Ole Miss Head Coach Hugh Freeze landed the Rebels with the No. 5 recruiting class for 2013 (ESPN).
Now while Freeze and his staff put in a lot of hard work leading up to national signing day in 2013, Ole Miss is a school that continues to successfully be able to "recruit for itself" through a number of stories that are drawing ongoing positive national media attention.
With so many across America wondering how Ole Miss was able to ink the impressive signing class they did on February 6, I think it's worth taking a look at the allure of Ole Miss and Oxford, MS without even mentioning on-the-field positives for Freeze's Rebels.
Why Ole Miss?
Oxford, MS - A Charming Little Southern Town
Founded in 1848, Ole Miss lies in the sleepy southern town of Oxford, Mississippi. Set 70 miles south of the nearest major metropolitan city (Memphis, TN), Oxford has long been heralded as one of America's coziest college towns. When school is not in session, Oxford boasts a population of around 20,000.
However, when factoring in the roughly 20,000 students that attend Ole Miss, Oxford doubles in size from August to May each academic year. Citizens and students are able to live in a great small town atmosphere, while also being able to take advantage of major sporting events that come with being an Southeastern Conference (SEC) member institution.
Besides being one of the country's most charming college towns (per Travel & Leisure) and hosting major SEC sporting events throughout the year, Oxford plays host to a number of rich cultural opportunities for folks of all ages ranging from local art shows to touring Broadway shows to appearances by national musical acts on the famed Oxford Square.
Oxford is home to some of the most delectable southern cuisine to be found across the southeast. Folks in Oxford are quick to brag on nationally renowned chef and contestant on Food TV's "Top Chef Masters," John Currence, owning restaurants on the Oxford Square. It's hard to not find something for everyone's taste buds.
Ole Miss - Unique in Today's Higher Education Landscape
Leaving the Oxford Square and heading a couple of minutes onto the actual Ole Miss campus, situated in University, MS, one will quickly be blown away by the sheer beauty of the landscape, architecture, decor and of course a student body that looks like they came straight out of a J Crew catalog. Ole Miss prides itself on having three of its own win the Miss America crown. A Texan with Vegas Insider suggested the following of Ole Miss coeds following a recent trip to the Grove:
"Ole Miss, where they red-shirt Miss America's. The "talent level" at The Grove is second to none. They've got tall ones, short ones, blonde ones, brunettes, it simply doesn't matter, they are all drop-dead gorgeous. I'm from Texas, and we have some of the most beautiful women on the planet, but this was like walking around in Leonardo DiCaprio's dating recycling bin."
For one of the smaller schools in the SEC, Ole Miss' landscaping beauty and appeal can hold it's own with any of it's conference competitors across the southeast. Not too long ago, Newsweek actually tabbed Ole Miss the "Most Beautiful" campus in the United States.
Looking beyond the campus landscape, architecture, and student body, visitors to the Oxford campus quickly find themselves shocked by the "personal, family atmosphere" that's simply contagious among everyone on campus from fellow students to faculty and staff members. It must be a Southern thing because the folks in Oxford would just about offer you the shirts of their backs without a second thought.
Further, even in 2013, it's remains just in the Ole Miss students' nature to say "ma'am" and "sir." Potentially sending their son thousands of miles away to school, knowing he's at a family-oriented school may be extremely appealing to a potential recruit's family.
The Grove at Ole Miss - An Experience Unlike Any Other
To quote something I personally heard from a former Ole Miss student (Clovis Lindsey of Beaumont, Texas), "The Grove may possibly just be one of the greatest places on God's green earth!"
If you've ever been fortunate enough to take in a Rebel football gameday in the Grove, you'll know exactly what the student is talking about. Often touted as one of the country's top college tailgating venues, the famed Grove is centrally located on 10 acres of prime real estate in the center of the Ole Miss campus.
A little-known fact many folks outside of Oxford don't know: the land on which the Grove now sits was set aside for recreation during former Ole Miss Chancellor Robert Fulton's reign from 1892-1903. It's safe to assume Fulton could have never envisioned how significant the Grove would become in the world of tailgating.
The New York Times suggested in a feature piece on the Grove experience, "At Ole Miss, the Tailgaters Never Lose." Whether a lifelong Grove patron or a Grove virgin making an initial visit to the tailgating mecca, what actually happens during the football game itself has little impact on the southern hospitality folks experience during their Grove experiences. Even fans of opposing teams leave the Grove having received a welcome and experience, totally unimagined.
The team at Burnt Orange Nation was so stunned with their experience when the Longhorns played the Rebels in 2012 that they had this to say:
"Ladies and Gentlemen, I have been to the land of Milk and Honey Boo Boo and let me assure you, all the Taiwanese tales of grandeur that you've heard regarding "The Grove" being the greatest tailgating experience on Earth are not only true, but probably grossly understated."
Taking in an SEC game in the stands is one thing, but also being able to experience one of the nation's premiere tailgating venues for three or four years is a treat in and of itself.
NFL Rebels in the Super Bowl XLVII
Ole Miss fans tabbed the 2013 Super Bowl as "P-Willie vs. Big Mike," as former Rebel All-Americans Patrick Willis (San Francisco 49ers) and Michael Oher (Baltimore Ravens) faced off in search of a super bowl ring on February 3 in New Orleans, LA. Ultimately, it was Oher and the Ravens that won.
As if the Ole Miss connections in the 2013 Super Bowl didn't already receive national attention leading up to the game, last year the world witnessed former Rebel signal-caller Eli Manning take home a Super Bowl MVP trophy for the New York Giants. Eli also calls Oxford home during the offseason, being seen around town just like any other regular citizen.
Top recruits commit to colleges where they can make their way to "The League" (NFL).
The Blind Side - The Michael Oher Story
A previously hot national story, that of former Rebel and current Baltimore Raven Michael Oher' and his life experiences, once again received a great deal of attention leading up to Super Bowl XXVII.
The 2010 Oscar nominee for best picture, "The Blind Side," takes viewers on an up close ride to experience Michael Oher's emotional and intriguing rise to fame. Of importance to Rebel fans, Ole Miss and Oxford receive an abundant amount of positive discussion throughout the entire film as it highlights the "family friendly atmosphere" that separates Ole Miss from the other 4,000-plus institutions of higher education in the United States. Media covering Super Bowl XLVII turned a great deal of attention to "The Blind Side," as Oher was a significant reason for the Ravens made a run to the Super Bowl in 2013.
If a future recruit or their family sat down to watch "The Blind Side," all that's really left to do is take an actual visit to Oxford, MS and Ole Miss for themselves. The film wonderfully captures the essence of what separates Ole Miss from even it's most successful SEC competitors, including the college football dynasty that's being built in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
The Big Picture
The Rebel faithful often say, "Just take a visit for yourself, and you'll fall in love with Ole Miss."
Between what Freeze and his staff have put together with their 2013 recruiting class and the myriad of ways Ole Miss has continually been able to sell itself to the public (including families of potential Ole Miss recruits) without any real effort, it's safe to assume the Ole Miss Rebels may just find themselves a perennial recruiting power in college football before very long. The football part, it'll help too.