Ole Miss Athletics

Ole Miss head coach discussed the Rebels' 2016 signing class Wednesday afternoon

Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze met the media to discuss the Rebels' 2016 signing class. Included is the full press conference transcript.

Opening Statement…

“Man another signing day. It seems like it gets more interesting and a little bit harder every year, but maybe it’s because I’m getting a bit older. I think with the amount of coverage and with social media it’s very hard to gauge exactly where you are at times. I don’t know if our staff has ever done a better job of developing relationships that can withstand the onslaught of difficult things that are thrown at you through the course of recruiting. That’s been the case during this cycle quite a bit, and it’s a testament to everything we are doing here and what we stand for and the relationships we’ve built over the last 18 to 24 months that allowed us to bring home arguably a top-five class. We feel like it’s top to bottom the best class we’ve had, and we’ve had some good ones, but that’s just potential. That doesn't mean a whole lot until you get them here and you see how their chemistry is and their work ethic. I think if you’re putting together a championship team, a championship class, you always start at quarterback, and obviously we feel like we have the best one in the nation in Shea Patterson. I love everything about that kid and love the way he’s helped be a leader in this class before he ever got here and now that’s he’s already enrolled and going through workouts and things, everything he does continues to validate my opinion. For running backs we got Jarrion Street and D’Vaughn Pennamon, two guys that are really athletic. Pennamon is a big, strong kid and Jarrion is a more athletic kid. We had to fight off schools at the end on both of those guys as they’re both quality players. One was the 7A Player of the Year in Alabama and the other plays at Manvel High School and had offers everywhere. We didn’t really solidify (D’Vaughn Pennamon) until we got him on his visit this past weekend. Wide receiver -- we continue to put guys in that room that I think are phenomenal. D.K. Metcalf has been one of those kids that commit to where they want to go and stay the course and be loyal and recruit for you and never waver. You have an extra appreciation for those kids. I’m honored to have him and his family join us here. Tre Nixon, you’re talking about a speedy dude that’s a 10.7 100-meter, 4.3 guy that I think gives us a little different dimension in that wide receiver room than what I think we have. Then to top it off today getting the announcement from A.J. Brown who I compare to Laquon Treadwell. I really enjoyed developing that relationship with he and his father Arthur  through the course of his recruiting and man, our assistants did a phenomenal job with that. We’re really excited about that wide receiver class. Tight ends -- we made a decision to try and load up this year at that spot because we felt the 2016 tight end pool had a little more quality than what the 2017 class may have. We think Octavious Cooley is a star who can put his hand on the ground and win one-on-one matchups with linebackers and he’s another guy that remained faithful all the way through. Gabe Angel is already here and I think he’s in the mold of Evan Engram. We were able to win the battle with an ESPN 300 guy, Jacob Mathis, which sets us up really good for the future in that room. Offensive line -- many are saying it’s the best in the nation as a unit. I don’t know if that’s accurate, but I know that we are really pleased. We think these kids and families fit ideally with who we are, and we had to fight off a bunch of schools on a lot of those guys. Chandler Tuitt, we’ve got a great relationship over in Sandy Creek (Georgia) that continues to provide us really good players with great families. Royce Newman is a guy we got in on late, and Matt Luke did a great job of building the relationship with that family. Once they came on their visit they knew this was the place for them. I think for that guy, a lot of schools were on him late. He’s so athletic; he played tight end most of his time in high school. We think he’s going to be an extremely athletic offensive tackle in time and will fit in our system very very well. Bryce Matthews, what a great family. His dad's a football guy, obviously an NFL guy who coaches high school football. He has a sweet mom and sister, and the whole family fits with us. He could have gone anywhere but knew this was the home for him. Jack Defoor has another family that’s the right fit for Ole Miss. His dad Russell and his mom Heather are just great people. We’re excited to have him. Eli Johnson from right here in Lafayette County gives us another guy that we think can be a center in time. He’s a super hard working guy that will get the maximum out of his ability. Greg Little -- you talk about building a championship class again starting with a quarterback on the offensive side, then you got to get a tackle that can protect him. Losing Laremy (Tunsil), of course we were looking for the best available and we think Greg Little is that. We think he has the best feet in America. He and Ms. Terry took all the onslaughts from oncoming schools trying to make him sway but he knew from the time, this summer really, from when he visited that this was going to be his home. So for the offensive line I think we hit home runs there. Defensively, Benito Jones and Charles Wiley are two mid-year enrollees that will get to go through spring ball with us. Benito is as good as I’ve ever seen coming out of high school. His get-off is phenomenal and I love his personality. I love the type of kid he is and I love his family also; they’re tremendous people. He’s going to be an immediate impact player. Charles Wiley tested as well as any kid tested for us in summer camps. His explosion is really phenomenal; you think he weighs 220 pounds and you put him on the scale and see 250. He runs like a 4.6 or 4.5 (seconds) 40 (yard dash) and has a vertical of 39 (inches), and is just an explosive guy that’s going to help us off the edge. Justin Connor out of North Panola has been committed to us for a long time who again probably needs a year to develop but the guy can run, change directions and is really athletic. He’s another Mississippi kid who we’re glad is staying home. For linebacker Donta Evans, and Big Tis (Tariqious Tisdale) out of Lexington, Tennessee is one of the freakish athletes I think in this group. Donta is already here and is doing well. He’s built how you want them to be built and comes from another Georgia connection that we’re doing very well in. We’re excited to see him go through spring ball to help us. For Tisdale, I think the future for him is really unknown but I’m glad he’s on our football team. He may be a mike linebacker, maybe a defensive end if he keeps growing but I have no idea. I do know that he’s an athletic football player. For defensive backs we had a huge need at safety in particular after losing the three guys that we lost so getting Jaylon Jones and Greg Eisworth out of Texas were really big gets. Greg is here now enrolled already and Jaylon has been faithful throughout the recruiting process once he made his decision. We went into Texas and got five kids that I think were all 4-star or greater so we’re doing well there. I think it helps that a large portion of our student body is from that state and we’ve kinda capitalized on that. Myles Hartsfield is, I think, may be the sleeper of the class. He’s already here and is a really explosive kid and is another kid that you look at and think he’s 170 and he’s 197 (lbs.). He’s been really explosive in our drills. Then we had Mr. Skydiver himself Deontay Anderson. I didn’t know he was going to reveal he was coming here by jumping out of an airplane, so I’m glad he didn’t get hurt or anything. We thought he was the best safely we saw on film and is a guy that can come in and compete right away for playing time. Our staff did a great job along with our wives and everyone involved in the on-campus visits building these relationships. We’re consistently bringing in top players and I think that’s why we’re continuing to improve on the field. There will be some areas of need that we’ll need to address at mid-year next year, but I couldn’t be more pleased with the young men that have joined us and our family. I can’t wait to go to work with them.”

On needs not met with this year's class…

“You could probably say we didn’t get enough depth on the defensive line and maybe at linebacker too. We had a couple of things we knew we could move around so the bullseye was kind of small on the linebackers. We had a good pool for defensive line and we were battling a lot of good places giving them a lot of good options. Sometimes you miss on those and it may make you feel like you didn’t fill the exact depth, but it is very hard. I told our staff we have a top-five class and it just means we maybe have to accelerate that process for next year’s class up a bit with some mid-year guys. The good thing is that’s becoming more and more the trend for that to happen.”

On when he knew he was landing A.J. Brown…

“I guess it’s okay for me to say now. He actually told me two weeks ago after my home visit. He called me on my way home and let me know and I said that only me and him would talk about it. I didn’t talk about it to other people and it just got stronger and stronger, and the official visit confirmed what we already felt I think.”

On D’Vaughn Pennamon…

“We’ve got a lot of running backs. It’s all about competition, and there was a time during the process that we thought we were in danger of losing him so at that time we looked at others available and drifted apart a bit. We drifted back together real quick, and I think coming on his trip he was reminded why he wanted to come here in the first place. He weighed 215 on his trip so I think anything around 220 is a good weight for him, and he seems to carry it really well.”

On keeping scholarships available…

“We could have signed 31 in this class and we only signed 24, so you can figure that one out probably.”

On the news of the NCAA allegations blunting momentum…

“I don’t think it blunted any of the momentum. Maybe it hurt us in some of the battles that kids were undecided. I don’t really know. I’m sure it didn’t help. The timing of that and the way it was put out I think is quite peculiar and I wasn’t crazy about that. How a source from the NCAA supposedly leaked to someone, if that’s the story, I don’t know. All of that doesn’t seem to add up, so it really put the test on relationships. The thing is we had most of those guys here, and we built trust in those relationships and shared with them head on what we could about it. Did it hurt us in some of those 50-50 battles or the 60-40 battles? I don’t know. It’s hard for me to judge. It didn’t help us, that’s for sure, particularly if they weren’t here for me to discuss it with them.”

On if there was one particular player you went into today you thought we were signing and didn’t…

“You probably always feel like that. You guys know exactly -- you already have all your crystal balls and predictions. You already know where most things are feeling. I’ll say this. You typically know the day before if you’re not feeling as good anymore because of lack of communication or something seems to change. I can’t say that anything was a total shock today, but disappointments of course. You celebrate the ones you get and wish the others good luck as they go on to hopefully get an education and play a great game.”

On interior offensive linemen…

“I don’t feel like they’re underrated. Obviously they were our choices and they could have gone to all kinds of places. Jack DeFoor had all kinds of offers at the end that he could have chosen, so did Bryce Mathews and (Chandler) Tuitt also. Eli Johnson is an early enrollee and a hometown kid that’s a hard worker that we felt like could be a center in the future. I think all of them, with time, are going to develop into really good offensive linemen.”

On a moment today where you thought you did something special…

“We already had so many commitments that I felt were solid so there wasn’t really a moment like that today. I woke up this morning and my thoughts were to be anxious for nothing, thank God during the good times and in the disappointing times if we have them. Also to rejoice in the ones we get and get ready to go help them improve and be a great team. You like seeing your name move up the chart there when you’re in the top-five and that’s how you continue to build and put yourself in the position to win conference championships and hopefully get us to that elite level on a regular basis.”

On having more national reach…

“There’s no question. Going to the New Year's Six bowl game two years in a row, one of five teams to do that, the Ole Miss brand is a national brand right now. We didn’t get a lot of kids today that we were in the game for nationally. We were in the game all the way to the end, and we didn’t win all those battles; we never will. Our brand is getting us in those battles, and our coaches are trying to build relationships early on. We’re significant, and are a factor nationally.”

On why Myles Hartsfield could be the sleeper of the class…

“Hearing the strength coaches talk about him and his explosiveness. I love his film. He’s physical, and he is a more mature kid who’s gone through adversity in life and struck back. He really seems to have his stuff together, and I love the way they’re talking about the way he’s going about working right now.”

Following up on national reach…

“I think we can go national and win our share. That’s what we’ve done, and we will continue to do it. Ole Miss is a great place, and if you get people here they want to come back. We’re going to continue to do the exact plan that we always do to identify a certain number of families nationally that fit with us and go recruit them extremely hard.”

On television networks pushing recruits to wait to announce…

“I think that’s only going to get more and more difficult as it goes because the networks are really wanting it to be a surprise. The kid has to trust you of course, and most do. You have a good feel going in, but it’s just kind of part of the monster we’ve created in the course of recruiting and I don’t see it slowing down. I wish it would, but I don’t see it slowing down.”

On Deontay Anderson…

“Like I said earlier, he’s a guy that we really identified as a guy that we think can come in physically and play in this league in our system and help us with a need after losing the guys we lost. He actually committed to me on Christmas day and gave me a phone call that made me very happy. I was already happy because I was with my family celebrating my savior's birth, but getting him to call me made it better. We think that guy is one that can come in and play next year.”

On the 2013 class versus 2016 and signing solid classes each year…

“The last question, I think having the relationships and the vision here with the atmosphere and environment. We have an administration here that’s aggressive doing everything possible, like this team room, the nutrition center, our new facilities. There are cranes everywhere all the time and that’s one of the reasons. Our coaches do a great job building relationships and there are some kids that are built to be in the right environment. If you get that right on the front end and they fit, you have a chance. To answer your first question about 2013 comparing, looking at paper I think this class is deeper but that’s just paper and potential.”

On similarities to past players with these signees…

“I’m sure there are similarities, but I don’t have time to go through every one and tell you similarities. Benito Jones has quick get-off. He’s got the get-off of Isaac Gross with about 50 more pounds and he’s that type of kid who loves Ole Miss and wants to play here. Charles Wiley has the explosiveness of Marquis Haynes and I’m sure there's many others. Donta Evans reminds me of a kid I had at Arkansas State who is still playing in the league with the Green Bay Packers that was a Mississippi kid. I’m sure we could go through and do everyone, but they remind me of a lot of kids we’ve coached.”

On offseason surgery updates…

“(Tony) Conner’s in the pool running. (Issac) Gross is doing good. He’s having another x-ray in February to make sure everything is on track. Hopeful to do endo in the spring. Rod Taylor had his shoulder surgery; he won’t be with us in the spring. Everything is going okay withFadol Brown; he should be okay by spring. Robert Conyers is looking good; we probably won’t let him do a lot in the spring. We’ll have to manage him the whole year probably; he’s got very little meniscus left.”

On spots getting tight…

“We never felt like spots were getting tight. We’ve undersigned every year we’ve been here. Some of that has been on purpose. I’ve never been one to stretch it and oversign because typically the teams I’ve coached haven’t had a lot of attrition so you’re hesitant to go too far over the number because you have kids here you have a responsibility to coach also. I’ve never really pushed that envelope too much, but we had room today if we had the players we wanted to take.”

On signing no JUCO players this class and filling front seven needs in December…

“I plan on getting some mid-year players for the front seven, as you know so many of the high school kids are doing that so I can’t say it will be JUCO or high school. We will be looking for some mid-year guys for the front seven for sure.”

On comparisons between Laremy Tunsil and Greg Little…

“I watched Greg play a live game during our evaluation period and his feet are really good. Both probably coming out of high school need to be stronger in the upper body, but the comparison is close. I don’t know. Laremy may have been a little ahead, but it’s hard to tell. Greg is really talented and kind of changes personalities on the football field, in a good way.”

On D.K. Metcalf…

“I think he has great potential and I don’t know if he’s even touched it yet. What a big fella that’s going to be and what a great kid to coach to want to be a part of your program. He’s going to be a tough matchup for what we like to do in our run-pass options. If they go one-on-one with him he’s a guy you got to feel like can go make you a one-on-one catch.”

On the Bret Bielema comments and phone call…

“I don’t know if it was an apology, but he called me. I don’t even know what happened, but Bret and I are friends. He just said he was trying to give me a compliment that I had recruited really well in my time here and people are taking it another way. I know Bret well enough, and he and I have had dealing with one another. I think if he had something he wanted to say he would call me and let me hear it. I respect him, and I think he does the same. I haven’t seen or heard it but I’m sure Twitter has it right.”

On the recruits asking about the notice of NCAA allegations…

“I just told them exactly what I knew to be accurate and true the first night we were together and then when I had my closing meeting with each individual I would bring it up myself to ask if there were any discussions they wanted to have on it. Those were the only times I know of that it was talked about at all. Again, you talk about what you can and you share with them everything that you know to be true. Ross (Bjork) got to share with them also, which was good, Saturday night in our team meeting so we obviously are going to go through it. We believe in how we do things; we’ve said that from the beginning. Anytime you have an investigation that has lasted as long as ours has, anything you self report is going to be in those things. It’s pretty normal to self report things from year to year, every school does it. We shared all of that with them, but some of that I don’t even know because I wasn’t involved and wasn’t brought into it. Thankfully our relationships won out.”

On getting a player out of Starkville High School…

“I wasn’t surprised after we started recruiting him. The moment he told me he grew up wanting to play at Ole Miss I knew that we had a chance. My coaches had been telling me ‘Coach this is real,’ so I said that’s great. After I left I felt what they felt, and then got a call on the way home from him and knew then that we were kinda in the lead. It didn’t really come as a surprise really today."


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