Special to the DM
National Signing Day is something of a holiday for the Oxford community. The Ole Miss Athletic Department and local businesses are gearing up to celebrate the newest members of Ole Miss football.
According to offensive lineman Jordan Sims, current players and coaches gather alongside Ole Miss boosters and alumni in the Indoor Practice Facility together to watch players sign and commit on a big screen.
“We don’t really get nervous,” Sims said. “It’s more of an anxious feeling because of course there are guys that we want, and then there are the guys that come here who may not be heavily recruited but turn out to work hard and be great players.”
The most important work of signing day happens before Feb. 1 arrives.
Last weekend, Ole Miss hosted potential players for its annual recruiting event, a final attempt by the coaching staff and athletic department to convince recruits to sign with the university.
Due to the pending NCAA investigation involving allegations of illegal payment to players, the Rebels are not expected to draw a recruiting class as successful as in years past. The controversy put much more emphasis on the final recruiting weekend.
Ole Miss football manager Austin Jones spent the weekend courting potential recruits for the 2017 season.
“This past weekend, we set up lockers for the recruits and provided them with Ole Miss jerseys, pants, helmets, cleats, gloves, sweatbands that they were able to try on and take pictures in alongside coach Freeze,” Jones said. “This was a great last push for the team before signing day.”
Top recruits Larrell Murchison and Rashaad Toler tweeted positive reactions about their experiences over the weekend.
Murchison has also received offers from the University of Texas and the University of Georgia. According to Red Cup Rebellion, Murchison felt relieved from his initial concerns over the NCAA investigation after his official visit this past weekend. Murchison will announce his decision on signing day via Twitter.
For Antonio Morales, who covers Ole Miss sports for the Clarion Ledger, signing day is one of the busiest days of the year.
Morales has been preparing for Feb. 1 for months by keeping up to date with information surrounding potential recruits and talking to them frequently about their upcoming decision.
“It’s a lot to keep track of,” Morales said. “Especially when you’re dealing with 18-year-olds who can change their mind pretty fast.”
From the perspective of someone closely following Ole Miss football, Morales has a unique outlook on the implications of the NCAA’s investigation.
“I’m not expecting anything surprising in the next few days,” Morales said. “The class has been hampered by the cloud of the NCAA’s investigation into the football program, so it won’t be as highly ranked as the past few classes.”
Ole Miss football player Chadwick Lamar, positioned at long snapper, says the team is still excited about signing day even with the controversial allegations surrounding the team.
“It doesn’t matter what media says. It’s always good to add new guys to contribute and play,” Lamar said. “We’re about to add some good players that we need to win.”
Freeze will have a press conference at 2 p.m. Wednesday to discuss this year’s class, followed by the fifth annual Signing Day Reception to be held in the Manning Center from 5 to 7 p.m. Standing-room-only tickets can be purchased for $25.
According to the Ole Miss Athletic Department, fans can receive real-time alerts throughout the day Wednesday.
Last year, Ole Miss received a lot of national attention for its 2016 recruiting class.
PHOTO VIA TWITTER
For those not involved in official signing day events on campus, restaurants and bars like the Rib Cage have options for watching signing day.
The Rib Cage has hosted signing day events for 10 years. The Rib Cage owner Buck Walden said the restaurant’s doors will open at 8 a.m. on Wednesday, compared to its usual 10 a.m. opening time.
Signing day activities will be broadcasted through a live radio show hosted by local station WQLJ. Every time a new recruit is announced, the player’s name will be put on a white board for guests to reference.
“We usually double a normal day’s business on signing day,” Walden said. “Hopefully, this year will be even better than usual, and people will stick around after the basketball game, too.”
This article was a special to The Daily Mississippian from an advanced reporting class.
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