Ole Miss struck first, but Mississippi State got the last laugh.
The tug-of-war between Mississippi schools Wednesday was just one of several recruiting battles waged across the Southeastern Conference on national signing day. As the in-state rivals fought over local prospects, the rest of the league’s members attempted to flip recruits from their conference competition.
State, which saw a handful of targets flip to other schools, suffered a stinging loss before signing day even started. Four-star offensive tackle Scott Lashley, long considered to be a lean toward the Bulldogs, spurned his in-state school when he committed to Alabama on Tuesday.
Ole Miss dealt its in-state rival another blow Wednesday, plucking a coveted recruit right from State’s backyard when Starkville High receiver and four-star prospect AJ Brown signed with the Rebels.
State, however, soon struck back.
In one of the most surprising signings of the day, composite five-star defensive end Jeffrey Simmons inked with the Bulldogs despite late pushes from Ole Miss and Alabama. Long considered an Ole Miss lean, Simmons is the top-ranked player in the state and the No. 19 overall prospect, per 247Sports’ composite rankings.
Georgia scored a big flip earlier in the day, signing Alabama commitment Tyler Simmons. The speedy three-star receiver joined the first recruiting class for new Georgia coach Kirby Smart, who spent the past eight seasons as the Crimson Tide’s defensive coordinator. The Bulldogs also flipped three-star defensive end David Marshall away from Auburn.
Florida joined the flipping fun when three-star junior college cornerback Joseph Putu reneged on his pledge to Arkansas and signed with the Gators.
But Florida experienced the short end of a flip earlier in the day when four-star defensive tackle Shavar Manuel withdrew his commitment and pledged to Florida State.
Most recruits make their signing day announcements at their respective school, flanked by family and friends while seated before a row of hats representing the top contenders for their services.
Deontay Anderson jumped out of a plane.
In a special video announcement published by Bleacher Report the four-star safety selected Ole Miss from a host of other schools after skydiving. LSU was in the running for Anderson, rated the No. 2 safety nationally and the eighth-best prospect in Texas per 247Sports’ composite rankings.
The minute-and-a-half-long video featured Anderson free-falling through graphics of different schools’ logos, making for one of the most bizarre announcements to date. Once he successfully landed, the Manvel, Texas, native opened his skydiving suit to reveal an Ole Miss T-shirt underneath.
Auburn signee Nate Craig-Myers took a more subtle yet unusual approach to his announcement Wednesday. Instead of donning a cap, the composite four-star receiver pulled out a miniature statue of Aubie, the Tigers’ mascot, when he announced his intention to sign with the school.
Bielema causes stir
Arkansas coach Bret Bielema has been known to take direct shots opposing coaches. On signing day, he tried a different tactic.
During an interview with ESPN2 on Wednesday, Bielema made what many perceived to be a backhanded compliment aimed at a pair of SEC rivals.
“Florida is kind of the new Ole Miss,” Bielema said. “They’re doing some things recruiting that kind of shocks you a little bit.”
Bielema’s comment came less than a week after the NCAA charged the Rebels with multiple recruiting violations across three different sports. Former left tackle Laremy Tunsil was suspended seven games this season for receiving improper benefits, namely loaner vehicles from a local dealership.
Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze told Sports Illustrated that Bielema called him and apologized for the comment. Bielema later clarified that he intended to complement the Gators, and he said he called Freeze and Florida coach Jim McElwain to make his meaning clear to them.
“This past week, we were competing versus them for a lot of guys, and we hadn’t seen that before,” the Razorbacks coach said.
First-year coaches fare well
The three first-year SEC coaches got a late start in the recruiting cycle, but one did far better than his counterparts.
Georgia signed a consensus top-10 recruiting class just two months after the school introduced Smart as its new coach. Top-ranked athlete Mercole Hardman Jr. and five-star quarterback Jacob Eason headlined the class, and Smart managed to snare 13 in-state prospects.
South Carolina and Missouri didn’t haul in sparkling recruiting classes, but each school addressed positions of need.
Highly touted dual-threat quarterback Brandon McIlwain could challenge for a spot next season, and Gamecocks coach Will Muschamp shored up his offense by signing five receivers. He also scored Jamarcus King, the best cornerback in the country, according to 247Sports’ composite rankings.
After Missouri scored only 13.6 points per game last season, coach Barry Odom brought in a quality bunch of running backs and receivers. Junior college transfer running back Natereace Strong, a four-star prospect ranked second at his position by 247Sports, is the centerpiece of the class.
The SEC has a monopoly on the nation’s best offensive tackles.
For the sixth straight year, an SEC school signed the No. 1-ranked offensive tackle in the country. Ole Miss continued the trend when Greg Little, the No. 3 overall prospect in the nation per 247Sports’ composite rankings, signed with the Rebels on Wednesday.
Real deal for Georgia
Elijah Holyfield’s signing Wednesday morning might give Georgia a fighting chance in the SEC in the coming years.
The ESPN 300 running back, who stands at 5-foot-10, 204 pounds, is the son of boxing legend Evander Holyfield. The four-star prospect hails from Woodward Academy in Atlanta, where he earned Class 4A honorable mention as a senior.