‘That’s What I Like About You:’ Cool Things about Ole Miss Class of 2021 Signees
Ole Miss has its 2021 signing class in the books, and when the dust settled the newest Rebels finished as the No. 18-ranked class in the country, seventh in the SEC.
Most Ole Miss fans are likely familiar with the players headed to Oxford. The new guys’ height, weight, speed and statistics have all been well documented. But what about the young men themselves? We thought it might be enjoyable to take something of a different look at the incoming athletes who will be wearing the red and blue.
Here is something cool about each of the newest Ole Miss Rebels:
Altmyer hails, pun intended, from Starkville. The last time Ole Miss signed a player from Starkvegas, it turned out pretty well. A.J. Brown not only was a star receiver for the Rebels, but he has also now parlayed that success by becoming a potent weapon for the Tennessee Titans. Each player was also a Starkville High School Yellow Jacket. Few may know that Altmyer is cousins with the late Arnold “Showboat” Boykin, the Ole Miss player who ran for seven touchdowns against State in the 1951 Egg Bowl. Luke’s father, Chad, has been the team orthopedic surgeon for Mississippi State for 17 years. Luke enrolled early this January.
Breedlove played at Pearl-Cohn High School in Nashville and had a great team last season. The Firebirds were ranked No. 7 in the city and Breedlove was not alone signing to play in college. His teammate Alex Okelo will play at Michigan State, William Griffin Parker inked with Tennessee, and Martino Owens will stay home and play for Tennessee State. Pearl-Cohn’s four signees tied with Brentwood High and Brentwood Academy for the most signees from a Nashville school. Kyndrich, who enrolled early this January, is an integrated marketing and communications major.
This fall, Brown will join another similarly-named receiver for Ole Miss, as senior Braylon Sanders returns for another season with the Rebels. Brown follows in the footsteps of Elijah Moore, as they both played at St. Thomas Aquinas High School in south Florida. Bralon’s father, Donald, played in the NFL with the Chargers, Dolphins and Giants. Bralon, who won a state championship in 2019, plans on majoring in general business.
Brown attended IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. IMG is considered a football factory and business is good for the school. Brown was one of eight IMG players listed in ESPN’s Top 300 prospects. He was joined by teammates J.C. Lathem (an Alabama signee), Xavian Sorrey (Georgia), J.J. McCarthy (Michigan), Jacorey Brooks (Alabama), Lovasea Carroll (Georgia), Greg Crippen (Michigan) and Malik McClain (Florida State). Markevious enrolled early, beginning school in January.
Buckhaulter is a native of Flowood, Miss. Some may have not heard of the small town located near Jackson, but in the state of Mississippi, the hamlet is on all athletic trainers’ radar. Flowood is the new home of Mississippi Sports Medicine. The state-of-the-art facility is home to 17-board certified, fellowship-trained surgeons who are all trained in sub-specialites. It’s no wonder Buckhaulter, a Hartfield Academy graduate, is a sports medicine major. He enrolled early, starting school in Oxford in January.
Erick Cade might feel right at home at Ole Miss with its history of Miss Americas. Ole Miss has had three Miss America’s, starting with Mary Ann Mobley in 1958, followed by Lynda Lee Mead the next year. In the 1980s, Susan Akin won the title to give Ole Miss three winners. Last year, Asya Branch of Ole Miss was named Miss USA. But pageant winners will be old hat for Cade. His hometown of Denton, Texas boasts two Miss America’s. Phyllis George won the title in 1971 before she went on to have a career in sports broadcasting and was the First Lady of Kentucky. In 1975, Denton’s Shirley Cothran won the title, giving Cade’s hometown an impressive history itself. He is pretty famous, too. He was named to the Denton-area All-Decade Team by the Denton Record Chronicle.
The Ole Miss coaches should not have to worry about this young man’s grades. The former Mandeville (La.) Skippers’ kicker maintained a 4.1 grade point average in high school and scored a 30 on his ACT exam. His on-field talent and his academic excellence earned him offers from such schools as Tulane, Rice, Rutgers, Georgia Tech and Penn. Costa obviously has great discipline as well. He was courted by both the Air Force Academy and West Point. Mandeville sits on the shores of Lake Ponchartrain, so what was Navy thinking?
Daniels was a pleasant surprise for Ole Miss on signing day. The defensive back changed his mind at the 11th hour, spurning Mississippi State for the Rebels. Give credit to Ole Miss assistant coaches Derrick Nix and Terrell Buckley for never giving up on the young man and showing him the merits of becoming a Rebel. Daniels also had another semi-influence with Ole Miss ties. Auburn had former Rebels’ associate head coach and defensive coordinator Wesley McGriff recruit Daniels. Fortunately, the Lucedale, MS native decided to stay in the Sip. He enrolled in January and is majoring in sport and recreation at Ole Miss.
Davis comes to Ole Miss from Itawamba Community College. He will be the only former ICC player on the Rebels roster. But he joins players from East Mississippi, Mississippi Gulf Coast, Northwest Mississippi, East Central, Pearl River and Jones College. Other former ICC players who played at Ole Miss include: Vincent Brownlee. Tony Collier, Tim Bowens, Norman Hand, John Casey, Sheldon Morris, Shane Grice, Demond James, Matt Grier, Bennie Abrams, Taurus Ward, Fadol Brown and Tyler Jackson. Qua enrolled early, beginning classes in Oxford in January.
The Meridian native comes to Ole Miss via East Mississippi Community College in Scooba. OIe Miss has had a successful tradition with players from ECCC. Defensive back C.J. Terrell came to Oxford from the school, as did senior receiver Dontario Drummond. The Rebels also had former quarterback Chad Kelly transfer from there, and he went on to lead the Rebels to a Sugar Bowl championship. Jamond is a general business major who enrolled early in January.
Jibran “J.J.” Hawkins is a defensive end by trade, but he has other talents. His junior season at Discovery High School (a cool school name in itself) he served as the Titans’ short-yardage fullback and scored five touchdowns. Hawkins’ hometown of Lawrenceville, Ga., is the county seat of Gwinnett County. It is a good probability Hawkins is an Atlanta Braves’ fan. The Braves’ AAA franchise, the Gwinnett Stripers’ stadium, Coolray Field, is in Lawrenceville. Hawkins is majoring in integrated marketing and communications.
The new Rebels’ receiver shares a name with a PGA golfer who also hails from Texas. While the gridiron Henry is from McKinney, the links-version is a native of Andrews. While Vaught-Hemingway Stadium is a step up for every player signing with Ole Miss, Henry’s high school home was definitely no dump. The McKinney Independent School District stadium where Henry’s Bulldogs play their home games is a $70 million dollar facility. The stadium has a capacity of 12,000, features an artificial surface and is home to the NCAA Division II National Championship game. Henry, who is an education major, also played at McKinney North High School with Alabama tight end Brandon Frazier and was selected as an Under-Armour All-American.
Iton will come to Ole Miss after playing at two historic programs: Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College and the University of Northern Colorado. Hutch had five players on the opening day NFL rosters this season — Alvin Kamara (New Orleans), Cordarelle Patterson (Chicago), Gerald Everett (L.A. Rams), De’Vondre Campbell (Arizona), Markus Golden (N.Y. Giants) and Jeremiah Ledbetter (Tampa Bay). UNC has won a pair of Division II national titles and are now coached by former Denver Bronco Ed McCaffery. Iton enrolled early in January and is a managerial finance major.
Okay, here is the answer to the question that is plaguing Ole Miss fans…the young man’s actual first name is Vincent. Yes, he is Vincent Jackson, but goes by a nickname. This is not unprecedented. Auburn once had a tailback named Vincent Jackson, but he went by his nickname – Bo. Head coach Lane Kiffin may have had Jackson in his sights before this year. Jackson’s hometown of Melbourne, Fla., is less than two hours from Kiffin’s last home in Boca Raton. Dink enrolled early in January.
What is up with Pitt, Penn State, Temple and the other schools in Pennsylvania? According to several sources, Johnson was not recruited heavily by the schools in his home state. But, apart from Ole Miss, he had offers from Alabama, Oregon, Cincinnati, Arizona State, Baylor and Boston College. The Rebels have had success with players from the Keystone State. Kenny Yeboah, a native of Allentown, enjoyed his time in Oxford and just finished catching a touchdown pass in last weekend’s Senior Bowl. Still, it is hard to see a college passing on Johnson’s abilities. His personal best time is 11.49 seconds in the 100-meter dash. He played on the same team as Alabama’s Christian Barmore at Neumann Goretti High School. Johnson enrolled early in Oxford, beginning school in January.
This defensive lineman comes from Bergen Catholic High School in Oradell, N.J., and has the distinction of being the highest-ranked member of the class. To say the Crusaders have had a pipeline to the college ranks and the NFL would be the ultimate understatement. Former Houston Texan linebacker Brian Cushing is a graduate of the school as is former Tennessee quarterback Jarrett Guarantano who recently transferred to Washington State. In addition, Darren Rizzi, the special teams’ coordinator for the New Orleans Saints is a Bergen Catholic grad. Winning is a tradition at Bergen Catholic. The Crusaders have won 17 state championships since 1963. Lane Kiffin is not the only coach in Oxford that is happy. Mike Bianco is also smiling as Malone also plans to play baseball for the Rebels. Another item of note, both Malone and 2021 signee Taleeq Robbins trained with defensive line coach Leroy Thompson in New Jersey.
Nicely is a native of Gainesville, but not the one inhabited by that team that wears orange and blue. The new Rebel is from Gainesville, Ga., known as the “Poultry Capital of the World,” due to the number of poultry processing plants. Wings and drumsticks are not all the town has produced. Gainesville is the hometown of Houston Texans’ quarterback Deshaun Watson, major league baseball player Dexter Fowler, former Alabama quarterback Blake Sims and Chan Gailey who was the head coach of the Dallas Cowboys. Nicely plans to major in integrated marketing and communications.
Pettis will be easy to pick out on the field for Ole Miss as he will be the tallest Rebel at 6-feet-8. Tobias Braun and Tavius Robinson were the tallest players last year at 6-7. Only three Ole Miss basketball players are taller than Pettus, with two others measuring in at the same height. Pettus is from Madison, Ala., which is home to a new minor league baseball team with the coolest minor league name this year – the Rocket City Trash Pandas. Madison is a suburb of Huntsville which is home to a base of NASA — and a Trash Panda is another name for a raccoon for those who don’t know. Pettus began school in January, enrolling early.
Of the new signees, Robbins comes from the most unique school. In Philadelphia, he attended Imhotep Institute Charter School. The school is an African Centered, science, mathematics, and technology-learning center whose mission is to provide a standards-driven, high-quality educational program for urban learners grounded in the Afrikan Principles of Ma’at and the Seven Principles of the Nguzo Saba. Imhotep aims to nurture lifelong learners who are valuable members of the world community. Robbins’ Panthers’ teammate, Saint McLeod, signed with West Virginia. Robins plans to major in general business. As mentioned above, Robbins and 2021 signee Tywone Malone trained with defensive line coach Leroy Thompson in New Jersey.
Sabbatini comes to Oxford from the land of coastal casinos, Biloxi. The Interstate 10 corridor that traverses that part of the state is interesting as every few miles there is another town separate from the rest. So, when Sabbatini reports to the Manning Center, he will have former Gulf Coast neighbors to greet him in Jakwaize Walker of Pascagoula, Bryce Ramsey of Gulfport and Chase Rogers of Pass Christian. Also, just a few minutes down the road from Biloxi is Mobile, Ala. Five Rebels are from that town. Sabbatini is a safety by trade, but he also averaged 23.8 yards per catch as a receiver his junior year. The first-team All State player enrolled early in January and is majoring in sports medicine.
Smith comes from Parker High School in Birmingham, Ala., and his school has the very cool moniker of the Thundering Herd. Smith shared the signing day stage at Parker with track star Jekovan Rhetta who will attend Alabama. A.H. Parker has a rich tradition in Birmingham. In 1900, with an enrollment of 18, it was the first public high school for African American students in the city. The school added industrial classes and became known simply as the Industrial High School. In 1939, Dr. Arthur Harold Parker retired as principal and the school was renamed in his honor. Smith plans to major in health and exercise science.
The former Hewitt-Trussville star shared the secondary a couple of years ago with Alabama defensive back Malachi Moore. In the future, Washington will run into a few other former classmates. He could intercept a pass from former Husky teammate Paul Tyson who is now at Alabama or be forced to defend Auburn wide receiver Ja’Varrius Johnson, another high school teammate. Hewitt-Trussville’s longest rivalry in Alabama is with Leeds High School. Leeds produced a pretty good basketball player once, Charles Barkley. Washington enrolled early, beginning school in January, and is majoring in general business.
Williams was in a unique position when he signed his letter of intent, as he signed when his high school season was not over. His Westlake Lions lost in the Georgia Class 6A semifinals a couple days after Wiliams signed with the Rebels. The Lions finished the year 11-2. To advance as far as it did, Westlake had to win three playoff games. The Lions beat Houston County 42-10, Richmond Hill 55-13 and Allatoona 27-24. Williams enrolled early, in January, and is majoring in general business.
Williams comes from Conway, Ark., which has a long history of producing athletes. Former NBA star Scottie Pippen is a native of Conway, as is former NFL running back Peyton Hillis and former pro football player Tyree Davis. Conway is also home to the University of Central Arkansas which has sent Monte Coleman, Jacob Ford and Elijah Pitts to the NFL. Former Texas coach and current head coach at South Florida, Charlie Strong also played at UCA. But the thing Central Arkansas is known for is its football field. The Bears play on a turf that is purple and gray at Estes Stadium. Apart from sports, Gil Gerard, who portrayed Buck Rogers on television, is also a Conway native. Williams, who played both tight end and offensive lineman in high school, has not yet decided on a major.
Wolfe was highly sought-after, receiving offers from 13 Southeastern Conference schools. What makes that more amazing is he DIDN’T play his senior season at Hardin (Tenn.) High School. Wolfe underwent a microdiscectomy for a herniated disc in his spine. The minimally invasive procedure, which was performed to relieve an issue in the lumbar area, was a success and he expects to be back to 100 percent soon. The finance major will also enjoy his time away from the football field in north Mississippi as he is an avid duck hunter. Wolfe enrolled early, beginning school in Oxford in January.
(Feature image credit: Amanda Swain, The Rebel Walk)
Steve Barnes joins The Rebel Walk staff as a senior writer and brings a trifecta of journalistic experience. As a writer, he has covered college sports for Rivals.com, Football.com and SaturdayDownSouth.com as well as served as a beat writer for various traditional newspapers.
He has been a broadcaster for arena football and several national tournament events for the National Junior College Athletic Association as well as hosting various shows on radio.
A former sports information director at Albany (Ga.) State University and an assistant at Troy and West Florida, he has helped host many NCAA conference, regional and national events, including serving five years on the media committee of the NCAA Division II World Series.
Barnes, a native of Pensacola, Fla., attended Ole Miss in 1983-84, where his first journalism teacher was David Kellum. The duo has come a long way since that time.
He will bring a proven journalistic track record, along with a knack for finding the out-of-the-ordinary story angles to The Rebel Walk.
Barnes continues to reside in Pensacola a mere ten minutes from the beach because he does have taste and a brain.