As the December signing period came and went, it left behind largely sour memories and rendered stagnant trajectory for an Ole Miss program trying to crawl out of the wreckage of a half-decade long NCAA saga.
The state’s top talent spurned the Rebels and mostly went out of state. Off Nakobe Dean went to Georgia, Brandon Turnage to Alabama, Derrick Hall to Auburn and so on. The Rebels whiffed on the elite prospects in a generationally talented in-state class. It was a tough look following a season in which Ole Miss lost its last five games, sputtering to a 5-7 record with most of the talent on the offensive side of the ball leaving the program.
With two new coordinators, no real momentum and a fragile fan base, Ole Miss needed to close strong in the limited opportunity the February signing period provided. For the most part, it did just that. While the early signing period was defined by what wasn’t, Wednesday was defined by what was.
The Rebels kept Jonathan Mingo, fending off a late push from Mississippi State and adding Mingo as the fifth wide receiver in a class that needed to replenish a cupboard now empty of the likes of A.J. Brown, Damarkus Lodge and D.K. Metcalf. It reeled Jerrion Ealy back in, the five star running back who de-committed a month ago with the purpose of taking an official visit to Clemson. Ealy may very well go play professional baseball, but signing with Ole Miss’ helps the class’ and program’s perception, which is a battle it has been fighting since Hugh Freeze torpedoed it into the earth. It also gives, at the very least, the Rebels hope of Ealy putting on an Ole Miss uniform. It’s a slim hope, but it’s more than the team would’ve had if he’d signed elsewhere.
“Some of the people that we’ve had have some success with it before, whether it was Anthony Alford or Senquez Golsan,” head coach Matt Luke said. “I just think that’s a hope that he’s going to play football, that we’re going to have that opportunity. I think he loves football, he loves baseball. But I do hope – I think we all hope, that he’s going to come in and make an impact on football.”
Ole Miss signed the top junior college linebacker in the country in Lakia Henry, a kid who most prognosticators had penned as being an Arkansas Razorback. The Rebels flipped defensive tackle LeDarrius Cox from Tennessee, a kid who can play all three down lineman slots in Mike MacIntyre’s 3-4 system, as well as a defensive end in Brandon Mack. All three areas were in need of talent and Ole Miss met them with two kids most didn’t think the Rebels would get.
“No doubt, I think going into this second signing period, it was important that we get a pass rusher, a defensive tackle, and a linebacker,” Luke said. “We were able to hit on all three of those, so I was very, very pleased with that.
“I think Brandon Mack’s a great pass rusher, LaDarrius Cox gives us that size in the middle, and then obviously signing the number one junior college linebacker in the country is a big deal for us. We’ve struggled at that position, and to get a guy that can come in and give us some immediate help, I think is a big deal.”
Luke and his staff added a third quarterback in the class in dual-threat prospect John Rhys Plumlee.
In short: Ole Miss didn’t lose anyone and snagged a couple of targets it was seen as a bit of a long shot to land, garnering a little momentum in the process. There were a number of ways Wednesday could’ve gone poorly for a program that has absorbed blow after blow for the better part of the last two years. There were a couple of ways could’ve gone well, most of which started with maintaining the status quo as far as who the Rebels were supposed to ink. They did that plus a little more and now have something to build on going into the spring, and what could be a trying 2019 campaign. The program still has a ways to go to get back towards relevance, but Wednesday didn’t make the path back harder, like many previous days have.
“I feel like this class can be the foundation of getting this program back on track and back where we all want it to go,” Luke said. I am very excited about that and moving forward.”