The decommitment of four-star Starkville native Willie Gay on Monday was a staggering blow to a 2017 Ole Miss recruiting class already bloodied by what seems to be a never-ending NCAA investigation. The loss of Gay, who’d been pledged since June, leaves wideout D.D. Bowie as the only four-star in a class that’s tumbled all the way to No. 43 in the 247Sports national rankings. What really makes Gay’s decommitment sting, however, is the fact that he’s a linebacker, a position that’s been thinned to a critical level by years of recruiting misses.
The good news, of course, is that it is only October. Though the NCAA business and the staff’s historical struggles to recruit the position don’t imbue much confidence, there’s still plenty of time before National Signing Day for Hugh Freeze and his coaches to find themselves some linebackers. Here are a few prospects they’ll have their eyes on.
Four-star Nathan Proctor
No. 11 outside linebacker, No. 145 overall
The Maryland native has had an offer since his junior season, but Ole Miss—perhaps sensing Gay wriggling off the hook—has reportedly stepped up its recruitment in recent weeks.
"He's had a relationship with their coaches for a while now, but Coach Freeze has gotten really involved in the last month or so,” a Mid-Atlantic scout with knowledge of Proctor’s recruitment told The Ole Miss Spirit. “It's always a good thing when the head coach starts recruiting a player. You kind of know where you stand when that starts happening. It shows Nathan that they are really serious about him. It's genuine interest, and I think it's caught Nathan's attention."
An Under Armour All-American, Proctor holds offers from Cal, Florida, Georgia, Maryland (his current 247 Crystal Ball leader), Miami (Fla.), Notre Dame, Tennessee and Penn State.
Four-star Will Ignont
No. 9 inside linebacker, No. 206 overall
The Alabama product’s made three unofficials to Auburn over the last four months and is thought to be leaning towards the Tigers, but visited Oxford in June and told SEC Country last month that the Rebels had surged into his top four. The reason?
“Really them just sticking with me throughout the whole process because I’ve never really put Ole Miss in my top schools. Them sticking with me, having open arms, is really big for me.”
Four-star Kenney Britt
No. 15 outside linebacker, No. 324 overall
A native of Oxford, Ala., Britt will be in the other Oxford this weekend to watch Ole Miss take on Auburn. It’s a big opportunity for Freeze considering Gus Malzahn’s group is thought to be Britt’s current leader. Britt recently told AL.com that in addition to the Tigers and Rebels, he’s considering Florida, Georgia, LSU and Stanford.
An alum of Nike’s The Opening Finals, Britt is scheduled to play in this year’s Alabama-Mississippi All-Star Game.
Four-star Thomas Johnston
No. 23 outside linebacker, No. 368 overall
Johnston recently named Ole Miss among a top seven that also includes Arizona State, Arkansas, Iowa, LSU, Michigan State and Mississippi State. His only official visit has been to Fayetteville for the Ole Miss game, but he recently told Yancy Porter of the Ole Miss Spirit that he’s hoping to make it to Oxford this season. Though his 247 Crystal Ball suggests Auburn and Arkansas are the teams to beat, the Rebels’ need for immediate contributors works in their favor.
"Yes, they always let me know that there will be opportunities for me to come in and play as a true freshman,” Johnston told Porter. “Obviously that is something I want to do.”
Three-star Josh Clarke
No. 32 outside linebacker, No. 496 overall
Clarke’s been committed to Ole Miss since June and hasn’t shown any signs of wavering from that pledge. LSU could make a run at the New Orleans native, but the country’s No. 32 outside linebacker appears destined for Oxford. Through eight games, Josh has 94 tackles, six tackles for a loss, five sacks, an interception and three forced fumbles.
Three-star Monty Rice
No. 21 inside linebacker, No. 586 overall
Rice took an unofficial visit to Oxford for the Bama game, though Ole Miss has a lot of ground to make up on Georgia, Auburn and others. The Madison, Ala. native has 16 other Power 5 offers that include Alabama, Arkansas, Cal, Florida State, Louisville, Michigan and Tennessee. The James Clemens High product has 91 tackles through eight games this season.
And oh yea, Willie Gay.
Gay, who heaped praise on Jim Harbaugh after visiting his camp over the summer, recently named Michigan his No. 1 school. Still, it’s a long way to February, so lets not count the Rebels out just yet.
A 5-star defensive tackle said Ole Miss is ‘still in the picture’.
While we’re on the topic of defensive prospects, the nation’s No. 1 DT and No. 3 overall player Marvin Wilson recently told Scout’s Greg Powers that he’s still considering Ole Miss.
"Ole Miss is most definitely still in the picture for me," the Under Armour All-American confirmed. "That is a family environment and the coaching staff is one of the closest I have been around.”
The 6’4, 329-pounder is still a long shot, but there’s at least a chance.