Newly hired Ole Miss football coach Hugh Freeze received the biggest boost to his 2012 recruiting class Thursday night when Aberdeen’s Channing Ward picked the Rebels.
The 6-foot-4, 255-pound Ward chose Ole Miss over offers from Mississippi State, Alabama, Auburn and LSU. Ward made his non-binding, verbal commitment during the second quarter of the annual Under Armour All-America Football Game played at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla., and broadcast live on ESPN.
Ward, considered a 5-star recruit by Scout.com and the No. 1 rated player in the state of Mississippi by Rivals.com, finished the 2011 season with 16 sacks and 117 tackles. Ward was also named the Mississippi Association of Coaches’ Defensive Player of the Year for Region 2-3A. Ward made seven tackles, with 3.5 going for a loss, and had two sacks in Thursday’s game.
Ward gives the Rebels and Freeze a prospect that can not only play defensive end next season but possibly some tackle in rush situations due to his size, strength and speed.
Ward, who was joined by his family on stage at the game to make his announcement, said he picked Ole Miss to play with his brother, Taurus, who is currently on the Rebels’ roster as a defensive tackle.
“It’s been difficult because you have players that are recruiting you that want you to come to your school. Then in you’ve got people in state that want to you to come and then you have people from where you’re from that want you to go to Mississippi State. It’s a hard decision,” Ward said prior to picking Ole Miss. “I felt like it’s close to home and I get to play with my brother.”
ESPN recruiting analyst Tom Luginbill, who was serving as the color analyst for the game and around the team’s practices all week, said Ward was a “huge piece to the puzzle” for Freeze’s first recruiting class.
“Whether he’s going to be a hybrid outside linebacker or defensive end or what have you, (Ward) has been a dominant force throughout the week (at practice),” Luginbill said. “He has been so active and that’s a huge building block for Hugh Freeze, the new coach at Ole Miss.”
A prep coach that is very familiar with Ward’s ability is Water Valley’s Brad Embry. Embry not only had to gameplan against Ward the past three seasons when his Blue Devils met the Bulldogs, but Embry got a chance to see a different side of Ward as an assistant on this year’s staff that coached Mississippi’s All-Stars in the annual Alabama-Mississippi All-Star Classic.
“He’s a physical specimen, there is no denying that. When you draw up a defensive end, he is what you draw up,” Embry said. “He’s got great speed, stance. He is strong at the point of attack.
“It was interesting spending a week around him. He was a fun guy to be around, a guy with a great attitude,” Embry added.
Embry thought Ward had the physical makeup to play as a true freshman, but added there is a difference in being in shape as a high school player and one that has to compete in the Southeastern Conference.
Ward is the 11th verbal commitment for the 2012 class and the third defensive line prospect. Ole Miss has already signed three junior college players, including two offensive linemen. National Signing Day, the first day high school prospects can sign with a school, is Feb. 1.
Miller coming back
Former Itawama AHS standout Maikhail Miller will be on next year’s roster at quarterback. Miller, who signed a LOI under former Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt in 2011, was grayshirted last year and did not practice with the team. The 6-3, 235-pound Miller threw for 1,636 yards and 14 touchdowns his senior year while also rushing for 1,148 ayrds and 22 touchdowns. (January 6, 2012, Page 6A)