Ole Miss’ Robert Nkemdiche, right, a Grayson graduate executes a play during practice in Oxford, Miss., on August 4th, 2013. (Photo: Joshua McCoy)
It’s easy to forget the rest.
Following last year’s frenzy circling around the destination of the nation’s top football player out of Grayson, all other Gwinnett football players, before and contemporaries of Robert Nkemdiche, seemed irrelevant. The guessing game of where Robert would go was the No. 1 topic, at least in the football recruiting circles for the entirety of last football season and the days leading up to National Signing Day.
He made his announcement on national television, sliding on a hat and removing a jacket to show off suspenders. But he wasn’t the only person wearing the colors of the University of Mississippi or the suspenders. Standing next to Robert Nkemdiche was his brother Denzel, a factor in his college selection after a spending a season playing a big factor on Ole Miss’ defense.
But it’s wasn’t just the Nkemdiches making the trek from Gwinnett County across Alabama to Oxford, Miss., to play football for the Rebels. On last signing day alone, Robert Nkemdiche’s teammate David Kamara signed with the Rebels, as did junior college defensive lineman and former Meadowcreek and Brookwood football and basketball player Lavon Hooks. The trio joined Denzel Nkemdiche and the former Shiloh standout Cameron Whigham on the Rebels’ defense, giving the SEC West school a Georgia feel.
“I didn’t know (Whigham and Hooks) growing up, but it’s nice having Georgia boys around,” Denzel Nkemdiche said. “It makes it feel like family with everybody.”
Denzel Nkemdiche led the Rebels in tackles from his linebacker spot a season ago and Whigham started 11 of the team’s 13 games, making 11 tackles. With those two set in the lineup, or at least rotation, when Ole Miss announced its depth chart for tonight’s season opener at Vanderbilt the younger Nkemdiche and Hooks’ names showed up. Robert Nkemdiche will start at defensive end and Denzel at linebacker. Hooks and Whigham will rotate in on the defensive line. Only David Kamara, a defensive back, didn’t show up on the initial two-deep. But to hear Denzel talk of it, it’s more for size than preparation.
“They (Robert and Kamara) were prepared very well,” the undersized, overachieving Denzel Nkemdiche said. “The transition has been extremely smooth, picking up defenses and the mentality is there. Definitely the transition is great.”
For Robert, he moved into the starting lineup, something defensive coordinator Dave Womack told The Clarion Ledger became inevitable during fall camp.
“He’s so big and strong and fast that you can’t single block him,” Wommack told the newspaper. “It’s just not going to happen, I don’t care who we’re playing. He’s a massive individual that can create havoc.”
So are Whigham and Hooks, though not at the same level and certainly pomp, though Hooks was among the top JUCO defensive linemen in the nation a year ago after making 51 tackles and 9.5 sacks with Northeast Mississippi Community College.
“We are all coming from the same style of football,” Hooks said of the Gwinnett players. “I think Gwinnett’s got the best football in the country. All the coaches I played for in Gwinnett County they taught us what we needed to know. I was prepared, I felt like, I was really prepared for Division I.”
And though Whigham’s transition took time, the former General said it was a matter of mentally preparing properly.
“I had to get my mind right,” Whigham said. “I’m feeling a lot better coming into this season.”
The five players, at least early on, didn’t talk much about their high school days, but they know where they are from. And they know it helped them get here.
“It’s amazing,” Denzel Nkemdiche said. “It lets me know that there are great football players in Gwinnett County. We do get prepared.”