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February 6, 2013

Nkemdiche makes Ole Miss relevant

MORE: History of No. 1 | More Signing Day

After months of speculation, the nation's No. 1 player, Robert Nkemdiche, provided a rather drama-free resolution to his year-long recruitment, ultimately choosing the school everyone expected -- Ole Miss.

In a press conference at Grayson High School outside of Atlanta on Wednesday morning, Nkemdiche chose the Rebels over LSU, setting in motion what could be a seismic shift for the Ole Miss program.

Once Nkemdiche was on board, more big names followed: Later in the morning, five-star OT Laremy Tunsil, the No. 14 player in the nation. and four-star safety Antonio Conner, the No. 86 player in the nation, announced that they are headed to Oxford. Throw in five-star WR Laquon Treadwell, the No. 5 player in the nation who committed in November, and the Rebels are looking at a historic talent haul. But it all starts with No. 1.

At 6-foot-5, 260 pounds with terrific strength and speed, Nkemdiche has the potential to change the Rebels' defense from the moment he steps on the field.

There are plenty of factors that lead to him deciding to choose the Rebels: his brother Denzel Nkemdiche being lightly recruited before landing with the school earlier this year; his mother's preference for the two to play together in college and his desire to please one or both of them.

"It was important for me to make a family decision," Robert Nkemdiche said. "Those are the people who raised me and have always cared about me and always have my back.

"That was my parents dream, to see us play together. Who wouldn't want to see their two sons playing together at the same school? I feel like it's going to give them a chance to see us do some special things together."

"Since the day I signed at Ole Miss, I said he was going to come play with me," Denzel Nkemdiche said. "I told myself that over and over and over again. I've had questions for over a year and a half about where Robert is going to play, and I've said he's going to come play with me. That's what I believed the whole time, and I knew everything was going to fall into place. My mom, she made it clear where she wanted him to go."

While there's no question about Nkemdiche's prowess as a prospect and the impact he'll have as a player, Wednesday's pledge means much more than just Xs and Os to the Ole Miss coaching staff. Nkemdiche's move is also symbolic of the progress head coach Hugh Freeze and the Rebels have made.

"Coach Freeze is just a great person. He's really energetic also," Robert Nkemdiche said. "He's going to offer me the opportunity to be myself. We're going to do great things together at Ole Miss. I feel like we're just little bit away from making special things happen.

"When I was on my official visit a couple of weeks ago, I said to myself, 'Man, this is it. This is my school.' "

When it comes down to it, Ole Miss reached into Georgia and plucked the No. 1 player out of the backyard of Mark Richt, and the aftershocks will be felt for years to come.

"This is obviously major news for Ole Miss and I want to stress that it makes no difference how it happened, all that matters is that it happened and it happened now," Rivals.com national recruiting analyst Mike Farrell said. "Whether he chose the Rebels because of his brother or his mother or whomever, Ole Miss is getting the nation's No. 1 prospect and a kid from Georgia who is followed by every other recruit in the nation."

Nkemdiche's influence on the Ole Miss class was felt long before he made his commitment official. Over the past month the Rebels have added seven players rated as four-stars or higher, including his Under Armour teammate and fellow five-star, wide receiver Laquon Treadwell.

"Landing the No. 1 player in the country will always help recruiting and legitimize a program and the fact that everyone knew Nkemdiche was going to Ole Miss since his de-commitment from Clemson helped build the excitement around this class," Farrell said. "They are getting a college-ready kid who can play any position along the line and a guy that other players in Georgia and the Southeast will look up to for the next few years."

Nkemdiche's commitment also gives Ole Miss a sense of relevance that it hasn't had in recent years.

Schools such as Alabama, LSU and Florida are always the first to come up when the SEC is mentioned, but now the nation will want to know if Nkemdiche is worth the hype. And as the saying goes, there is no such thing as bad publicity.

"There is a feeling that the signing of Robert Nkemdiche finally gives the program a respect on the national level, that it changes the proverbial game in Oxford," RebelGrove.com publisher Neal McCready said. " Nkemdiche's interest and ultimate signature gives Ole Miss credibility with some future recruits that might otherwise not have paid any attention to the Rebels."

Players from the class of 2014 are already naming Ole Miss among their early favorites, signaling that the Nkemdiche impact will continue beyond 2013.

"This will bring the most attention to Ole Miss since Eli Manning was a Heisman candidate," Farrell said.

Of course for Nkemdiche to live up to the hype, he'll have to back up his No. 1 status with his play on the field.

But for the fans in Oxford and the Ole Miss program, there's no doubting that National Signing Day is a win -- even if it doesn't count in the standings.



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