Late recruiting offer in 2012 has allowed Ole Miss DE to realize dream

NEW ORLEANS - John Youngblood wasn’t highly-recruited in high school. He fit right in with Ole Miss’ 2012 signing class. ranked the Rebels No. 58 in its final recruiting rankings that season. Youngblood was one of the final additions, a two-star prospect with no set position holding offers from Arkansas, State, Central Florida, Memphis and not much else.

But Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze and staff took a chance on him. Actually, Youngblood said defensive line coach Chris Kiffin fought for him. So with two weeks to go until National Signing Day, he flipped from Central Florida to Ole Miss.

Three years later, he’s but a few days away from playing in the Sugar Bowl - the first appearance for Ole Miss in the game since 1970.

“This was the path I was always on,” he said. “Very fortunate to get an offer from coach Freeze and his staff. Very blessed. Awesome guys. I’ve been under coach Kiffin even since I’ve been here. He really took a chance on me and he really got me here. He pressed hard. Every though it was late, I was very fortunate to come here. To be able to play and starting a few games, it’s literally a dream come true.”

Youngblood’s numbers don’t jump off the page. He’s totaled 32 tackles in three seasons, with half of his tackles (16) coming this season. But his contributions have been invaluable for Ole Miss on and off the field. He’s a team leader and an unofficial spokesperson for the team, the trusted go-to player for the sports information department.

Not to mention he’s provided much-needed depth for the Ole Miss defensive line in his junior season. The 6-foot-3, 255-pound Youngblood has played in every game with two starts at defensive end, and he sees action on special teams.

All from a player who started his Ole Miss career as a tight end.

“I was a tight end for a while,” he said. Youngblood spent his first fall camp at tight end backing up H.R. Greer and Ferbia Allen. He was redshrited.

“I think it could’ve worked out, but I switched back to defense after C.J. broke his ankle. I’ve stayed there every since. I played linebacker in high school, so I was comfortable with defense. Had to learn defensive end, and I’ve really enjoyed it.”

Ole Miss (9-3) will take on Oklahoma State (10-2) Friday at 7:30 p.m. on ESPN. The Cowboys head into the game with a high-scoring offense that ranks Top 10 nationally in scoring (41.2 points per game) and passing (357.3 yards per game. They feature a two-quarterback look led by Mason Rudolph, who has completed 3,591 passing yards and 299.2 passing yards per game - both OSU record for an underclassman.

“It starts with a pass rush up front,” Youngblood said. “If you don’t pressure them and if the quarterback is comfortable, he’ll get in his groove and potentially pick us apart. We want to get pressure on him up front. That translates into not giving him much time so then our DBs don’t have to cover him for five or six seconds a play. They’re going deep just about every play. If we eliminate the deep ball threat then I feel like we can get them into a running game and stop them up front.”

Youngblood is simply happy to be talking about a postseason game that matters. Had Ole Miss not come in late, the thin kid from Alabama who few knew about would’ve likely ended up at Central Florida. The same Central Florida that recently endured an 0-12 season.

“Sunny, 75, Orlando. Not too bad,” he said. “But looking at their 0-12 season, it would have been that bad. Luckily Ole Miss picked me up.”

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