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Ole Miss hopes the excitment around signing day carries over to the season

Graham Watson
Dr. Saturday

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(AP)

Following last year’s national signing day, Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze embarked on an unusual recruiting ploy.

He blanketed the country with more than 240 verbals offers hoping some of the nation’s best recruits might take the bait. He was right and the Rebels finished Wednesday’s national signing day with the nation’s No. 7 class, the best class for the Rebels since the rankings began in 2002.

With such unprecedented success, it’s no wonder Ole Miss is employing the same tactic for 2014.

“We’re doing the same thing for next year, we’re putting out hundreds of offers for next year,” Ole Miss athletic director Ross Bjork told Yahoo! Sports. “It’s about exposing and branding your program. And then if you can get one hooked in and get him to campus, then you share all this excitement with him and the place that is Ole Miss and Oxford then you have a shot. We haven’t done the analysis yet, we’re working on this, but if we get kids to campus, we believe that we have a great chance of securing their commitment and getting them to sign. And that’s what we pride ourselves on, having a great environment on our campus and our town.”

Even before national signing day was complete, recruits from 2014 were already listing Ole Miss was one of their top destinations. That no surprise since two of the nation’s top five recruits, including the overall No. 1 recruit Robert Nkemdiche, chose to pursue their college careers in Oxford.

But before Ole Miss can turn one good class into a steady stream of high level recruits, the Rebels have to show that getting these recruits is paying off on the field.

Ole Miss finished last season 7-6 and while they were far more competitive in games than they had been the year before, they need to have tangible results if they want some of the better recruits to start favoring their school.

For this class, Bjork said the selling points were playing time – the Rebels had several depth issues last year – and the desire to want to be a part of Ole Miss’ turnaround. It wasn’t so long ago that Ole Miss had a 10-win season, but actually challenging for an SEC title and a spot in the national title game is something Freeze and his staff is selling to recruits.

“Our roster was thin. We finished the year with about 60 scholarship players on the field able to play,” Bjork said. “So, you look at playing time right away, you look at being part of something that is being built and being built the right way and then you look at the passion that this staff has and the values that we’re following everyday. I think it all adds up to a great environment. So, I think playing time, I think being part of building something and being a part of something where people say you can’t do it, I think is motivating this class to come together and motivating all of us too. Again, not being defined by someone else, defining it by us.”

But everyone at Ole Miss knows this class needs to be the beginning of something bigger. Generating excitement in January and February is great, but being able to carry that excitement through the season is the ultimate goal. With players like the ones the Rebels are now getting, mediocre seasons need to be a thing of the past.

"We embrace high expectations here,” Bjork said. “So really what’s next is we need to get more competitive in our division and we know if we do that then we can be in the hunt for a national championship.

“I think that the thing that I look at is we don’t know where the ceiling is here at Ole Miss, it’s yet to be defined. We’re not going to let anyone else define that for us. We’re gonna find out what that ceiling is and then kind of rip it off once we get there. For me, the work only begins now. There’s a lot of people saying, ‘Oh, now it’s got to be easy.’ No, it’s not. Now it’s going to be harder and that’s fine because that’s what you live for, those high expectations to be able to compete. So, I think it’s great to see that it can happen. The work now really begins. When you have this type of excitement early, the work just starts.”

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