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LOGANVILLE, Ga. -- Defensive end Robert Nkemdiche, the No. 1 overall recruit in the ESPN 150, kicked off national signing day Wednesday by announcing his intentions to sign with Mississippi.
The 6-foot-5, 260-pound Nkemdiche, from Loganville (Ga.) Grayson, made the announcement Wednesday morning at a news conference broadcast on ESPNU, the first day prep football recruits could officially sign with colleges. He chose the Rebels over LSU and Florida.
He'll be joined in Oxford by the No. 1 offensive tackle in Laremy Tunsil (Lake City, Fla./Columbia), the nation's No. 1 receiver in Laquon Treadwell (Crete, Ill.), ESPN 150 offensive lineman Austin Golson and ESPN 150 safety Antonio Conner. They form the foundation for what could be the Rebels' best recruiting class.
Ole Miss is the 11th school since ESPN began ranking recruits in 2006 to get multiple top-five players, but only the fourth school to do it in the same season. USC did it in 2007, while Florida and Texas did it in 2010.
The Rebels also signed Nkemdiche's close friend and Loganville Grayson teammate David Kamara, a three-star cornerback, but missed out on ESPN 150 defensive end Chris Jones, who stayed true to his longtime commitment to Mississippi State.
"I feel like it's the right place for me," Nkemdiche said after his announcement. "I feel like they can do special things, and they're on the rise. I feel like going to play with my brother [Denzel Nkemdiche], we can do something special."
Ole Miss recovered from a disastrous 2-10 season in 2011 to finish 7-6 under second-year coach Hugh Freeze, including a win over rival Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl and Pittsburgh in the BBVA Compass Bowl.
"I feel like he's a good man, he's special," Robert Nkemdiche said of Freeze. "I feel like he's a man of his word. I respect him a lot, and I feel like he has good things coming."
When Nkemdiche, Treadwell and Tunsil announced their decisions, the Ole Miss coaching staff celebrated.
Ole Miss doesn't have the pedigree to usually recruit toe-to-toe with the likes of Alabama, LSU and other Southeastern Conference powerhouse programs. But at least on paper, the Rebels might outshine their SEC opponents when signing day ends.
"I'm so thankful and blessed that these families have chosen to trust in us," Freeze said. "We'll treat these young men as our own."
Nkemdiche's choice marks a signature addition to what is shaping up to be one of the top recruiting classes in the country. He had offers from coast to coast and took official visits to Florida, Ole Miss and LSU before deciding to join his brother in Oxford. Denzel Nkemdiche, a defensive back, had a breakout season for the Rebels in 2012, leading the team with 82 tackles, including 13 for a loss.
Talk of Ole Miss landing Robert Nkemdiche began almost two years ago when the Rebels signed his brother, then a lightly recruited defensive back, in May 2011. After back-to-back 18-sack seasons, Robert emerged as the top prospect in the 2013 class.
Surprisingly, Nkemdiche committed to Clemson during an unofficial visit last June, citing a solid connection with the Tigers' coaching staff. It was apparent that he was excited about the opportunity to continue playing with Kamara, who had committed to Clemson while on campus with Nkemdiche the day before.
In July, Nkemdiche visited Ole Miss with Kamara while maintaining it was primarily just to see his brother. He would make two return visits in September to watch the Rebels play, with a visit to Clemson in between. It was during that month that his mother, Beverly, made headlines by stating her displeasure with her son's actions while she was out of the country.
Denzel Nkemdiche said he and his mother pushed hard for Robert to choose Ole Miss, but ultimately the decision was his. Denzel said his individual success at Ole Miss -- along with the big improvement for the program this season -- were important factors in Robert's choice.
"The feeling right now is unreal," Denzel Nkemdiche said Wednesday. "It's real hard to explain. I'm glad it's over. I wanted him to make the right decision that he wanted to make, and I wanted him to feel comfortable with the decision he made because he's going to be where he's going to be for the next three years. I'm glad he's going to be there with me. I'll be able to look after him and take some care of him, and we'll be able to win the national championship together."
|Defensive end Robert Nkemdiche (left) and offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil were two of a handful of big-time players Ole Miss landed Wednesday.|
The 6-foot-6, 295-pound Tunsil chose Ole Miss over Georgia and Alabama.
"It really wasn't the official visit [to Oxford], to be honest with you," Tunsil said after announcing his choice in Lake City, Fla. "Me and [defensive line coach] Chris Kiffin had a relationship for about a year. He never gave up, he never gave up. I told him that Alabama was on top, then I told him that Georgia was on top, and he still didn't give up."
Conner (Batesville, Miss./South Panola), the No. 1 player in Mississippi and No. 24 prospect in the ESPN 150, picked the Rebels over Alabama and Mississippi State to extend Ole Miss' signing-day run of success.
"It's right down the road," Conner said in an interview on ESPNU. "I feel more comfortable playing in my home state. I want to do something to put Mississippi on the map."
Golson (Prattville, Ala./Prattville) had a tough choice to make: head to the SEC and one of the hottest programs around in Ole Miss, or stick with the team, Florida State, to which he had been committed for nearly two years. The Rebels won out.
In other developments on signing day involving top recruits:
Montravius Adams, the nation's No. 2 defensive tackle prospect out of Dooly County High School in Vienna, Ga., committed to Auburn.
Adams made official visits to Florida, Clemson, Alabama, Georgia and Auburn over the past five weekends. He said early in his recruitment that he would like to leave the Peach State to continue his football career. Clemson appeared to be the early front-runner, as the Tigers' coaching staff was the first to offer a scholarship to the Under Armour All-American. More than 20 programs followed suit, but Adams chose Auburn.
"I want to thank my family and my coaches for helping me through the process and for making me a better person," he said. "I only have one more thing to say, and that is War Eagle!"
In a recruitment filled with twists and turns, it only seemed right for defensive end Elijah Daniel (Avon, Ind./Avon) to flip on signing day -- from Ole Miss to Auburn.
Daniel, No. 34 overall in the ESPN 150, faxed his letter to Auburn on Wednesday despite entering signing day as an Ole Miss commitment. He was previously committed to Clemson as well.
Defensive end Carl Lawson (Alpharetta, Ga./Milton), the No. 2 overall prospect in the ESPN 150, also committed to Auburn as expected. Lawson was an early pledge to the Tigers but wavered in his commitment in recent months. He reaffirmed the pledge shortly before signing day.
"I committed to Auburn the school, not the coaching staff," Lawson said Wednesday in an interview on ESPNU.The additions moved Auburn up three places to the No. 11 class this year. "In this league you win on the offensive and defensive lines, and the defensive line was a focus," coach Gus Malzahn said. "The three guys we have, we feel like are three of the best in the entire country. Coach (Rodney) Garner's a great coach and he's going to have three guys that have a chance to help us immediately."
Cornerback Mackensie Alexander of Immokalee (Fla.) High School, the No. 2 corner and No. 4 overall prospect in the ESPN 150, selected Clemson. Alexander, the No. 2-ranked player in Florida, visited Auburn and Mississippi State late but settled on a school to which he made an official visit in November.
He said he connected with Clemson coach Dabo Swinney.
"He's a church guy like me," Alexander said. "I trust in them guys. I'm going to be in a great position."
He acknowledged the high level of competition in the SEC but predicted success for Clemson during his time there.
"We're going to win the national title," Alexander said.
Nkemdiche was a Clemson commitment back in July when he said he'd also like the Tigers to sign teammate Ryan Carter -- and began a debate about how far a school should go to land one of the nation's best players. Turns out, Clemson liked what it saw from Carter and gladly brought him in, Swinney said.
Swinney wasn't worried about the players who didn't pick the Tigers, only those who did.
"That mentality is like waking up at Chirstmas and getting a lot of nice presents and going, 'Oh, this is all I got?' " he said.
Matthew Thomas (Miami/Booker T. Washington), the No. 1 linebacker in the nation, chose Florida State over Miami and a late push from USC.
"I just felt more comfortable with the staff and the program at FSU over anyplace else," Thomas said. "Everything is there for me to succeed."
The Seminoles were considered the favorite for Thomas despite late pressure to stay home and play for the Hurricanes. He becomes the highest-ranked prospect in FSU's class at No. 6 overall.
Jalen Ramsey's long-time commitment to USC officially ended when he put on a Florida State cap Wednesday. He quietly signed his letter of intent without any drama.
"My decision was solely on Florida State and how I felt about them," the four-star prospect said. "I'm just excited."
Ramsey originally committed to the Trojans over the summer, but openly considered other schools and took visits to Florida, Washington and Mississippi as well as USC and FSU. USC made a late push on Tuesday night to try to sway Ramsey back, but his mind was made up.
"I just felt so comfortable there at Florida State," the No. 14 prospect said. "The coaches there, I trust them. They're good Christian men. I'm Christian so I'm trying to stay in that. It's close to home so I can see my family more. I just want to get there and help them win a championship."
Although Ramsey called coach Jimbo Fisher on Monday night to tell him he planned to attend Florida State, the coach didn't breathe easy until shortly before noon when the formal paperwork arrived.
"I sweat them until I get them," Fisher said.
Information from ESPN RecruitingNation's Kipp Adams, Mitch Sherman, Derek Tyson, Radi Nabulsi, Corey Long, Jared Shanker, plus The Associated Press was used in this report.