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The Commercial Appeal (Memphis, Tennessee)
OXFORD - The NCAA hasn't officially handed its penalties down to Ole Miss.
But make no mistake about it, the Rebels' football program felt the effects of a long investigation on national signing day.
"There's a lot of issues around college football and we certainly are having our share," coach Hugh Freeze said. "It's gone on for a long time. We've suffered penalties. This recruiting class it was a penalty - to be under the cloud that we're under.
"During that time it's like a family going through difficulty ... you find out who's with you and you join arms, and you say we're going to face it and get through it."
Ole Miss' recruiting classes have finished in the top 20 each of the past four years and in the top 10 twice. But under the cloud of an NCAA investigation, the Rebels ranked 30th nationally and 12th in the SEC, according to 247 Sports' composite rankings, on the afternoon of national signing day.
The 21 recruits (23 if you count two possible sign-and-place candidates) heard, according to Freeze, "extreme rhetoric" - some true and not true (Freeze's words) - and faced "extreme pressure" from other programs during the recruiting process.
Ole Miss' coach described some of the recruiting tactics from other programs as "ugly" and said some of it was probably personal.
"There's several others that they thought it was a prime opportunity to use it in recruiting and that's the route they go," Freeze said. "I won't forget who they are."
He said he gave recruits a time frame of when the process could move in a certain direction and educated guesses on worst-case scenarios. Freeze admitted he didn't know what that exactly looks like, but they've talked about things like bowl bans and scholarship reductions.
As far as the class goes, defense was the obvious priority given the Rebels' struggles on that side of the ball this past season. The highest-rated player in the class was Morton's D.D. Bowie, who is a four-star prospect. Bowie's main position in high school was receiver, but at Ole Miss he'll play cornerback, where there's more of a need.
Mississippi State pushed really hard for Bowie, who was the third-highest rated player in the state.
"The change of direction he has - if he's able to adjust to the corner spot - the potential is off the charts," Freeze said. "There's very few long corners like him, as athletic as he is."
Freeze said they plan to get Bowie the ball in the return game as well. The highest rated linebacker in the class is linebacker Breon Dixon, a four-star prospect from Georgia, who is already enrolled in classes.
The point of emphasis on defense was at linebacker. The Rebels signed five linebackers as a part of their class, two of which are already enrolled, Dixon and Brenden Williams. Three more - Josh Clarke, Mohamed Sanago and Zikerrion Baker - signed Wednesday.
Clinton's Kam White also signed with Ole Miss. Freeze said White's size, length and the range he could cover was pretty much what safeties need in the SEC.
Ole Miss also signed four-star defensive end Chester Graves, but reports stated he may be a sign-and-place player.
Freeze said it was a small offensive class this year because Ole Miss will return a lot on that side next year. The Rebels signed two quarterbacks, two receivers and two offensive linemen.
The lone running back signee of the class was Presbyterian Christian running back Isaiah Woullard, who received an offer late Tuesday night.
Woullard is the state's all-time leading rusher but wasn't the most highly-regarded recruit. He also lost his Hattiesburg home in a tornado on Jan. 21.
"When I watch his tape, which I watched 100 times, if he played in a different league I think he's a no-brainer," Freeze said. "I know this, he immediately makes our university better. He immediately makes our locker room better. And I got a sneaking suspicion he's going to be an Evan Engram-type ... I'm glad to have him."
Freeze said there was a possibility Ole Miss could sign another player later in the day, but that he'd mostly save some scholarships for sometime down the road.
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