OXFORD – (AP) Mississippi's celebrated freshman class won't be standing on the sidelines for long.
Second-year coach Hugh Freeze said the team's most highly rated recruits – like defensive end Robert Nkemdiche, receiver Laquon Treadwell and offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil – have played well during the first two weeks of preseason camp and will contribute immediately when the Rebels open the season against Vanderbilt on Aug. 29.
The trio of five-star prospects will be surrounded by other young faces. Freeze expects around 10 freshmen to make their debut against the Commodores.
Freeze said it's “certainly a challenge'' to make sure all the freshmen are ready to contribute. He said the coaching staff is trying to make sure it doesn't ask the young players to do too much.
“If a kid doesn't know what he's doing than he has very little chance for success,'' Freeze said. “And that's the last thing you want with young kids – that they don't have success because of something you haven't taught well enough. The challenge for our coaches is to make sure we're asking them to do things that they've comprehended.''
Ole Miss was the darling of college football's recruiting season by hauling in a consensus top 10 class in February. The 6-foot-4, 297-pound Nkemdiche was regarded by most recruiting analysts as the No. 1 overall recruit in the country while Treadwell and Tunsil were among the top-rated at their positions.
But ratings mean nothing now. Freeze is looking for results and has been pleased by the group's progress.
Ole Miss has not allowed any of the freshmen to speak with the media during preseason camp.
“It's still a little early, but I'm not disappointed at all,'' Freeze said. “The thing I'm most proud of and most excited about is even though a lot of them were very highly recruited and ranked, their attitude and work ethic – they're just like sponges. Sometimes you get kids from that type of recruitment and it might not be that way. But (our guys) want to work and want to get better. They're great kids.''
Nkemdiche has already moved up to the first team while the 6-foot-3, 215-pound Treadwell is poised to become one of the team's top receivers. The 6-foot-5, 332-pound Tunsil might not start immediately at left tackle, but has worked his way into the discussion.
Though Nkemdiche, Treadwell and Tunsil hog most of the headlines, the class also has depth. Lesser-known recruits like safety Tony Conner, defensive backs Derrick Jones and Bobby Hill, offensive lineman Austin Golson, running back Kalio Moore and receiver Quincy Adeboyejo could all have considerable roles this season.
Ole Miss linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche – Robert's brother – said there's been no animosity with the freshman class, even as some of them step over veterans on the depth chart.
“We trust the coaches to put the best guys on the field,'' Nkemdiche said. “If (playing freshmen) is what we have to do to win ballgames, then everyone on the squad is looking at the big picture and that's winning games.''
Denzel Nkemdiche received considerable playing time last season as a freshman and responded well, leading the Rebels with 82 tackles, including 13 for a loss.
He said this year's freshmen have the physical ability to play in the SEC, but must continue to absorb the playbook and understand the importance of learning each week's gameplan.
“You have to be ready to play on Saturdays,'' Nkemdiche said. “It's coming in, watching film, knowing your job and knowing (the other team's) tendencies.''
Wallace said he's enjoyed throwing to Treadwell, who has shown a knack for making tough catches in traffic. Wallace joked that Treadwell was a little winded sometimes because of the Mississippi heat, but that the Illinois native has started to acclimate.
He said the same could be said for the entire class.
“They're right where we thought they would be around this time,'' Wallace said.