Yesterday, in a glimpse into the inner sanctum of the reigning NBA champs, LeBron James tweeted about how Ole Miss became the story of Signing Day — no mean feat considering the sagas of Reuben Foster and Alex Collins — and probably violated some arcane NCAA recruiting violation by having an opinion on the subject.
This is astounding on multiple levels. Well, I guess it’s only astounding on three levels. First off, if you look at the Heat’s roster, they don’t strike me as guys who derive a lot of school spirit from their former schools' fortunes on the gridiron. Secondly, recruiting isn’t the realm of the casual fan, it’s the postseason lifeblood of college football bloggers, day drinkers, and people deep in SEC country, which is a very tight Venn diagram. Lastly, they’re talking about Ole Miss ... and when you consider that school’s, to put it delicately, image problems as well as its mediocrity on the football field, you’d think LeBron James would be aware of their recruiting status only if Erik Spoelstra’s kid was offered a scholarship or something. And even then, I think that’s debatable.
But it’s true: Hugh Freeze managed what the midriff-baring Rebel Bruiser couldn’t for Ole Miss, which is give them a total image makeover. Despite a 7-6 season on the field, a legacy that is solely tied up in Eli and Archie Manning and having to play in the same division as Alabama, LSU, Auburn, and Texas A&M until the stars burn out, they managed a top-ten class including no. 1 overall recruit Robert Nkemdiche, no. 1 offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil and no. 1 wideout Laquon Treadwell. This isn’t a situation like the Mitch Mustain class at Arkansas where it got a hometown discount of sorts — the Ole Miss haul is from Georgia, Florida, and Illinois, respsectively. No, this is the incredibly rare occurrence where a self-described “perfect storm” arose and actually managed to make Signing Day — essentially the NFL draft, except the playoff teams get to pick first, second, third and hell, pretty much dictate the first six rounds — actually something worth spending its entirety as a spectator.
The Ole Miss recruiting class resulted from something of a domino effect. It’s understandable when you consider how high school kids think: Whether you begged your parents to buy you a Hypercolor shirt or decided to take your chances at a school where a Cotton Bowl bid can result in decades of goodwill, there is an appeal of being an early adapter as well as someone whose minor rebellions are accepted by your peers. This is explainable. Me, I’m a Jewish Yankee who applied to Ole Miss for law school, so if you’re wired a certain way, the perceived obstacles of trying to build a career in a place like Oxford, Mississippi, can be a huge draw. Those are the people I can relate to, so today we honor the lone wolves of Signing Day, the guys who made the weirdest decisions and what exactly may have been going through their minds other than “Hey, maybe I’ll make The Triangle.”
Brayden Scott, no. 33 QB, Tahlequah, Oklahoma
Other Offers: Arkansas, Tennessee, Texas Tech, Clemson, Arizona State
Certainly it wasn’t the draw of playing Big East football or in front of four-figure crowds, so we gotta dig deeper. I suppose even high school quarterbacks deal with insecurities, so you can manipulate an impressionable type by explaining that if he doesn’t want to be the greatest quarterback in Memphis Tigers history, then he doesn’t think he’s better than Danny Wimprine. Hell, maybe you bring Danny Wimprine himself to seal the deal. That’s the sort of thing that can really screw with an 18-year-old’s head.
Jamel James, no. 20 RB, Katy, Texas
College: Texas State
Other Offers: Florida State, LSU, Notre Dame, USC
The NFL is a copycat league, that much we can be sure of. So don’t be surprised if former Delaware quarterback Pat Devlin gets himself an absurd, Scott Mitchell-style contract on general principle. And don’t be surprised if that was the basis of the pitch to the highly sought-after back from Katy, Texas: If you want to be the next Alfred Morris, you gotta think like the Florida Atlantic grad and pick a school that sounds like it could’ve been the fictional campus where a 90s sports movie like The Program or Necessary Roughness could’ve taken place.
Victor Egu, no. 22 OLB, Concord, California
Other Offers: Oregon, Notre Dame, Boise State, Nebraska
Pretty easy pitch for an academically inclined linebacker in light of the NFL’s absurd flippancy toward concussions: In 10 years, do you want to be the guy getting the CT scan or the guy looking at them?
Paul James III, no. 15 LB, Miami, Florida
Other Offers: Florida State, Alabama, West Virginia, Miami (Fla.)
There were rumors Illinois was going to dump “over his head” coach Tim Beckman after only a year, so its success in convincing an 18-year-old to a) leave Florida, b) leave Miami c) leave Miami, Florida, for the Midwest and d) play football at Illinois, which isn’t in Chicago, by the way … well, that’s the sort of thing that has me convinced part of its settlement with Ron Zook was to retain a fraction of his Florida recruiting mojo. Never doubt the friendly ghost of Zook; that dude can close.
Ryan Santoso, no. 7 K, Pace, Florida
Other Offers: South Alabama
Now, I know what you’re thinking: Minnesota or the school that wasn’t included in NCAA Football 13 because they didn’t file the proper paperwork. This is clearly a toss-up. But I single out Santoso because he represents the biggest collective failure on behalf of BCS recruiting in 2013 — he’s a kicker who is 6-foot-5, 270 pounds and still has braces. Meaning that every time the Golden Gophers line up for a field goal, we have the potential for not only the beloved Fat Guy Touchdown, but the untapped potential of Fat Guy Fake Field Goal Touchdown. Meaning that every single Minnesota field goal attempt now requires a live, in-game update regardless of what is currently airing. Well done, Jerry Kill. Well done.