Ole Miss latched onto Matt Luke’s Mississippi ties when he was elevated to the top job in July 2017 following Hugh Freeze’s resignation, but there’s still work to be done for the Rebels on the recruiting trail.

The school doubled down on that Magnolia State connection when the Gulfport native was given the job on a permanent basis on Nov. 27, buying billboards around the state that feature his image and claim “MISSISSIPPI MADE.”

There’s no reason to question Luke’s credentials in that regard. He is the pride of Gulfport High. He played center at Ole Miss from 1995-98. His brother, Tom, played quarterback for the Rebels from 1989-91 and his father, Tommy, was a defensive back for the Rebels in the 60s.

However, the first recruiting class of Luke’s tenure as head coach was far from loaded with Mississippi talent. Ole Miss signed six players who are products of Mississippi high schools in the class of 2018 – a number that lags well behind the state’s other two FBS programs.

Mississippi State led the way with 13 players who hail from Mississippi high schools and Southern Miss checked in at 11.

This is nothing new to the state’s followers of college football. Mississippi State has done a better job in recent years of mining the state’s high schools for talent.

With Vicksburg native Jay Hopson entering his third year as the USM head coach, the school has done a better job of recruiting his home state.

Freeze’s last two recruiting classes at Ole Miss both featured six Mississippi prep products also, but you expected more out of Luke.

Rare Coast commit

If Harrison Central junior offensive lineman Bryce Ramsey follows through with his verbal pledge and becomes a member of Rebels’ Class of 2019, he will be the first player from the state’s southernmost six counties to sign with Ole Miss since Pascagoula’s Senquez Golson in 2011.

Ole Miss has also handed out offers to South Mississippi standouts like Gulfport junior linebacker Derick Hall, George County sophomore defensive lineman McKinnley Jackson and St. Martin junior offensive lineman Brandon Cunningham (a Miami commit).

In what was somewhat of a down year for recruiting talent in South Mississippi, East Central tight end Brad Cumbest became the lone SEC signee from South Mississippi for the Class of 2018 when he signed with Mississippi State in December.

Top programs should find South Mississippi much more productive over the next two seasons with players like Hall and Jackson on the way up.

Progress made

Luke noted in December that he expected the next group of signees to have more of an in-state emphasis.

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

It’s a long way between now and the early signing period in December, but it appears that Luke and company have made major progress when it comes to in-state recruiting. Six of the Rebels’ nine verbal pledges hail from Mississippi high schools. The other three played their high school ball elsewhere, but are enrolled at Mississippi junior colleges.

It will be a challenge for Luke and his staff to keep his current commits on board, considering the program continues to face a postseason ban for the 2018 season and a potentially difficult road ahead in the SEC West. Ole Miss receivers coach Jacob Peeler is regarded as a top notch-recruiter and he has improved the Rebels’ efforts in his home state of Mississippi.

At this rate, Ole Miss should easily surge ahead of past recruiting efforts in the Magnolia State. We won’t see the final product until February of 2019.

Patrick Magee: 228-896-2333@Patrick_Magee