Coming off a 9-4 record, a berth in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl and a top-20 final national ranking in both polls, Ole Miss carried the momentum into National Signing Day, as head coach Hugh Freeze and his staff landed a a top-15 class for an unprecedented third straight year Wednesday.
Including mid-year enrollees, the 22-member class boasts 18 players rated a four-star prospect or higher by at least one recruiting service, the most in program history, including the seventh and eighth five-star prospects signed under Freeze.
“We are extremely excited about a class that I think, top to bottom, actually may be our best since I have been here,” Freeze said. “We have a chance to finish with the most four-plus stars in the history of our school. We have a chance to finish in the top 15 three straight years, which has never been done before. Certainly, it's going to be the third straight year where we finish in the top 20.”
“All in all, it means very little because it's what these young men do after they get here. I believe we have identified young men and their families who fit for Ole Miss. That's huge for us because our niche here is developing young men who fit with us and are motivated by the environment here to be great. We have done that very well.”
The major recruiting service rankings currently list Ole Miss at No. 15 (247Sports.com), No. 16 (Scout.com), No. 19 (ESPN) and No. 21 (Rivals.com). The headliners of this year's class may be the two five-star prospects in offensive lineman Javon Patterson, an early enrollee, and wide receiver DaMarkus Lodge.
Joining Patterson and Lodge as All-Americans from this class are wide receiver Van Jefferson (U.S. Army All-American Bowl), defensive back Cameron Ordway (Offense-Defense All-American Bowl) and running back Eric Swinney (Semper Fidelis All-American Bowl), along with two early enrollees in defensive back Tony Bridges and quarterback Chad Kelly, both of whom earned NJCAA first team All-American honors.
“You lose some battles when you are battling for some of the nation's best,” Freeze said. “Every school does. We had a few of those, but we also won many, many battles for kids who really wanted to be at Ole Miss and this program representing this great university. I'm excited to get to work with them.”
A U.S. Army All-American and a MaxPreps All-America second team selection, Patterson is rated a five-star prospect by 247Sports.com and a four-star prospect by the other recruiting services. He is listed as the No. 1 offensive guard and the No. 32 overall prospect by 247Sports.com.
“I don't know if I have been any more crazy about a young man and his family as I have him,” Freeze said. “He's a phenomenal talent and a special, special kid. He could easily be the class president of the university and represent this place with such class. He handles himself so well.”
Lodge announced his college decision live on ESPNU, shortly after 11 a.m. CT, joining his high school teammate Quincy Adeboyejo in a loaded wide receiver corps for the Rebels. An Under Armour, USA Today and MaxPreps All-America selection, Lodge is rated a five-star prospect by Scout.com and a four-star prospect by the other recruiting services. He is listed as the No. 2 wide receiver and the No. 21 overall prospect by Scout.com.
“He's an outside receiver who is as good as anyone I have seen, through my years recruiting, at going up and competing for the ball at the point of attack,” Freeze said. “We have a really talented kid who will come in and add depth and compete early on. Our receiving corps, as you look at it, could be one of the better in the country.”
Freeze said he would put up this year's defensive backs class against any defensive backs class they have signed, a group that includes Ordway and Bridges, as well as Armani Linton, listed as the No. 5 player in Mississippi by Scout.com, and Montrell Custis, a high school teammate of Ole Miss linebacker DeMarquis Gates.
The Rebels also addressed needs with the addition of linebacker Shawn Curtis, rated a 3-star prospect by 247Sports.com and ESPN.com, who fills a need a Mike linebacker, and Swinney, who Freeze said they identified as the guy they wanted at the position and went all-in on him.
“This kid had opportunities to go anywhere he wanted to go early on, but still to the end, when people were hammering on him, he never wavered from his commitment,” said Freeze of Swinney. “Not one time. We're thrilled to have him. He's a special kid.”
Ole Miss had a few misses. Defensive end Ce Ce Jefferson signed with Florida. Linebacker Leo Lewis inked with Mississippi State and offensive lineman Drew Richmond signed on the dotted line with Tennessee.