Hugh Freeze talks about the Rebels’ No. 4 ranked recruiting class, compares to 2013
The University of Mississippi’s 2016 football recruiting class is signed, sealed, and delivered and it has the potential to be the best class head coach Hugh Freeze has ever brought to the program.
At the end of Wednesday’s highly anticipated national signing day, Ole Miss ranked as high as No. 4 in the country by ESPN.com and anywhere from fifth to seventh in other major recruiting rankings. That matches the 2013 class that finished fourth in the nation by 247Sports.
But will it be as good as the 2013 class Freeze delivered that featured Robert Nkemdiche, Laremy Tunsil, Laquon Treadwell, Evan Engram and Tony Conner? At Wednesday’s press conference, with the ink barely dry on the National Letters of Intent, the questions already began about whether or not this year’s class can live up to the expectations left behind by its predecessors.
The 2013 class helped the Rebels reach back-to-back New Year’s Six Bowls, topping last season’s second place finish in the Southeastern Conference Western Division with a 48-20 defeat of Oklahoma State in the Allstate Sugar Bowl.
And Freeze anticipates a bright future for the new enrollees and expects them to have as much success as those in the 2013 class.
“Looking at paper, I think this class is deeper but that’s just paper on potential,” Freeze said after stating Ole Miss will continue to recruit on the national stage.
Freeze compares new players to the old…
As questions about the similarities and differences between this year’s class and 2013 began to come from every angle of the Manning Center team meeting room, Freeze quickly looked at the official list of signees, locked his lips together, then offered some interesting observations.
Freeze sees Starkville High standout wide receiver A.J. Brown (6-foot-2, 225-pounds) being similar to Treadwell with his ability to beat defenders in one-on-one situations. The Rebels’ head coach also observed that tight end Gabe Angel, out of Cookeville High School, is already in the mold of Evan Engram. Freeze also noted that defensive tackle Benito Jones has a quick get-off of the line of scrimmage that is, “like Issac Gross with about 50 more pounds.”
Freeze believes Stockbridge’s defensive end Charles Wiley’s explosiveness falls into the category of current player Marquis Haynes. “I’m sure we can go through everyone,” Freeze jokingly said. “But they (new recruits) remind me of a lot of kids we’ve coached.”
Heading into the 2016-17 season, the comparisons between Freeze’s best two signed classes will continue to be the topic of discussion, but, at the end of the day, bringing in the right needs to fill holes on both sides of the football is what Freeze is mainly concerned about.
Freeze has reason to be genuinely pleased with the talent brought in with the 2016 class:
On Starkville’s A.J. Brown
Freeze wasn’t surprised about getting a player out of Starkville, Mississippi and said he had the utmost confidence in bringing A.J. Brown to Oxford. Brown made his announcement at his high school, and many there were banking on a commitment to Mississippi State.
But Brown did a U-turn and made a pledge to the Rebels. His reason for not committing to the Bulldogs was: “I felt like they didn’t do a good job of recruiting. I didn’t feel wanted. I felt like other schools wanted me more.”
Earlier in the recruiting process, Brown had a conversation with Freeze and mentioned watching Ole Miss Football growing up.
“The moment he told me that, I knew we had a chance,” Freeze said.
On safety Deontay Anderson
Manvel, Texas native Deontay Anderson is one of the top safeties in the country. He made his announcement early Wednesday morning and did it through the air. Freeze admits he didn’t know anything about Anderson’s decision to jump out of an airplane to announce his commitment to Ole Miss.
“I’m glad he didn’t get hurt,” he said with a smile.
Bielema’s comments: Was it an apology or not?
Did Arkansas coach Bret Bielema take a jab at the University of Florida and the Rebels, who are in an ongoing investigation with the NCAA for alleged allegations, during national signing day on ESPN?
“Florida is kind of the new Ole Miss. They’re doing some things recruiting that kind of shocks you a little bit,” Bielema said.
Freeze didn’t get a chance to hear exactly what Bielema said but gave some insight about the phone call Bielema made to him once his statement took over social media.
“I don’t know if it was an apology, but he called me,” Freeze said. “I don’t even know what happened, but Bret and I are friends. He just said he was trying to give me a compliment that I had recruited really well in my time here and people are taking it another way.
“I know Bret well enough. I think if he had something he wanted to say he would call me and let me hear it. I respect him, and I think he does the same. I haven’t seen or heard it but I’m sure Twitter has it right,” Freeze joked.
During his National Signing Day press conference, Freeze gave updates on players who missed all or part of the 2015 season. Defensive back Tony Conner is recovering from a meniscus tear. Freeze says “he’s in the pool running.”
Defensive tackle Issac Gross suffered a neck injury in last year’s 76-3 season-opening win against Tennessee-Martin. Freeze said, “He’s doing good. He’s having another x-ray in February to make sure everything is on track. Hopeful to do endo in spring.”
Offensive lineman Robert Conyers is recovering from a torn ACL he suffered in last season’s 37-24 loss at Memphis. Freeze likes the progress Conyers has made, but will be careful with him once spring practices start.
“We’ll have to manage him the whole year probably; he’s got very little meniscus left.”
(Feature image credit: Amanda Swain, The Rebel Walk)
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.