OXFORD, Miss. (WTVA/Ole Miss Athletics) – Ole Miss head coach Matt Luke welcomed seven student-athletes on Wednesday to bring the 2018 recruiting class to 22 players.
Luke’s first recruiting class ranked 27th in the nation by Rivals and 30th by 247Sports.
“We were able to address our needs at every position,” Luke said. “A lot of credit goes out to our staff and what they are able to do, not only capitalizing on the momentum of the Egg Bowl and the early signing period, but also addressing some needs in this.
“Anytime you start where we started and end up around the Top 25 in the recruiting rankings, it’s just a credit to the staff and the job they’re able to do.”
On the offensive side of the football, the Rebels reeled in four-star wide receiver Miles Battle out of Houston Texas, and Mississippi 6A Player of the Year, Tylan Knight.
Battle joins a deeply talented receiving corps and Knight may be the most intriguing prospect of the day due to his ability to play on either side of the football. Knight was the MVP of the Mississippi-Alabama All-Star Game in December.
“We’ve talked about him at nickel, at returner, at running back, at slot,” Luke said. “I think he’s very, very versatile, but for his size, he is really physical, and that’s what you saw in the Miss-Al game. You saw it in the Mississippi state championship… so the kid can play. We have him on the bus, now we just have to find him the right seat.”
Knight possesses a lot of speed and will likely make Ole Miss more dynamic on special teams next fall along with slot receiver Elijah Moore who signed in December. Luke called Knight the steal of the 2018 class.
“Just a little bit different style of athlete than we’ve had in the past,” Luke said. “I think they will add a dimension to us in the return game, potentially some speed sweeps, some screens, just to let them get the ball in the open field, and obviously the return game is now a chance for a big play and not just a fair catch all the time.”
The Rebels also added another offensive lineman on Wednesday in Atlanta product Hamilton Hall. On the offensive side, the Rebels added two more linebackers in Luke Knox - the brother of Ole Miss tight end Dawson Knox - and Kevontae’ Ruggs out of Montgomery, Alabama. Arizona Western Junior College transfer defensive tackle Noah Jefferson rounds out the seven that signed with the Rebels Wednesday and is seen as a guy that can come in and contribute immediately on the interior defensive line.
The 22-man class contains a variety of different pieces with 11 front-seven defensive players. Ole Miss signed five interior defensive linemen in this class and one defensive end, all of whom are pushing the 300-pound mark or are well over it. The Rebels undoubtedly got bigger on the interior defensive line.
“Just my overall viewpoint is to win in this league you have to run the ball and you have to stop the run,” Luke said. “You see it on the offensive and defensive line in this class with bigger guys, so that’s a big point of emphasis for us moving forward into the spring is stopping the run and running the ball, so that’s why you see some of the size the way you do.”
Luke noted that Cunningham will likely start off on the offensive side of the football due to the need to replace Rod Taylor and Daronte Bouldin, but did not rule out the 6-foot-6, 345-pound Cunningham getting snaps on the defensive line at some point.
Five linebackers signed in this class, which Luke said was Ole Miss’ important position to address. Coffeyville Community College transfer Vernon Dasher will likely have an opportunity to compete for playing time at linebacker immediately as will a couple of other guys.
"It was much documented that we needed some help at linebacker, and we’re able to get some length and some size at linebacker,” Luke said. “We have three 6’4” plus linebackers, and I thought that was huge to get some size and some guys who could grow in the big, SEC linebacker.”
Even with a defensive-heavy class, Ole Miss was still able to replenish its skill positions by signing All-American quarterback Matt Corral, and four-star receivers DeMarcus Gregory, Battle and Moore. The Rebels also got the number one junior college running back in the country in Scottie Phillips. Luke made it pretty clear Phillips has a chance to shoulder an important role with the departure of Jordan Wilkins.
“I think anytime you look at it, the one who jumps to my mind is Scottie Phillips,” Luke said. “Just because of having to replace Jordan Wilkins, Scottie is the one that jumps to my mind, and that was a big need for us.”
Six of the 22 signees are enrolled in school and will go through spring practice. The Rebels begin spring ball on February 27.