. Hampton; WR Markell Pack; and OL Jordan Sims. Three are Under Armour All-Americans: DL Garrald McDowell; OL Rod Taylor and K Gary Wunderlich.
Freeze also expressed the hope that his program can, “redshirt more kids than we were able to the last two years because that will be a sign the program is headed in the right direction,” adding it will “allow kids to get more maturity before they have to hit the field.”
Geographically, Ole Miss signed prospects from 10 different states: Mississippi (12), Georgia (three), Alabama (two), Florida (two), North Carolina (two), Tennessee (two), California (one), Illinois (one), Louisiana (one) and Texas (one).
These recruits will go a long way towards helping the Rebels in key areas. By position, Ole Miss signed: six offensive linemen, five defensive linemen, four athletes, three linebackers, three defensive backs, two wide receivers, one quarterback, one running back, one tight end and one kicker.
Freeze noted the importance of signing in-state talent. “We set out a goal to capture our state and the top guys in it, first, and then identify positions of need,” he said. “We were able to accomplish both of those things in this class. It added significant depth to our young football team, particularly at certain spots.”
Taylor, Hampton, Pack and DL Breeland Speaks are the top four high school players in Mississippi according to 247Sports.com. Ole Miss signed five junior college (JUCO) players to help add depth and fill immediate needs, including Akeem Judd, the nation’s No. 1 junior college running back. And in a surprise to many, Ole Miss also signed CB Tee Shepard, the nation’s No. 1 JUCO cornerback who flipped his commitment from State to Ole Miss at the last moment.
“We think the junior college route solved some immediate needs, like at middle linebacker with Christian Russell and a big, physical tailback with Akeem Judd,” Freeze said. “We decided we needed another corner about a week ago and we were able to get a great talent like Tee Shepard to join us. At offensive tackle, we added Fahn Cooper. Those are positions that were of great need for us.”
Of the ups and downs associated with National Signing Day, Freeze described the mind-set held he and his staff held throughout the day: “You come into it with your guys who have committed to you and you hope you don’t have any bad surprises on that day,” Freeze said. “We were able to get through today without any, and it went pretty smoothly. We lost a few battles with some really good schools that we were in it at the end with some really good players.”
Though there were possibly a few other players the Rebels had hoped to sign, Freeze made it clear the Rebels are looking nowhere but forward to the next step on their journey. “Our focus is totally on the players that we get because those are the Rebels and those are the ones who chose to come with us, and our concentration will be on these many, many great players,” he said. “We got our team faster and deeper, and I can’t wait to get them here and get them on the field and get to practicing.”
The new signees include:
Tyler Putman (OL)
Tee Shepard (DB)
Jordan Sims (OG)
Victor Evans (TE)
Breeland Speaks (DL)
Chris Williams (DT)
C.J. Moore (ATH)
A.J. Moore (LB)
D.K. Buford (ATH)
Akeem Judd (RB)
Fahn Cooper (OL)
Sean Rawlings (OL)
Rod Taylor (OL)
Dayall Harris (WR)
Markell Pack (WR)
Garrald McDowell (DL)
Sammie Epps (TE)
Gary Wunderlich (K)
Kendarius Webster (DL)
DeMarquis Gates (LB)
Those who enrolled in January include:
Kendrick Doss (QB)
CJ Hampton (DB)
Marquis Haynes (DE)
Jeremy Liggins (ATH)
Christian Morris (OL)
Christian Russell (LB)
Kudos to Coach Freeze and all the members of his staff who have worked so hard and traveled across the United States forging relationships with the incoming class and their families. Their efforts were rewarded with a phenomenal group of athletes who look to make their mark on Ole Miss football for years to come.
Featured Photo: Greenwood, Miss. TE Sammie Epps is all smiles after signing his letter of intent to play football at Ole Miss.