Robert Nkemdiche is the most coveted prospect in the nation, but no one knows where he will end up
For the nation’s most-coveted football recruit, the question of where to matriculate may come down to whether blood is thicker than BCS bowl berths.
Will Robert Nkemdiche sign a National Letter of Intent with Mississippi, which has finished in the bottom half of the SEC West eight of the past eleven seasons but has a budding defensive star at linebacker in his older brother, redshirt sophomore Denzel Nkemdiche? Or will he sign with Florida, where he plans to take an official visit — his first — this weekend? Or Georgia or LSU, all of which are top-tier SEC schools?
Who knows? Perhaps not even Nkemdiche, who less than two weeks ago told a reporter from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that Ole Miss and LSU were the only schools to which he planned to make official visits. Earlier this week Nkemdiche’s coach at Logansville (Ga.) Grayson High School, Mickey Conn, confirmed that Nkemdiche is planning to take his first official visit this weekend at neither of the two aforementioned schools, but rather Florida.
Nkemdiche, the son of Nigerian parents, is the top-rated high school recruit in the nation by both Rivals.com and Scout.com. At a precociously chiseled six-foot-five, 260 pounds, Nkemdiche plays defensive end, which you know, if you have watched football of late (or read or saw The Blind Side), is the sport’s most vital position outside of quarterback.
Since November Nkemdiche has been verbally committed to Mississippi. If you are unfamiliar with Nkemdiche’s story, his choice of Ole Miss may seem curious. The Rebels play in the Southeastern Conference, specifically the West division. The SEC West has produced, via three of its six institutions (Alabama, Auburn and LSU) five of the past six national champions. Ole Miss, on the other hand, has finished in the bottom half of that six-team division eight of the past 11 seasons.
The school has wonderful traditions (The Grove, Hotty Toddy, etc.) and has even gained fame in recent years through the Oscar-nominated film The Blind Side: Michael Oher, the subject of the book and movie, attended Ole Miss while his high school coach, Hugh Freeze, has since advanced to become the school’s head coach.
Oher’s odyssey (and Freeze’s, as well) is proof that truth is stranger than fiction, and the same can be said for Robert Nkemdiche. Two years ago Mississippi took a chance on his older but smaller brother, Denzel, a five-foot-eleven player who seemed too slow to play defensive back and too small to play linebacker. Last season, however, as a redshirt freshman, Denzel burst from anonymity to a spot on the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) Freshman All-America Team. As a redshirt freshman he led the Rebels in tackles (82) and tackles for loss (13.0) while intercepting three passes in his inaugural season of SEC play. And, honestly, that would be more than a satisfactory freshman season for Robert next year wherever he winds up.
“Yes, it would be real hard for me not to go to Ole Miss,” Nkemdiche told a reporter from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on January 3. “That’s a family thing. It would be real hard for me not to do that, real hard.”
In fact, one of the reasons that Nkemdiche has not taken, to this point, any of his five allotted official visits (most seniors, especially those rated in the top 100, take at least two in the fall) is that he seemed so entrenched at Ole Miss. By some accounts Nkemdiche, whose father is a medical doctor in the Atlanta area, made eight unofficial visits to the Oxford campus since last summer. And why not? Denzel is a student there.
An official visit, by the way, is one in which the school pays for a prospect’s travel expenses and hosts the student. On an unofficial visit, a prospect visits at his own expense but may be given up to three tickets to attend a game. Prospects are allowed a maximum of five official visits and an unlimited amount of unofficial visits.
So how come Nkemdiche may be headed to Gainesville this weekend, while his brother is the leader of the defensive unit he would be joining at Ole Miss? His best friend, David Kamara, by the way, is a high school teammate, a cornerback, who also has verbally committed to Ole Miss.
Two weekends ago Nkemdiche played at the Under Armour High School All-America Game in Orlando, Fla., and became friendly with Vernon Hargreaves III, the top-rated high school cornerback in the country. Hargreaves is headed to Florida.
The Gators, in fact, now have the nation’s No. 1 overall recruiting class, according to Rivals.com, with the addition of outside linebacker Alex Anzalone. A four-star recruit from Pennsylvania, Anzalone originally made a verbal commitment to Ohio State, then last summer changed his pledge to Notre Dame. Then last week the Fighting Irish were clobbered in the national championship game by Alabama and coach Brian Kelly interviewed with the Philadelphia Eagles. Two days later Anzalone decommitted from Notre Dame and has enrolled early at Florida.
Anzalone, for what it is worth, also participated in the Under Armour game with Nkemdiche and Hargreaves.
If Florida already has the nation’s No. 1 rated recruiting class (and granted, that is more alchemy than science) before Nkemdiche commits, imagine how compelling it would be if he were to sign with the Gators also. And imagine how enticing that thought just might be to Robert Nkemdiche.
Mississippi? Blood. Florida? A larger stage and a greater opportunity to play in a BCS bowl, maybe even THE BCS bowl. Those are likely the options Robert Nkemdiche is considering as he plans to make his first official visit this weekend.
Then again, if Nkemdiche’s recruitment has taught us anything, it is that nobody really knows. Including, as often as not, the recruit himself.
Author: John Walters