Ole Miss Football: 5 Freshmen Hugh Freeze Can Build Around
Spruce Derden-USA TODAY Sports
Hugh Freeze has Ole Miss football quickly headed in the right direction.
After two consecutive losing seasons (4-8 in 2010 and 2-10 in 2011), the first-year Rebel coach Hugh Freeze performed a near miracle in 2012. Freeze not only led Ole Miss to a win over rival Mississippi State for the first time since 2008, but he guided the Rebels to a win in the BBVA Compass Bowl.
Before knocking off Pitt in the Compass Bowl 38-17, Ole Miss had not been to a bowl game since the 2009 Cotton Bowl. Without question, Hugh Freeze far exceeded expectations in 2012.
He wasn't satisfied though. Freeze wanted more, and that's exactly what he got.
As soon as the BBVA Compass Bow was over, Hugh Freeze turned his undivided attention to recruiting.
On February 6, the Rebel leader signed ESPN's No. 5 recruiting class in the nation. Ole Miss football has been the talk of the college football world ever since.
While Ole Miss lost RB Randall Mackey, OG A.J. Hawkins, K Bryson Rose and TEs Ferbia Allen and Jamal Mosley, it just so happens Freeze landed talented recruits at the same positions in his 2013 class. Let's not forget, Freeze also signed the nation's No. 1 DE Robert Nkemdiche.
Here is a look at a group of freshmen Hugh Freeze can build his program around.
RB Mark Dodson
Mark Dodson High School Highlights (courtesy 247sportsstudio)
Ole Miss relied heavily upon RB Randall Mackey last season, but they won't have that luxury in 2013.
Senior RB Jeff Scott returns for the Rebels, but Hugh Freeze needs younger backs to help the cause.
Returning for the Rebels will be sophomore RBs I'tavious Mathers and Jaylon Walton, but neither back saw a great deal of action last season. As a result, freshman Parade All-American RB Mark Dodson out of Memphis, TN will get a chance to make a name for himself.
Enrolled this spring as a December signee, the 5'10'', 193-pound Dodson will get a chance to display his talents during spring practice in Oxford. He will have a leg up on other incoming running backs not arriving on campus until the summer.
During his senior season at Whitehaven High School in Memphis, Dodson rushed for 3,295 yards and 37 touchdowns. By the time Dodson had carried the football for the last time, he was wrapping up a Tennessee 6A state championship. He's a workhorse.
A true athlete that finished as the all-time leading rusher in Shelby County (greater Memphis, TN) high school football history, Dodson has the potential to put up numbers out of the backfield that Ole Miss hasn't seen since RB Deuce McAllister wore the red and blue.
The Rebels need a running back more physical than Jeff Scott to become an integral part of the offense moving forward, and RB Mark Dodson may just be the guy Freeze has been looking for at Ole Miss.
OT Laremy Tunsil
OT Laremy Tunsil
USA TODAY Sports
OT Laremy Tunsil is a player that has the potential to go down as an all-time Ole Miss great.
The 6'6'', 320-pound No. 1 OT in America already looks like an NFL lineman, and should be able to work his way into the starting lineup for the Rebels with little problem. He is a player Freeze can truly build his offense behind over the next few years.
While Ole Miss will be without OG A.J. Hawkins in 2013, they do return three seniors and a junior to the starting offensive line. With the youthful vigor and passion Tunsil should bring to the table and the experience of the seasoned linemen, the Rebel offensive line should have just the right mix to be a very successful unit in 2013.
Offensive line coach Matt Luke may have to move some bodies around with the addition of Tunsil, but Luke had to be smiling like a kid on Christmas morning when Tunsil put on an Ole Miss cap.
QB Bo Wallace was very productive in 2012, despite not having the best protection at times. With the addition of Tunsil, Wallace should see much more time to make plays in the up-tempo offense and more importantly be knocked down less by opposing defenses.
Ole Miss produced Baltimore Raven OT Michael Oher, and Tunsil looks to be another huge NFL talent.
K Andy Pappanastos
Rebels Look for New Kicker
Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
S Bryson Rose only made 18 of his 28 field goal attempts for the Rebels in 2012.
In need of not only a consistent kicker but also a new one to replace Rose in 2013, Hugh Freeze may just look to freshman K Andy Pappanastos out of Montgomery, AL. The job should be senior Andrew Ritter's to lose, but Pappanastos should provide quality competition during camp.
Pappanastos enjoyed an extremely successful high school career, setting the Alabama high school record for field goals made in a career with 48. More impressive than being the Alabama career leader in field goals made, the young man finished a mere two field goals shy of being the all-time national record holder.
There is no doubt Freeze has the Rebels on the rise. To compete and win against the best in the SEC, Ole Miss will have to be clicking on all fronts in 2013 and beyond. That includes the kicking game.
When time is ticking away and the Rebels are in need of a game-winning field goal, Pappanastos could be the difference in winning or losing against some of the top talent in the SEC over the next few years. Never underestimate the importance of recruiting an excellent kicker. It's often an overlooked need, but not for Freeze.
If Pappanastos can step up early in his Rebel career, he will have the opportunity to set similar records in his kicking career at Ole Miss. He should be a cornerstone of the Rebels over the next several years.
Remember the name Andy Pappanastos folks, he may very well be one of the great young kickers.
TE Christian Morgan
TE Christian Morgan High School Highlights (courtesy 247sportsstudio)
TE Christian Morgan (6'4'', 254 lbs) may be walking into the best situation of any 2013 recruit at Ole Miss.
Hugh Freeze will be without the services of TEs Ferbia Allen and Jamal Mosley this fall, and that's the exact reason Freeze signed three tight ends in his current class (Christian Morgan, A.J. Jackson and Evan Engram).
While Morgan will surely receive his share of passes from QB Bo Wallace, his blocking capabilities with his size will be equally as important in Freeze's complex offensive scheme.
The Rebels haven't had a TE as big and athletic as Christian Morgan in quite a while. If he can step in and contribute early, it will add yet another dimension to Freeze's complex offensive scheme in 2013. In fact, Morgan could very well turn out to be one of the most important recruits in the entire class. He has that much potential to contribute heavily to the Rebel offense over the next four years.
Morgan, the No. 11 TE in America, enrolled as a December signee at Ole Miss like RB Mark Dodson. As a result, Morgan will step onto the field for spring practice with a real shot at closing out the spring as the starting TE going into summer practice.
Morgan should hold a number of Ole Miss tight end records by the time he plays his last down.
DE Robert Nkemdiche
DE Robert Nkemdiche Picks Ole Miss
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
Nkemdiche will join forces with his older brother, LB Denzel Nkemdiche, on the Rebel defense in 2013. Together, the two outspoken brothers will become households names in college football over the next few years. For Ole Miss fans, it should be a fun ride with the Nkemdiches.
Robert Nkemdiche will undoubtedly be a true force on the Rebel defensive line from day one.
His play on the field will be monumental for Freeze, but equally important is what the signing of the nation's No. 1 prospect will do for Ole Miss in future recruiting classes. The head coach can now tell every recruit and family he speaks with that he brought in the top recruit to the Ole Miss Rebels.
That's a powerful statement that not many head coaches can proclaim.
Freeze gained instant street credibility with a myriad of young recruits across the country who watched on national signing day as Robert Nkemdiche put on an Ole Miss cap.
The signing of the younger Nkemdiche is sure to make a dramatic, instant impact on the field for Freeze, but the signing will resonate for years as he continues to try and build his program.