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February 5, 2013
He went wire-to-wire as the nation's top prospect, but Robert Nkemdiche's long road to signing day was anything but predictable.
On Wednesday, the top player in the country will get top billing when he announces his college choice at 7:30 a.m. ET on national television. Nkemdiche's decision will be the first of many on National Signing Day, but his is likely to have the biggest impact.
If everything goes as expected, Nkemdiche will select Ole Miss. That's the school where his mother, Beverly, has wanted him to go all along and the school where his brother, Denzel Nkemdiche, earned All-SEC honors as a freshman linebacker last fall.
With the writing on the wall for an apparent Nkemdiche commitment, top prospects have lined up to join him in Oxford. The Rebels class boasts five-star wide receiver Laquon Treadwell, as well as four-star running backs Mark Dodson Jr. and Jordan Wilkins and four-star defensive end Elijah Daniel.
The only other school Nkemdiche is seriously considering is LSU. The Tigers have a winning tradition, an open spot on the depth chart and a history of producing NFL defensive linemen. So why isn't it a closer race? It's all about family.
Dating to 2011, the Nkemdiche brothers have made it clear that they want to play together. Following Loganville (Ga.) Grayson's 2011 state championship victory, Denzel even said it was a "done deal" that the two would play together in college.
[ Watch: National Signing Day Live! ]
Then in early September things began to change. Beverly Nkemdiche told ESPN The Magazine that her son had been "pressured" into committing to Clemson and that the decision wasn't final.
As his senior season moved along, it became more apparent that it wasn't a matter of if Nkemdiche would de-commit from Clemson but when. Finally, in mid-November, he reopened his recruitment, naming Clemson, Ole Miss, Alabama and Georgia as schools he would consider.
Following the de-commitment, he took multiple unofficial visits to Oxford, including one with family members, and his mother continued to openly campaign for the Rebels.
Nkemdiche's senior season ended in disappointment when his team failed to defend its state championship, and he continued to keep a low profile. It wasn't until he arrived in Orlando, Fla., for the Under Armour All-America Game that Nkemdiche started talking, and by that time he had two new schools he was considering.
While practicing in Orlando, Nkemdiche made fast friends with several players, including Florida commit Vernon Hargreaves III. The two bonded so quickly that it was enough for Nkemdiche to take his first official visit to Gainesville.
Despite the trip, the Gators never emerged as a threat for Nkemdiche. He followed with a trip to Ole Miss, along with several other key prospects in one of the biggest recruiting weekends for any school this cycle.
As usual, he was quiet, offering only a few select tweets to let fans know that he enjoyed his time in Oxford.
Then came this past weekend's trip to LSU. When he returned home, he tweeted that his decision was "getting hard now." The Tigers apparently made enough of an impression to at least make him weigh his options a little more before he announces.
Could he pull a shocker? With the way things have gone the last year, anything is possible. But if Ole Miss can hang out and land Nkemdiche, all the drama will have been worth it for Rebels fans.
As far as Nkemdiche, it's ultimately his choice -- but making Mom happy sure doesn't hurt, either.