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Despite rankings, Freeze touts first recruiting class

Addison Dent/The Daily Mississippian

In less than two months after being introduced as the new head football coach, Hugh Freeze put together a 19-player recruiting class, including 13 who signed their National Letters of Intent yesterday. He held together much of this year’s class despite the coaching change and made a splash with the additions of Aberdeen defensive end Channing Ward and East Mississippi Community College quarterback Bo Wallace, who signed during the junior college transfer signing period. All things considered, Freeze was pleased with his first recruiting class and is looking forward to the future.

“We are excited to have this day come and get it over with and get our guys in the boat moving toward spring ball and being who we are going to become here,” Freeze said. “We are really excited about our class. I’ll never stand before you any year and say that this is a great class because I think that is proven in time. I do think it is a very good class. We had to try to develop these relationships in the tough recruiting battles that you face in this conference. We are thrilled with a lot of the outcomes that we had.”

Given the compressed recruiting period and coming off 4-8 and 2-10 records the past two seasons, Freeze and his staff faced an uphill battle in making inroads and building relationships with high school players and coaches. Freeze and his staff made up a lot of ground, getting official visits and in-home visits to be in the running for top prospects, but they were not able to win the final battles, which showed in the final recruiting rankings. Ole Miss finished 44th nationally and 13th among the 14 Southeastern Conference schools, including Texas A&M and Missouri, according to Rivals.com. Ole Miss finished 63rd nationally and last in the SEC, according to Scout.com.

“In this conference there is not anyone who is bad at recruiting,” Freeze said. “You are not going to go to a place and it not be impressive and they not do a good job on recruiting weekends. Most of them have been recruited for a year and half and have developed relationships. Our staff was a new staff. We were learning about each other and where our strengths were. We didn’t get to go to the spring period and get to the areas.

“You put people out and try to play to their strengths. I thought we were somewhat effective at getting people into some homes. We didn’t win all the battles that we got into, but to get into some of those in just three weeks time with some of the schools we were competing against was a great tribute to our staff.”

One of the recruiting battles Ole Miss won played itself out on National Signing Day with Oxford, Ala., defensive back Trae Elston’s announcement on ESPNU. With three hats representing Oklahoma State, LSU and Ole Miss, Elston unzipped his jacket to reveal a red tie and picked up the Ole Miss hat to indicate his commitment to the Rebels.

“Our whole staff watched his decision,” Freeze said. “That was the last of the 13 names we had on the board. That was the last name we were waiting on. We had one change this morning with Kenno Loyal jumping into Jordan Taylor’s spot. To get Elston at the end was a big pick-me-up for our staff. We were thrilled.”

Elston, who played in both the Alabama-Mississippi All-Star Classic and the Under Armour All-American Game, was one of a few players Freeze singled out in his press conference yesterday as immediate impact players. Joining him in those two games were Ward and South Panola defensive tackle Issac Gross, and Freeze said he feels like both will be pushing people for playing time.

On the other side of the ball are Wallace and San Francisco Community College offensive tackle Pierce Burton from the junior college ranks and a trio of running backs in Kenno Loyal, I’Tavius Mathers and Jaylen Walton who will be expected to play this season.

Ole Miss signed 19 this year to get to the 85-player scholarship limit. If during the mid-year signing period there are open spots under this limit, Ole Miss can sign up to six players that can count backward to this year’s class of 19 players. The Rebels have already landed their first verbal commitment for the class of 2013 in Byhalia offensive tackle Davion Johnson this past Sunday.

“I think that gives you some momentum,” Freeze said of early commitments. “If it is a really done deal with a solid family and a solid kid who know this is where they want to be, we will (take an early commitment). They are going to help you recruit by talking about where they are going and where they want to be. We have already taken one, and we think we’ve hit a home run to start.”