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Matt Luke, Ole Miss turn recruiting attention to strong 2019 in-state class

Matt Luke has had his eye on the 2019 recruiting cycle for a while.

Ole Miss wrapped up its crop of 2018 signees on Wednesday but added just one new player — Pearl athlete Tylan Knight — to the fold during the traditional signing period. Luke and his staff knocked out a majority of the class in December with 14 of the Rebels’ 21 signees inking during the early signing period, giving the Rebels’ coach a chance to start looking ahead to a crucial year on the recruiting trail starting in his own back yard.

“You start focusing on the 2019 class, which, in the state of Mississippi, is very good,” Luke said in December.

The Magnolia State is loaded with top 2019 prospects with 13 four- or five-star players and 10 of the nation’s top 200 recruits calling Mississippi home, according to 247Sports’ Composite ratings.

Ole Miss whiffed on many of the state’s more coveted recruits this year with the cloud of an NCAA investigation hovering over the program for the majority of the 2018 recruiting calendar, signing just one of Mississippi’s top 10 prospects and two of the top 20 in the 247Sports Composite. By comparison, Mississippi State inked five of the top 10 and nine of the top 20.

Pending an appeal, Ole Miss will serve another bowl ban next season as part of the final verdict handed down by the NCAA in early December, but the clarity has Ole Miss off to a faster start in next year’s recruiting cycle. All seven of the Rebels’ commitments for 2019 are from Mississippi, including Jackson Prep four-star running back Jerrion Ealy — the state’s No. 3 recruit.

“Our recruiting philosophy will always start in Mississippi,” Luke said. “That’s what we’re going to do, and there are several good players. I don’t know whether they’ll fill out the entire class, but there are several really, really good players in the ‘19 class.”

Of course, every recruiting cycle is about filling needs, which are still many for Ole Miss.

Rush specialist Marquis Haynes and Breeland Speaks are among four defensive linemen the Rebels lost off last year’s team, something Luke and his staff began addressing immediately by signing six defensive linemen this year. Ole Miss already has two defensive linemen in the fold for 2019 in Meridian three-star defensive end Jamond Gordon and Northwest Mississippi Community College’s Tariqious Tisdale, who originally signed with the Rebels in 2016 before going to junior college.

Offensive line may be the most pressing position for the Rebels from a depth standpoint. Ole Miss has signed just two linemen in each of its last two classes, though the Rebels are expected to add Cal graduate transfer Dwayne Wallace to this year’s class.

Luke said he expects to sign as many as five offensive linemen next year with tackle being the priority. The 6-foot-5, 330-pound Wallace would be a likely candidate to step in immediately for the departed Rod Taylor at right tackle but has just one year of eligibility remaining. The Rebels may also lose junior left tackle Greg Little, who’s widely projected to be a first-round pick in next year’s NFL Draft, a year early.

“Tackle will be a big area of need,” Luke said.

Another recruiting cycle also brings with it another search for impact linebackers, particularly with leading tackler DeMarquis Gates and Tayler Polk no longer around. Ole Miss has signed a combined nine linebackers in the last two recruiting cycles, but they still have to prove they can be productive at the SEC level.

The position may have Ole Miss’ No. 1 target for the 2019 class in Horn Lake five-star standout Nakobe Dean, the state’s top recruit and the nation’s No. 22 overall prospect in the 247Sports Composite. The Rebels are also targeting a pair of four-star linebackers in Starkville’s Zach Edwards and Donte Starks, who will play his senior season at Louisiana’s John Ehert High after transferring from Biloxi.