The early signing period was a missed opportunity for Matt Luke and his staff. In a year in which it desperately needs reinforcements on the defensive side of the ball, Ole Miss watched not one, not two, but three blue-chip defenders who live within a 45-minute drive of Oxford sign with other SEC programs. Horn Lake’s Nakobe Dean and Raydarious Jones signed with Georgia and LSU, respectively, while Oxford native Brandon Turnage picked Alabama.
So after signing 14(!) offensive players in the early period, Luke is no doubt desperate to land defensive play makers on National Signing Day (February 6th). While most of the nation’s top talent has already signed, some big names are still out there.
Enter Lakia Henry, a four-star inside linebacker who decommitted from Tennessee last Saturday. Ranked the No. 1 JUCO inside linebacker and the nation’s No. 3 JUCO prospect overall, Henry already has an official visit to Oxford planned for January 26. He took an unofficial back on May 19th, the day before he committed to UT.
“If I had visited Ole Miss first, I probably would have committed to them,” Henry told Ole Miss Spirit’s David Johnson this week. “Ole Miss was fire. It was hot up there.”
”Ole Miss is telling me I’m still a need and that I’m still a big priority on their board, if I’m serious about them. I told them that I was. I’m still weighing out my best options. If that’s not Ole Miss, I’m sorry, but if it is Ole Miss, that’s going to be the next place I’m going.”
Henry told the Spirit that he has Ole Miss in his top three alongside Arkansas and Texas.
He was a tackling machine for Dodge City Community College in Kansas, wrapping a two-year career with 187 total tackles, 16 of which came behind the line. Henry would be an immediate play-maker at the second level with sideline-to-sideline speed and the ability to hold up in the trenches, stop the run and rush the quarterback.
That’d be a valuable skill set for new Ole Miss defensive coordinator Mike MacIntyre, who inherits a group that ranked 107th in defensive S&P+ this season. The Rebels finished among the bottom 20 in the nation in both yards per play and points per game. Nowhere was the lack of play makers more glaring than at linebacker.
Without athletes capable of reliably filling rush lanes and tagging along with backs and tight ends, Ole Miss was routinely eviscerated by the ground and midrange passing games. In Bill Connelly’s linebacker havoc rate, which measures the percentage of plays in which a linebacker recorded a tackle for loss, forced a fumble or defensed a pass, Ole Miss ranked 118th in the country.
MacIntyre and linebackers coach Jon Sumrall are certainly selling Henry on being the key piece in a defensive rebuild. Ole Miss signed JUCO All-American Sam Williams in the early signing period, but outside of him, the instant impact recruits on defense are scarce. Henry would be a guy that Sumrall and MacIntyre could plug into the middle of the defense as soon as he steps onto campus.
As of now, he only has the one official visit scheduled for Ole Miss, but with offers from notable programs like Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Florida State, Miami, South Carolina, Texas, and Texas A&M, that list could have a few additions soon.