This February, Hugh Freeze and his Ole Miss Rebels were the talk of the recruiting world after finishing No. 7 in the 247Sports team recruiting rankings for the Class of 2013.
In Hugh Freeze's first full recruiting cycle as Ole Miss coach, the Rebels reeled in four five-star prospects.
The class featured a staggering four five-star prospects -- which was tied for second nationally with Southern California and trailed only Alabama (six) -- and included the biggest prize of all in No. 1 overall recruit Robert Nkemdiche.
Apparently, that success wasn't a fluke.
The Rebels already are off to a hot start for 2014 with eight early commits and a No. 7 ranking as of Wednesday morning.
247Sports spoke to Freeze about the Rebels' recruiting success and more in this Q&A.
247Sports--After landing your much-hyped 2013 class, how long did you and your staff celebrate?
Freeze -- I strongly believe in giving our staff some time off after our grind. When you're successful with a plan you put in place, you have to enjoy the fruits of your labor. There was probably a week [after signing day] where all of that completely dies down, and now it's time to see if you can do it again.
247Sports--Looking back, besides having his brother [Denzel] on the team what do you think were the primary reasons you were able to land Robert Nkemdiche?
Freeze -- The mother told us from Day 1, "If you can show improvement in Denzel and on the field as a team, I want my sons playing together." Obviously [Rebels assistants] Chris Kiffin and Wesley McGriff did a great job building a relationship with the whole family. But the mom -- we captured her early in the process.
Some of that was good fortune. Having Denzel here, and the ability to get her to campus … I believe we were the only school to get the mother to campus prior to [Robert's] senior year.
For us to get her to campus and walk her through the whole thing, we knew what the groundwork was going in. Fortunately, Denzel had a phenomenal year, and fortunately our team showed marked improvement. [Robert] got to witness a lot of that first hand. That definitely gave us an advantage
The Rebels landed No. 1 overall recruit Robert Nkemdiche in February.
McGriff and Kiffin still had to do great work, and fight to get him here every week. Relationships is what it came down to. At the same time, we had to produce something to give them.
247Sports--You all had a lot of big-name kids in the 2013 class. But who are a few sleepers we should keep an eye on?
Freeze -- I'd say [wide receiver] Derrick Jones. I think he has phenomenal athleticism, and nobody really knows about him, other than us and the instate school that battled for him. I went and watched him play basketball, and he plays above the rim constanty.
I'll tell you who I think he is, except he's probably faster, and that's Shay Hodge that played [receiver] here. Shay had a good career here.
Other than that, it's hard to call a four-star a sleeper, but guys like Austin Golson, Austin Golson, Kailo Moore, Mark Dodson -- they don't get talked about a lot.
Another guy, though, might be Bobby Hill of Georgia. Evan Engram -- that's another one.
247Sports-- Honestly, did you exceed your expectations with the 2013 class or is that success something you expected?
Freeze -- That's a good question. Sitting here today, I think we exceeded them. But we had some disappointing things happen, too. We really felt like we were going to get two more guys. They kind of went the other way at the last minute. I'm talking about two five-star guys. Auburn flipped one and [Mississippi] State was able to hold onto one. I felt like we were going to get them going into the last night.
But that's normal. You're going to have some disappointment. With [Laremy] Tunsil, Robert, Tony Conner, Laquon Treadwell and on and on, certainly we exceeded our expectations. But if we land those two [other ones], we might have been No. 1 [in the rankings]."
247Sports-- Even when you were at Arkansas State as head coach, you didn't shy away from going up against more well-established programs on the recruiting trail. At Ole Miss, you've kind of had to do that same thing. What type of challenge has that been?
Freeze -- I refuse to look at it like we can't compete at this place. Obviously, you have to have the ability to accurately sell this place. When you have people like [assistant] Matt Luke -- guys that have attachments to this place and understand this place -- you can accurately portray that to other people and get them to see that, see why people voted this a top-five college town, the No. 1 game-day atmosphere and all those things.
The Rebels already have a commitment from Top247 offensive lineman Andy Bauer for 2014.
We also are selling our past.
We're the only university in Mississippi that has won an SEC tile [i]and[/b] three national championships. Obviously, that was awhile ago. But we're also the No. 1 winning school in bowl percentage. We have a rich tradition and have got to have somebody to sell that to them.
Also, our [athletics director] has a great vision and we're selling the future. I refuse to say we can't compete. We're already off to a good start … with good guys.
247Sports-- When you put your staff together what kind of personalities were you looking for?
Freeze -- The first thing was staff chemistry. Most everyone I've hired I worked with before. That means more to me than their personalities. Second, a genuine love for Ole Miss and our vision. The only guy that I really hired that did not fit one of those two criteria was McGriff. But I knew he had contacts and expertise, and the pizzaz to be an effective recruiter.
247Sports--What is the reception like from prospects now, as compared to a year ago?
Freeze --We haven't shown up at any schools yet, but I'll tell you when you get them on the phone, it's not even close. There's no comparison. The advertising we experienced on National Signing Day -- applications to the school skyrocketed.
This time last year we had to explain to them why Ole Miss, and what our vision is. Now, we're making calls, and the demeanor has changed and the excitement you hear from them is not even close to what it was."
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