How good was Ole Miss' 2013 signing class? Even LeBron James noticed.
James Tweeted about his amazement at Ole Miss' haul, which included four five-star prospects, including the No. 1 overall player (defensive end Robert Nkemdiche) and the top offensive tackle and wide receiver prospects.
Ole Miss has struggled to sign one five-star and a handful of four-stars in a typical recruiting cycle. This was a consensus top-10 class, rated as high as second. And it was deep, with 12 four-star prospects among the class of 27.
"The biggest vision that we have is to do something new and fresh, and convince a group of young men to come together and want to be different," coach Hugh Freeze said. "To do something different and fresh at a place that may not be the norm. To upset the apple cart. That's what went about with this recruiting class."
Freeze, while going about a first season that defied expectations itself with a 7-6 record and BBVA Compass Bowl win, used the 365-day recruiting approach he learned from Ed Orgeron to great effect.
He added a host of four and three-star prospects through the summer and into January, and WR Laquon Treadwell committing in January helped. Then he added Nkemdiche, OT Laremy Tunsil and four others on National Signing Day.
"It was thrilling to finish strong today with the year-long plan that we had," Freeze said.
TOP OF THE CLASS
DE Robert Nkemdiche (Grayson, Loganville, Georgia) -- The wire-to-wire consensus No. 1 prospect is often compared to South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney. But the similarities end at the defensive end position both play. Nkemdiche is thicker, and could also slide inside to play tackle on passing downs.
OL Laremy Tunsil (Columbia, Lake City, Florida) -- Tunsil is a 6-foot-6, 305-pound offensive tackle that should challenge a pair of senior incumbent starters for playing time immediately. Blessed with great size, offensive line coach Matt Luke will just have to refine Tunsil's technique.
S Tony Conner (South Panola, Batesville, Mississippi) -- South Panola kids have a history of going to nearby Ole Miss, but Conner did not commit until signing day and gave serious consideration to playing at Alabama. But family won out, and Ole Miss gets a hard-hitter who can also play man coverage.
Practice priorities: With 19 starters returning from a team that won seven games and lost fourth-quarter leads in three more, Ole Miss would probably have liked to keep practicing in early January.
With that much continuity, expect coaches to begin expanding the playbooks that they were forced to trim down a year ago because the same players struggled to pick up schemes and still play fast.
PLAYERS TO WATCH IN 2013
--WR Donte Moncrief became a sensation at the end of the season by carving up some of the best pass secondaries in the SEC. Still only a junior, Moncrief caught 66 passes for 979 yards and 10 touchdowns. His assault on the record books should continue.
--LB Denzel Nkemdiche was a player no one thought much of a year ago, but that quickly changed. He was a freshman All-American that had 82 tackles, three interceptions, three sacks, 13 tackles for loss and four forced fumbles. And now he gets to play with his brother, Robert.
--DE C.J. Johnson was once the hot recruit, a five-star prospect in 2011 according to Rivals.com. But through two seasons Johnson has yet to take the SEC by storm. Will a fresh group of signees long on potential force Johnson to find another gear? Ole Miss hopes so.
--RB Jeff Scott flirted with entering the NFL Draft, but chose to come back to Ole Miss for his senior season. He's led Ole Miss in rushing the last two seasons, but still can improve in short-yardage situations.