When Ole Miss locked down several top recruits on national signing day, the program was hit with accusations of cutting corners. Some said it was only a matter of time before the Rebels' "shady dealings" would crop up in the form of NCAA sanctions.
I'm here to say that's bogus.
Has it really come to this? If you aren't Alabama or some high-profile program, you are instantly a cheater if you do well during recruiting season? Has it dawned on anybody that perhaps Hugh Freeze and his coaching staff may have connected with the recruits better than the others?
Or, what about the fact that Freeze led the Rebels from a 2-10 record in 2011 to a 7-6 campaign in 2012? That included narrow losses to Texas A&M and LSU and a victory over Mississippi State to end the regular season.
Of course, nobody is focusing on that. Instead, the fact that Ole Miss landed No. 1 overall recruit Robert Nkemdiche, offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil (No. 4, per 247Sports.com), safety Tony Conner (No. 32) and offensive tackle Austin Golson (No. 94) on national signing day had to mean they were offering them cars or houses or boats or something, right?
So, for the sake of sanity, let's look at why these recruits would join the Rebels, tossing the thought of cheating out the window for the moment, shall we?
First, Nkemdiche. It all starts with his brother, Denzel, who just happened to star for the Rebels last season. Actually...take that back. It starts with former head coach Houston Nutt, who recruited Denzel to the school.
And why exactly did Nkemdiche decommit from Clemson in the first place? Because his mother, Beverly, wanted him to join his brother at Ole Miss, per ESPN.
There's also the fact that Freeze and the Rebels actually treated Nkemdiche like a human being and not a trophy.
Beverly said, via the ESPN report:
They didn't offer us anything. All of the other schools who recruited my son looked at him as a machine. But Ole Miss went beyond that; they showed him the softer side of people and looked at him as a human being. I don't want my son to be seen as a piece of metal, a weapon they can use to win games. I want him to be loved and fall into a family, which is what they've done with Denzel.
Can you see why Nkemdiche would join Ole Miss now?
But Ole Miss' coup begins to make even more sense the further you go.
In respect to Tunsil, Ole Miss offered his younger brother, junior receiver Alex Weber (Columbia High, Lake City, Fla.), a scholarship.
In the case of 5-star receiver Laquon Treadwell, the Rebels signed defensive back Anthony Standifer last year, who just so happened to be Treadwell's best friend at Crete-Monee High School.
As Freeze explained, per the ESPN report:
I understand why people are speculating or raising an eyebrow. But we had Robert's brother here, and the mom said she wanted him here. We had Treadwell's best friend here, and South Panola (Conner's high school) is right down the road. Golson fits in here; he's a country boy and loves the place. There were a lot of factors involved.
When you look at all of that, you realize that the only thing Freeze may be guilty of is building a warm atmosphere at Ole Miss. It's like going to your favorite restaurant, where the staff treats you right, and then going on to tell your friends and family about the place. Before long, everyone is going there.
The reputation of Freeze and how he treats kids at Ole Miss apparently superseded anything the competition did this recruiting season. He was able to earn these recruits' trust, which is the best thing you can do as a recruiter.
After the Rebels' huge day on Wednesday, it's a shame there's been so much negative publicity surrounding Oxford, when it actually appears to be a feel-good story and a historic moment for the Ole Miss football program.
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