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Following his de-commitment from Clemson, speculation has surrounded Robert Nkemdiche and the next steps in the process for the potential class-changer.
After his game Friday night, the guarded, No. 1 overall prospect told The Atlanta Journal Constitution that he needed to take time to himself and that his focus was on finishing his high school season -- a season which could result in a repeat Georgia state title and Top 10 ranking in the RivalsHigh 100.
"I am not worried about any colleges right now," Nkemdiche told the newspaper. "I am just worried about Grayson football."
His comments on the situation were a surprise to many, including his position coach Lenny Gregory, who said in an email to Rivals.com that he did not expect Nkemdiche to address the de-commitment.
"Robert does not want to talk about his college decisions until his senior season is complete," Gregory said. "Robert will take his five official visits and will make a decision after visiting the five schools he decides to visit."
While the sound of silence was expected from Nkemdiche, it did not leave others in the recruiting world at a loss for words.
One team in particular feels like it has the inside track for landing his signature come National Signing Day: Ole Miss.
RebelGrove.com editor Chase Parham estimates Ole Miss as a 90-percent leader for Nkemdiche.
"Looking at it objectively, it's hard to make a case for another school," he said.
"The pretty much unanimous thought around Mississippi is that Clemson is not much of a factor moving forward, and Ole Miss has a significant lead."
The main reason Ole Miss is feeling so confident -- and has all along -- is the preference of Beverley Nkemdiche, Robert's mother, to have her sons play on the same team.
The family matriarch is the daughter of a former Nigerian supreme court justice and since 2011 she has held a seat as a state legislator in the African country. With an office an Awka, the capital of Anambra State, she returns to the Atlanta area multiple times a year to be with her family.
Beverly Nkemdiche has not been shy about expressing her feelings about having Robert playing at the same college as his older brother, Denzel, since the beginning of the recruiting process. It has added fuel to her fire to have seen her older son having a stellar season as a redshirt freshman for the Rebels.
In an interview with Rivals.com last week, Beverly said that the actual school the boys are at is immaterial to her so long as the pair is together.
"They would do well together," she told Neal McCready of the Rivals.com Ole Miss website. "They would build a stronger defense for whatever school they were in, and right now, Denzel is at Ole Miss. If Denzel were to be at Clemson, for example, Ole Miss wouldn't be in the picture for me. If Denzel were to be at Notre Dame, Ole Miss wouldn't be in the picture. I wouldn't be talking about Ole Miss. I would be talking about wanting my boys to be together, even if it were in Alaska."
While Beverly has been outspoken, Robert took the opportunity to say that the decision to de-commit was his own and not that of his mother.
"People think it's my family or my mom doing everything, but no -- it's me," he told the AJC. "I'm still making the decision on my own. My mom didn't make me de-commit. I de-committed. People are always saying 'His mom did this.' But no, it's me (making the decisions)."
Beverly and Robert are in Oxford this weekend watching the Rebels play Vanderbilt. With a win, Ole Miss would be bowl eligibile.
The frequency of the trips to the school combined with a stunning turnaround season only adds to the confidence for Ole Miss.
"Saturday will mark the fourth Ole Miss game Robert has attended this season, and while he's obviously seeing his brother, most -- if not all -- are recruiting trips, as well," Parham said.
"After a 2-10 season, it was important for the Rebels to show Nkemdiche that they are improving on the field and winning more games, and Ole Miss has done that."
Even with a near completely stacked deck in favor of Ole Miss, there are other schools that feel there is an opportunity to have Nkemdiche become part of their signing class.
Ryan Bartow covers Clemson recruiting for TigerIllustrated.com and he believes despite everything that has happened, this is not a closed case.
"Clemson is still very much in it," Bartow said. "I think his heart is in Clemson. With his friend Nick Schussler already being here and David Kamara and Wayne Gallman being committed, he wants to be with his friends, I think, moreso than he wants to be with his brother.
"Obviously this has turned into a family situation being driven by his mother, but I don't think that puts Clemson out of the running at all."
Bartow estimated that Clemson has about a 33-percent chance of securing Nkemdiche.
Nkemdiche confirmed that Clemson is not out of the mix for his services.
The 6-foot-5 defensive lineman has said all along that playing college football with his friends -- Kamara, Gallman, and Ryan Carter -- has long been a dream for him.
"We all are really tight. Me and Ryan have been friends since sixth grade," Nkemdiche said. "We all need each other and we want to go to the same school."
Parham said that while those friendships may play a factor that Robert has made friends at Ole Miss that go beyond his brother.
"While everybody focuses on his relationship with Denzel, Robert has also built relationships with Rebel players Channing Ward and Chief Brown, among others," he said. "There are a lot of ties for Ole Miss, and it goes deeper than simply his brother."
Without factoring in friends and family, there are still two dark-horse teams in the race for Nkemdiche with SEC Division leaders Alabama and Georgia.
Alabama has hosted Nkemdiche on several unofficial visits and has an ace in the hole, as Beverly Nkemdiche has said that the school was her personal favorite.
Andrew Bone covers Alabama recruiting for TideSports.com and believes that if Alabama can get Robert to take an official, it could make a significant move.
"Right now I have them at about 15-percent chance to landing him," Bone said. "All of that goes way up if they can convince him to get on campus for an official."
A strong relationship between defensive coordinator Kirby Smart and the Nkemdiche family plays in the favor of the Crimson Tide.
Beverly Nkemdiche has said that her favorite two college coaches are Smart and Ole Miss co-defensive coordinator Wesley McGriff.
Smart has not stopped recruiting Robert, even with his prior commitment to Clemson.
"I know that Alabama has continued to recruit Robert and I know that Kirby Smart has been a major factor in the process," Bone said. "Obviously his mother wanting the two brothers to play together is going to be tough to overcome but I think Alabama can still land him."
Rivals.com national analyst Mike Farrell thinks that in-state school Georgia is a school that belongs on the short list of possibilities.
"It is small, no doubt, but I think they are still a factor," he said. "I would say that Ole Miss has a sizeable lead over everyone but I would have Georgia a little higher with Alabama and then Clemson moving further down."
Further speculation has surrounded if, when, and what teams would be on the list for the five official visits that Nkemdiche is allowed per NCAA rules. He said that he is not sure five will be needed.
"I'm not sure I will take all five visits," he told the AJC, "but my decision will probably come out sometime in January. Or whenever I feel like I am ready, I'll commit."
Whenever those visits occur and whichever school is able to secure the commitment of Robert and the approval of Beverly, Farrell said can be a swing to the national recruiting scene.
"If he does end up at Ole Miss, then what becomes really important is when he announces his choice," Farrell said. "If he commits sooner rather than later I think he could really impact this class, guys like Montravius Adams and Laquon Treadwell have been looking into Ole Miss and these top guys do want to go play with other top guys. If he waits and commits late or on Signing Day then this is likely something that will benefit whatever team next recruiting class."
According to the AJC, Nkemdiche will be committing later rather than sooner.
"I still got to think about things," Nkemdiche said. "I've got to sit back, pray to God, and just see what I'm feeling."
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