Brassell improving, but still has work to do

OXFORD, Miss. -- Lost in all the success Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze had in his historic 2013 recruiting class was an older piece to the Rebels' puzzle that could be more valuable than some of those heralded freshmen.

Robert Nkemdiche, Laremy Tunsil and Laquon Treadwell might be the headliners of Freeze's class, but Nickolas Brassell might the immediate difference-maker the Rebels need in 2013.

He's been down this road before, being a two-way freshman standout for Ole Miss in 2011 before having to go the junior college route because of academic issues. But after getting his grades up during his year at East Mississippi Community College, Brassell returned to Oxford this spring with more dedication and a chance to be a real star for the Rebels at cornerback and in the return game.

In order to help the Rebels like he'd want to, Brassell has to continue to take care of things in the classroom this year.

"He's got a mountain to climb," coach Hugh Freeze said about Brassell's academic situation. "Hopefully he can get it done, because he can certainly make us a better defensive football team."

Freeze describes Brassell, who played more receiver than defensive back at East Mississippi, as a "lockdown corner." He has great size and speed, and strong field instincts. He's extremely athletic, and has the ability to cover a ton of ground in the defensive backfield.

Ole Miss returns some solid bodies in its secondary, but Brassell's talent and athleticism stand out above the rest. He's the kind of X-factor this defense, especially the secondary, needed last season, and Freeze thinks having someone like him on the field will take Ole Miss' defense to the next level because of his tremendous man-coverage ability.

"In this league, if you can do that and play 10 elsewhere, it's very beneficial," Freeze said.

"He's a game-changer. He really changes our team if he becomes eligible."

A playbook or schemes aren't likely to keep Brassell away from the field this fall. His biggest obstacle remains the classroom. He made vast improvement during his year away from Oxford, and that has Freeze otimistic, but he knows Brassell isn't out of the woods.

Freeze said he will find out more about Brassell's academic situation after the spring semester, but he'll still be monitored during the summer and intersessions.

"Right now, I'd say it's a mountain," Freeze said. "If he has a decent semester, it can come down to a hill."

If Brassell can continue to make strides academically, he could be a special player for the Rebels.