When the in-state Florida Gators offered Preston Cushman two weeks ago, a few days after working out for Dan Mullen's staff, the summer riser may have been pegged to end up in Gainesville at the next level by many.
But he'll play elsewhere in the SEC, instead, for Lane Kiffin and the Ole Miss Rebels. The Clearwater (Fla.) Calvary Christian offensive lineman, who racked up two dozen scholarship offers heading into his senior season, picked the program over Florida, Georgia Tech, Cincinnati and others on Saturday afternoon.
"The number one reason, for me, was really the relationship with the O-line coaches," Cushman told Brian Smith. "But not only the O-line coach (Jake Thornton), but the GA (Austin Shepherd), offensive analyst Phil Loadholt, too. All three of those guys really created a great relationship and and I feel like it's the best fit for me."
The 6'5", 275-pound prospect was on campus to get a closer look at the Rebels in mid June, just as the open period was ramping up. The first impression was a memorable one well beyond the football facilities.
"What really stood out about the Ole Miss visit was the town of Oxford," he said. "If football got taken away from me, God forbid, Oxford would be a place I would love to live. It's a college town. I know the town is centered on Ole Miss and Ole Miss sports, just the whole town is for Ole Miss and holds the spirit of the school."
There is a different buzz around Rebel football heading into the 2021 season. The recruiting class is heating up, too -- most of which reflects back to the head coach.
Cushman and Kiffin have been in consistent communication for some time.
"We sat down for a 30-minute meeting and we've been texting back and forth for a while," he said. "I know he's in the Bahamas fishing right now and the internet is spotty (laughing).
"But we're both excited for what's to come."
There may have been some fate at play before the relationship between player and coach would have the chance to blossom.
Thornton was assisted in identifying the Floridian in the first place.
"Coach Thornton came to Ole Miss about two weeks before he started recruiting me, from Gardner Webb," Cushman said. "The tight end coach from Gardner Webb ended up sending my film to Coach Thornton because he was at a Mercer camp that I was at. Then we connected on Twitter, got him my videos, and it started from there."
The possibilities are multiple for one of the more versatile offensive line talents in Florida when it comes to a position projection under Kiffin.
The newest pledge has played up and down the line and is open to a new role if need be.
"I think right now it's for a tackle position, but we'll see where my body grows into," he said. "Really just how much weight I put on and what my movement is like at that point. Right now it's tackle but I've played all five positions in high school. I've played center, guard and tackle. But mainly tackle with my athleticism.
"Ole Miss wants me to gain weight, build muscle and be able to get my body in shape for SEC football. I've got to keep grinding."
The SEC West program is up to eight verbal commitments in the class of 2022, with Cushman representing the program's first pledge from a Floridian in the cycle. It's also the second pledge in as many days, following the verbal commitment of former Mississippi State commitment Jacarius Clayton on Friday.