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Instead of focusing solely on how No. 12 Ole Miss (9-3, 6-2 SEC) will defeat No. 16 Oklahoma State in this season’s Allstate Sugar Bowl on January 1st (7:30 p.m., ESPN), Rebels head coach Hugh Freeze had to answer questions at his Monday press conference about the situation concerning defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche, who was charged with marijuana possession early Monday morning.
In a statement released Sunday, the Atlanta Police Department stated it found a small amount of marijuana in a hotel room at the Grand Hyatt Atlanta in Buckhead on Saturday night. Nkemdiche, a consensus top-5 pick in next year’s NFL Draft, fell about 15 feet from the hotel, but the junior was conscious when officers reported to the scene and was in stable condition as he was taken to a local hospital.
Freeze, who has been on the recruiting trail with his coaching staff, has not been around the team since its 38-27 Egg Bowl victory over Mississippi State, but the head coach said he had a chance to talk to Nkemdiche about the situation via phone Sunday night and wants to continue the conversation once Nkemdiche arrives back in Oxford sometime on Monday.
“I was actually in between homes last night and he called me, and I asked, ‘Are you okay? He said, yes I am okay. Coach I’m sorry.’ We will talk about all of the details after we get all of the facts and I’m just glad he’s okay.
“It could have been tragic, so the short conversation was mainly about ‘what did you hurt and how are you?’ I think his ankle was swollen up, but they said he was fine. So, I look forward to visiting with him when he gets back today.”
Freeze made it clear to the media at Monday’s weekly press conference that he’s more concerned about a student’s well-being than the mistakes he or she has made. The coach reflected on mistakes he, himself, made in his young adult years, saying:
One reporter mentioned to Coach Freeze she had interviewed a number of Ole Miss students who expressed concern for the Georgia native and believe Nkemdiche deserves a “second chance.”
“They are passionate about their team, for sure,” Freeze responded. “I can’t let the passion outside our room affect our decision,” Freeze explained. “We will treat him just like we treat any other player. We will get to the bottom of the facts as we know them, then make a decision that we think is best for both sides and more forward.
“The priority is his well-being, of course. So, glad to hear that.”
Whether or not Nkemdiche will suit up in New Orleans remains unknown, and Freeze made it clear he will gather all the facts before that decision is made. The 6-foot-4, 296-pound Nkemdiche had 29 tackles, seven tackles for loss and three sacks during the regular season.
“There’s no cut and dry answer to these deals until you figure out what you’re dealing with,” Freeze said. “Kids make mistakes all the time and I wish there was a pattern, saying ‘this is exactly what you do’ but you don’t have one of those. We will gather all of the facts and first, let our doctors look at him. Make sure that he’s healthy and everything is well. It’s just really too hard to tell. I can’t say that today.”
Freeze has not had an opportunity to watch a lot of film on the Cowboys (10-2, 7-2 Big 12) but has seen enough of them to know how dangerous they are in the passing game, comparing them to Texas A&M in the way they orchestrate their offense.
Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph was one of the top pocket passing quarterbacks in the Big 12 Conference this season, completing 62.6 percent of his passes, throwing for 3,591 yards and 21 touchdowns.
Half of Rudolph’s passing yards went to wide receivers James Washington and David Glidden. Washington finished the season with 1,077 receiving yards and 10 TD’s on 52 receptions. Glidden had 807 receiving yards and three TD’s on 53 catches.
“They throw it and catch it as well as anyone we have seen,” Freeze said. “Their quarterback is extremely accurate, throws a really good deep ball. The receivers are very physical, get off of coverage and run extremely good routes. They have done that for the duration of Mike Gundy’s career there.
“I used to study them some, and they are just very talented. They have really good concepts; they have answers to really good coverages.”
Freeze discussed some of his players who may decide to test their draft stock, specifically saying juniors Fadol Brown and Evan Engram have been issued the appropriate paper work for the NFL Draft to see where they could possibly be drafted.
“There maybe more, but don’t hold me to that,” Freeze said. “I have been out for two weeks.”
It is widely expected that Laremy Tunsil, Robert Nkemdiche and Laquon Treadwell–all juniors–will declare for the draft and forgo their senior seasons of eligibility at Ole Miss.
Freeze indicated that Ross Bjork, the Director of Athletics at Ole Miss, is working on a contract extension and slight raise for Freeze, whose current deal pays him a base salary of $4.3 million plus incentives, ranking the Rebels’ head coach 10th in the nation and third in the Southeastern Conference. Mississippi state law limits contracts to no longer than four years.
“I simply told him this year that I’m really not concerned about me in whatever you want to do, but I do think we need to get our assistant coaches’ pool up,” Freeze said of his conversation with Bjork. “I am good with mine, whatever it is. I don’t know what it is yet. I just want to get our assistant coaches’ up.”
Of the contracts, Bjork recently told The Clarion-Ledger Newspaper in Jackson: “nothing’s final, but we’re having those conversations right now to get to that point.”
Courtney is from Memphis and received his Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Arts from the University of Memphis in May of 2014. He began his journalism career covering the Memphis Tigers Men’s basketball team, which landed him an intern position on 730 Yahoo Sports Radio and a position with Rivals.com. A freelance writer for the Associated Press, Courtney is also a member of The Rebel Walk team and reports regularly on Ole Miss football and basketball. Courtney, the father of a six-year old girl named Soniyah, prefers to cover NCAA basketball and football, but is happy to report on any other sport that comes his way.