From Lambuth to SEC superstar, Hugh Freeze’s incredible rise through the college football ranks reached another stratosphere on national signing day.
Forget about landing that one monster recruit. For Freeze and Ole Miss in 2013, you can take your pick.
While the Rebels entered national signing day with an already impressive recruiting class, they leave with a group for the ages. The day kicked off early—really early—when the nation’s top recruit, defensive end Robert Nkemdiche, announced that he would indeed be committing to Ole Miss shortly after the sun came up.
Nkemdiche shared why he signed on with Ole Miss, via SI.com:
Coach [Hugh] Freeze is just a great person. He's really energetic also. He's going to offer me the opportunity to be myself. We're going to do great things together at Ole Miss. I feel like we're just little bit away from making special things happen. When I was on my official visit a couple of weeks ago, I said to myself, 'Man, this is it. This is my school.'
This was far from a surprise, but still a magnificent grab for a team in need of skilled defenders. And while Nkemdiche’s signature would have been enough to consider the day an overwhelming success, it was only a sign of things to come.
Laremy Tunsil, the top offensive lineman in the country, announced his plans to sign with Ole Miss shortly after the Nkemdiche buzz subsided. Although Tunsil had reportedly been leaning towards Ole Miss the past few weeks, his interest and commitment came out of nowhere. Tunsil was linked to both Georgia and Alabama before vising Oxford, and that trip paved the road to his commitment.
And they weren’t done there.
The second-ranked recruit in the state of Mississippi, safety Tony Conner, capped off a truly remarkable morning by following suit with his commitment. Conner had been considered a very live option for Alabama, but again, he chose the in-state hot hand.
Three 5-star talents, three massive decisions, three huge commitments for Hugh Freeze that suddenly change the outlook of the program.
The national signing day trio will join the likes of wideout Laquon Treadwell, along with other solid commits, to give Ole Miss one of the most impressive recruiting classes in the entire country.
It’s a long way from the team’s dramatic bowl-eligible rise in 2012 and a distant memory from a two-win season in 2011. Hugh Freeze has transformed this team, and he’s only been on the job since December of 2011.
A former high school coach that was coaching at Lambuth University back in 2009—Google it, it’s real—is suddenly the hottest coach in the country. On paper, it doesn’t make much sense, but it does if you dig a little deeper.
Freeze’s familiarity in recruiting—especially in areas rich with talent that the Rebels wish to target—was integral in this hire. He recruited for Ole Miss as an assistant and recruiting coordinator up until 2007, and a foundation of familiarity was already in place.
He followed this up with a stop at Arkansas State, where he was the offensive coordinator in 2010 and the head coach in 2011. It was here we learned he could do much more than pitch players. His success got him the job at Ole Miss despite many wondering if he was the right man for the job.
Aside from his ability to recruit, his offensive background and overall energy gave new life to the Rebels out of the gate. The increase in offensive production from the 2011 season to the 2012 season is off the charts.
It also was prevalent with wins and losses.
It’s not a perfect science when it comes to hiring a head coach, and Freeze’s overall resume—or lack thereof—certainly proves this. Still, there were signs in place that he would eventually succeed with a solid foundation at Mississippi.
Forget about “eventually;” Freeze’s rapid makeover is here. The 2013 recruiting class—and specifically an unheard-of two-hour stretch on signing day—is a sign of what’s to come. With that being said, now comes the hard part.
The rest of the SEC is doing its best to keep up on the recruiting front, and Ole Miss will still have to tussle with the likes of Alabama, LSU, Texas A&M, Florida, Georgia and other formidable conference foes on a yearly basis. Recruiting is one thing; on-the-field results are another.
Still, Hugh Freeze is the story on national signing day, and the future at Ole Miss appears is extraordinarily bright. A plethora of talent will be heading to Oxford for next season, and the former high school guru is suddenly not just the talk of the nation’s premier conference, but the entire country.