Ole Miss football began on November 11, 1893 with a 56-0 win against Southwest Baptist University. Under coach Dr. A.L. Bondurant's watchful eye, the Rebels went on to post a 4-1 record and set the precedent for gridiron greatness.
With Hugh Freeze having just signed the school's most-talented recruiting class ever, now is the perfect time to look back at the all-time best recruits at each position in the program’s 120-year history.
Remember, we're talking about the best "recruit" at each position, not necessarily the "greatest" Rebel to play each position (although some may be two in the same). While older Rebels were judged largely on their contributions to the program (in the absence of early recruiting rankings), more recent Rebels were evaluated based primarily upon national recruiting rankings.
That being said, let’s dive right in.
All-Time Best Rebel Recruits at Each Position
Ole Miss has certainly seen its share of great quarterback recruits. From Jimmy Lear (1950-1952) to Glynn Griffing (1960-1962) to Archie Manning (1968-1970) and more, there's a "who's who" list of Rebel QBs to consider for this slot.
That being said, it's simply impossible to pick "one" top QB recruit for the Rebels.
In fact, it's a three-way tie for greatest QB recruit at Ole Miss. Charlie Conerly (1946-1947), Jake Gibbs (1958-1960) and Eli Manning (2000-2003) each share in this award.
Conerly was a centerpiece of John Vaught's first season in Oxford. The passing tailback led the Johnny Rebs to the school's first-ever SEC Championship on a 9-2 mark and Delta Bowl win over TCU (where Vaught was once a player). Conerly also became Ole Miss' first-ever Heisman finalist, finishing fourth in 1947. From there, he went on to a marvelous 14-year NFL career with the New York Football Giants. Eli's in good company in the Big Apple.
Jake Gibbs, two-time national champion at Ole Miss, is arguably the greatest athlete to ever put on a Rebel uniform. Another Heisman Trophy finalist under Vaught, Gibbs finished the 1960 Heisman race in third place. While he excelled on the gridiron, Gibbs was equally as impressive on the baseball field.
After finishing his career in Oxford, he spent 10 years as a member of the New York Yankees before coaching his alma mater to a College World Series appearance in 1972.
While Archie Manning without question was one of the all-time Ole Miss greats, it’s Mississippi’s favorite son Eli that claims this spot. The son of a Rebel legend, Manning could have easily decided to play at a school where he would have been far less scrutinized. However, he ultimately decided to follow in his father’s footsteps where he would eventually shatter nearly every record.
After tying for the SEC West crown and producing a Cotton Bowl win in his senior season, Manning went on to become an NFL great with the New York Giants where he's already become a two-time Super Bowl MVP.
In another position simply too hard to name one man as “best recruit,” running backs Charlie Flowers (1957-1959) and Deuce McAllister (1997-2000) tie for this award.
A member of Vaught’s 1959 national championship team with Gibbs, the Marianna, AR native also finished fifth place in Heisman voting in 1959. He was fundamental in leading the Rebels to their first national championship before a brief career in the NFL.
“Deuce,” as he’s known to the Rebel faithful, remains one of the favorite athletic figures in Ole Miss history. McAllister left in 2000 as the school’s all-time leader in rushing yards (3,060), rushing touchdowns (37) and 100-yard games (14), and he still holds each record today. After a successful college career, he went on to become one of the greatest New Orleans Saints in the history of the organization.
Wide Receiver/Tight End
While WR Chris Collins (2001-2003) set multiple receiving records during the Eli Manning era, he still isn’t the best receiving “recruit” to ever ink with the Rebs (nor was under-utilized speedsterWR Mike Wallace).
Oddly, that honor goes to a player yet to even take the practice field: Laquon Treadwell (2013). As ESPN’s No. 1 wide receiver in 2013, the Crete, IL native is easily the best receiver recruit.
Without question, he’ll arrive on campus with high expectations. However, in Freeze’s fast-break offense the youngster will have every opportunity to leave as one of the best to catch passes in a Rebel uniform.
Ole Miss has seen a number of solid offensive linemen pass through Oxford such as legend Bruiser Kinard, Jim Dunaway, John Jerry, Terrance Metcalf and Stan Hindman, just to name a few.
Kinard was the school's first All-American in 1936. The eventual College Football and NFL Hall of Fame inductee is undeniably among the greatest athletes to ever play for the Rebels.
However, there are two big men that stand out as the best OL “recruits” in Ole Miss history: Michael Oher (2005-2008) and Laremy Tunsil (2013).
Despite overwhelming scrutiny from the NCAA, “Big Mike” opted to sign with the Rebels over Tennessee. While he was a tremendous athlete on the field for Ole Miss, equally as impressive were the odds he overcame to ultimately find success in life. After closing out his career in Oxford as one of the best to ever anchor the line, Oher went on to become a Super Bowl champion for the Baltimore Ravens.
The next individual is another member of Freeze’s outstanding 2013 recruiting class. As ESPN’s No. 1 OT in America, Laremy Tunsil decided to go outside of his home state of Florida to play for the Rebels in college.
He’s yet another top-ranked recruit in Ole Miss’ 2013 class that has the potential to leave as one of the best to ever play his position.
I may sound like a broken record, but another member of the 2013 class takes claim as the best Rebel “recruit” to ever join the Rebel defensive line. Greats like Freddie Joe Nunn, Ben Williams, Derrick Burgess and Peria Jerry each had special careers on the line, but Nkemdiche will begin his career with more potential than any of his predecessors.
He’ll join forces on defense with his older brother, LB Denzel Nkemdiche. The sky’s the limit for a player of his caliber. It’s just a matter of time until he becomes a household name in college football.
Patrick Willis (2003-2006) is easily the top linebacker to ever sign with the Rebels. As an integral part of the Ole Miss defense, he amassed 355 tackles over his college career.
In 2007, he was drafted with the 11th overall pick by the San Francisco 49ers. Willis was named AP Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2007 and has become one of the NFL’s most-feared defenders.
Even at a program that has produced All-American pass defenders like Glenn Cannon, Harry Harrison and Ken Lucas, the recipient of “best defensive back recruit” at Ole Miss goes to ESPN’s No. 2 safety in the 2013 recruiting class, Tony Conner.
While attending high school a mere 20 miles away from Oxford, Conner’s recruitment was likely one of the most difficult to cement this past February. In the end, Freeze held off a late push from Nick Saban for Conner’s services.
As the fourth player in the 2013 class to be suggested as the best Rebel recruit at his position, it’s easy to understand why there’s so much hype surrounding the future of Ole Miss football.
This season, redshirt senior Tyler Campbell (2009-2013) will have a chance to make a case for “best punter recruit” at Ole Miss.
However, for the time being, All-American P Jim Miller (1976-1979) gets the nod. He’s the career leader at Ole Miss in total punting yard (11,549) and number of punts (266).
Jonathan Nichols (2001-2004), the school’s career leader in field goals made (63), is the Rebel’s “best kicker recruit.”
In 2003, he was named the nation’s top kicker in receiving the Lou Groza Award.
While some recruits live up to expectations, others simply never live up to their billing. In the end, these Rebel recruits have each secured their claim as some of the top Ole Miss recruits of all-time at their respective positions.
Let the debating begin.
Historical information and statistics courtesy of 2012 Ole Miss Football Media Guide.