The Meridian Star
Mississippi residents are still a few weeks away from officially receding into their college football rivalries, but the Rebels' base got a brief head start at its annual Meridian Ole Miss Club meeting at Northwood Country Club on Tuesday night.
The event drew 120 local Ole Miss alumni and friends to pack the banquet room – and parking lot for the night's headliner Defensive Line/Recrutiting Coordinator Chris Kiffin said.
Before divulging into what everyone was drawn to the event for — to discuss promise of the incoming signees — Kiffin cracked a few laughs and riled the crowd by checking off a bucket list item.
"I've always wanted to do this, because it's just not the same when [head coach Hugh] Freeze does it — Are You Ready?" he said, to lead those gathered in the Hotty Toddy chant.
"I liked that."
But he knew what he was there to talk about.
After signing day in February, the class Ole Miss put together was consistently ranked in the top-10 of all college football classes — No. 2 by 247Sports, No. 5 by ESPN, No. 6 by MaxPreps, No. 7 by Rivals, No. 9 by Scout — giving all Rebel fans a fall to look forward to.
At the center of the class is Robert Nkemdiche, linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche's younger brother and the nation's top recruit, and he was just the beginning. The Rebels also picked up the No. 1 offensive tackle and wide receivers in Laremy Tunsil and Laquon Treadwell, respectively, and No. 2 safety Tony Conner.
"I'm not sure if anyone thought we could do it. Anybody, you guys, fans included. As Coach Freeze says, 'It was the perfect storm,'" Kiffin said.
Those four, plus 24 other commitments helped earn Kiffin 2013 National Recruiter of the Year by Scout.com, which he quickly dismissed as he said it took all year and team work by the entire staff.
"It really is a group effort," he said. "We have so many great recruiters on the staff, there are no egos on the staff ... it was really, all we had to do was follow coach Freeze's vision."
They set out to prove that Ole Miss was "fresh and new," and that they would be joining more than just a football team. Freeze is entering his third season, but has already defined he has an "it" factor for everything, but most importantly bases the teams core values around family, which was key in recruiting.
"We are relational based staff and what we are getting the team to be, which is going to be our edge," Kiffin said.
"All our core values steaming from the word: the F is for faith, the A is for attitude, the M is for mental toughness, the I is for integrity and i think part of the Coach Freeze factor is that the L is for love and the Y is for you, the individual. ... I'm not afraid to stand up here and say I think a lot of it has to do with love."