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December 14, 2012
Already sitting underneath the Ole Miss Christmas tree is a big box, neatly wrapped with shiny blue paper and topped with a big red bow. Unfortunately, until the big day when it can be opened, Rebels commits Rashawn Smith and Derrick Jones can only hope they know what's inside.
They, like many in the Ole Miss family, are expecting it to be what's been underlined and circled first on the collective wish list of Rebels players, fans and coaches so far this football season; a commitment from the No. 1 player in the country, Robert Nkemdiche.
Like that new bike your parents couldn't hide, Nkemdiche's presumed commitment is the worst kept secret. Most figure Robert eventually will join his brother, Denzel, in Oxford, per his mother's wishes.
"I went over to his family's tent at the (Mississippi State) game, and they were all happy to be there," Smith said. "I talked with him when I was sitting down at the game, and he was showing a lot of excitement being there. He made himself at home, I know that much."
Jones was also in attendance at the Egg Bowl, and though Nkemdiche stopped short of telling him that he's definitely committing to Ole Miss, he didn't give much of an indication to the contrary.
"I talk to him every time that we go to the games, and I think that he's a pretty good guy," Jones said. "I just told him that his brother made the right decision, and he needs to come on over with us. He laughed and just shook his head like 'yeah'; he doesn't talk too much."
Should Nkemdiche make his next commitment to Ole Miss, he'll be just the sixth five-star player to do so since 2002. Currently, Memphis, Tenn., running back Mark Dodson Jr. and Jackson, Miss., quarterback Ryan Buchanan are the only players in the 2013 class committed to the Rebels and rated above three-stars.
Furthermore, adding Nkemdiche to Ole Miss' class would give it a significant bump up from No. 21 to No. 10 in the 2013 Rivals team rankings.
The cause-and-effect of having such a big name, with the talent to match, is not lost on Jones and Smith, who expect Nkemdiche's presence to make an impact on and off the field.
"If we collect those types of guys on a regular basis, there's no reason we shouldn't be playing for a BCS championship," Jones said. "(The coaches) are going to be straight up with you. They want you to work hard, and I know the guys they go after know they're going to work hard."
Case in point is Denzel Nkemdiche, who went from being an unrated recruit by Rivals.com while he was in high school to leading Ole Miss in total tackles (78) and tackles for loss (12) this season. He also tied for the team-lead in interceptions (3) and tied for second in sacks (3).
Jones, who is playing for Mississippi in this week's Alabama-Mississippi All-Star game in Montgomery, Ala., says that he's actively recruiting some of his fellow All-Stars -- many of whom are already committed to Mississippi State -- and a player such as Nkemdiche would undoubtedly help with that.
"I have been doing a lot of talking with guys, we sit in the room and we do a lot of talking about where we're going to college," he said. "Deon (Mix), Chris Jones, Antonio Conner, all these guys, I'm trying to get them on my team."
Meanwhile, Smith says he'll likely see most of his playing time at receiver for the Rebels, but also plays linebacker for Florence High School, and for the Alabama All-Stars.
That doesn't mean he hasn't thought about playing on the same side of the ball as Nkemdiche.
"I'd have a lot of confidence playing with him," he said. "I might just be a cleanup guy playing behind him, but I have a lot of confidence playing with him."
Smith said that Ole Miss coaches have openly talked about Nkemdiche's possible commitment when discussing the future of the program with him. Doing so doesn't seem so out of line, however, when he's among those that rushed the field following the Rebels' Egg Bowl win.
Like Jones and Smith, it's safe to assume that other Ole Miss recruits are picking up that blue box, giving it a shake, hoping that what's inside sounds like what they're all wishing for. Without having heard so much from the man, they're certainly optimistic about the chances of crossing off that underlined, circled present atop their list.
"I'd say it's 85 percent," Jones said of the likelihood of an Nkemdiche commitment.
Smith is just as upbeat that the Rebels won't open the box to find a lump of coal.
"All I know that they said his mom likes Ole Miss, and he brother plays down there already, so it's kind of a win-win situation," he said. "I'm almost sure that he'll go with Ole Miss."