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2013 FOOTBALL PREVIEW - 1
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MEDIA DAYS... >>>>>>>>> Freeze on how the Egg Bowl and Compass Bowl wins helped with recruiting... “No question it helped. The momentum that was created around our place from winning the Egg Bowl and the bowl game was huge. One of the recruits, Robert Nkemdiche, we talked about all year long, he wanted to see that. When that came true, he felt like he was coming with us, that helped. He carried a lot of weight and a lot of ears of recruits. There’s no question the momentum that was created at the end of the year was greatly beneficial to us in recruiting.” Photo by Greg Pevey, RebelNation™ Magazine
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quarterbacks...they’re what’s for dinner. REBELNATION MAGAZINE - 5
THE PRIDE OF THE SOUTH... >>>>>>>>> The University of Mississippi Marching Band has given outstanding performances in concert and in support of Ole Miss athletic events since it was organized in 1928. In addition to performing at all home football games and many away games, the marching band has attended numerous bowl games. The Rebel Band has performed numerous times on Regional and National Television and has officially represented the University of Mississippi at Gubernatorial and Presidential Inaugurations. Photo by Greg Pevey, RebelNationâ„˘ Magazine
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Volume 1, Issue 2 September/October 2013 Published by Pevey Publishing, LLC Publishers Greg Pevey, Publisher Mendy Pevey, Chief Financial Officer Editors Anita Beth Adams, Jake Adams Featured Columnists Jake Adams, Steven Godfrey, Scott Jackson, Bob Lynch Contributing Writers Jake Adams, Seph Anderson, John Davis, Steven Godfrey Contributing Photographers Ole Miss Communications and Media Relations, New York Giants, Greg Pevey, and members of Rebel Nation Advertising Sales Greg Pevey firstname.lastname@example.org Jake Adams email@example.com Photo by Greg Pevey, RebelNation™ Magazine
Rebel Nation Magazine™ is published bi-monthly by Pevey Publishing, LLC to promote the athletic programs, fans and businesses affiliated with the University of Mississippi in an informative and entertaining manner. Contributions of articles and photos are welcome. All submissions are subject to editing and availability of space. Rebel Nation Magazine™ is not responsible for the return or loss of, or for any damage or any other injury to, unsolicited manuscripts, unsolicited artwork or any other unsolicited materials. Photographs, comments, questions, subscription requests and ad placement inquiries are invited! Return envelopes and postage must accompany all labeled materials submitted if a return is requested. No portion of this publication may be reproduced without written permission of the publisher. The opinions expressed in Rebel Nation Magazine™ are those of the authors or columnists and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher, nor do they constitute an endorsement of products or services herein. We reserve the right to refuse any advertisement. Pevey Publishing, LLC is not affiliated with any institution, college, university, or other academic or athletic organization. Subscriptions are $24 (1 year, 6 issues) or $40 (2 years - 12 issues). Make checks payable to Rebel Nation Magazine™ and mail to: 405 Knights Cove West, Brandon, MS 39047 or subscribe online at www.rebelnationmagazine.com.com.
SEPTEMBER/ OCTOBER 2013 COMMENTARY 12 JAKE ADAMS The best is yet to come 13 BOB LYNCH The “Nkemdiche Effect”
Pevey Publishing, LLC Rebel Nation Magazine™ 405 Knights Cove West • Brandon, MS 39047 Phone: 601-503-7205 • Fax: 601-992-2885 email: firstname.lastname@example.org www.rebelnationmagazine.com
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29 SCOTT JACKSON The Scent of Football: Tips for making the perfect cocktail in the Grove 56 STEVEN GODFREY Winning the Egg Bowl isn’t everything
IT’S FEEDING TIME FEATURES 16 Where Are They Now? J.R. Ambrose
30 John H. Vaught The man who put Ole Miss football on the map
18 A Lesson in LandSharking Jerrell Powe shows us how it’s done
34 21 The Making of a Tradition “Are You Ready?” A look behind the scenes of Ole Miss’ JUMBO- sized pregame tradtion 22 State of the Program A Q&A with Rebel A.D. Ross Bjork 26 Get Grove Ready Our Guide to Groving
The Recipe for SEC Greatness Charting the path to the top tier of the greatest confer- ence in football
38 COVER STORY: Eli Manning
Eli talks Ole Miss, the Giants and college football
44 Offensive Spotlight: Donte Moncrief 46 Defensive Spotlight: Mike Marry 48 Coach’s Corner: Tom & Matt Luke 54 FLASHBACK: Dexter’s Big Day
WHAT’S NEXT... NOVEMBER/DECEMBER: REBEL HOOPS, THE EGG BOWL, AND MORE
Ole Miss basketball is relevant again with the help of Marshall Henderson. We also remember some of the best Egg Bowl games in Ole Miss history.
To Contact REBELNATION™ > LETTERS, STORY IDEAS AND PHOTO SUBMISSIONS • Email RebelNation™ Magazine at email@example.com or mail to RebelNation™ Magazine, 405 Knights Cove West, Brandon, Mississippi 39047. Letters should include writer’s full name, address and telephone number and may be edited for clarity and space.
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TO SUBMIT PHOTOS: Rebel fans, this page is for you! Submit your “FinsUp” photos to be published in each issue of RebelNation™ Magazine. Put your photos on our Facebook page (facebook.com/ omrebelnation) or email them directly to greg@ omrebelnation.com. Please include the names of those featured in the photo, location taken and hometown.
From Machu Picchu
From Starkville 10 - REBELNATION MAGAZINE
Marc and Pepper Boutwell in Port Sulphur, LA
Presley and Kelsey, Brookhaven
From Mt. Rushmore
From San Francisco
From the Rebelettes
From Destin, FL
From Wrigley Field
From the beach, Destin, FL.
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Follow Jake Adams on Twitter® @omrebelnation
The Best is Yet to Come
or the first time in my lifetime (that’s nearly 40 years in case you’re wondering), Ole Miss football appears to have its greatest years ahead of it instead of behind. Let me tell you why. First, by God’s sovereign, merciful grace the Ole Miss administration in 1932 had the good sense to leave the Southern Conference along with Alabama, Auburn, Georgia, LSU, Mississippi State, Tennessee and Vanderbilt, and a few other less fortunate schools who didn’t have the foresight to stick around (Tulane, Georgia Tech and Sewanee – What were y’all thinking?). Those 13 schools formed what is now the Southeastern Conference (the “SEC”). Today, the SEC is without question the preeminent conference in college football, having won the last seven BCS Championships. While Ole Miss hasn’t yet tasted the modernday success of LSU, Alabama, Auburn and Florida, the school will benefit from being in the same conference as those behemoths this season and in the future like never before. Thanks to CBS, ESPN and the millions of us who live for Saturday afternoons of gridiron glory, the likes of which is unmatched by any other conference, Ole Miss is a nationally recognized name brand football program. Glancing down a schedule already bookended by ESPN flagship network games against Vanderbilt and Mississippi State, it’s easy to predict that Alabama, Texas A&M and LSU will also most likely be carried nationally 12 - REBELNATION MAGAZINE
by ESPN, ESPN2 or CBS. Auburn, Arkansas and Missouri are likely SEC Network games that will be carried regionally, but if the Rebels or any of those three teams are playing exceptionally well don’t be surprised if those games are bumped up to one of the ESPN networks. At season’s end Ole Miss will have played at least half its games in front of a national audience. That exposure will only improve a year from now when ESPN’s SEC Network is officially launched. Thanks to the SEC and its television contracts it’s safe to say that Ole Miss is on nearly equal footing with the most dominant SEC schools in terms of exposure. That means Ole Miss has the same opportunity to sell itself to the hearts and minds of elite college athletes as any other football program in the country, and those of us familiar with Ole Miss know that when all else is equal Ole Miss has plenty to sell. And then there’s the revenue. Ole Miss may not make enough money to get ahead of the Jones’, but thanks to those television contracts the Rebels can keep up like never before. Sure Alabama, Florida and Georgia have some over-the-top facilities and gigantic football stadiums, but eventually a locker room is a locker room is a locker room. It’s a place you take showers and change clothes. Ole Miss may not ever be on equal revenue footing with the heavyweights, but thanks to those television dollars the Rebels are close enough that they can sway recruits with the intangibles of Oxford’s charm, the Grove’s pageantry and the undeniable football craziness of Ole Miss fans. And then there’s Ross Bjork. In Bjork the Rebels have a young, ambitious, no-nonsense athletics director who understands the bottom line – winning – and how it runs congruent with the bank account’s bottom line. Bjork may have inherited Hugh Freeze, but the two have a great relationship. Bjork seems to understand it’s his job to enable Freeze to win and then get out of the way to let Freeze do the rest. Enabling Freeze to win includes keeping coaches finan-
cially happy, raising the money for enhancements in the facilities like the IPF and locker room upgrade that is currently finishing up, and realizing the goals on the giant Forward Together project that includes renovating and expanding Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. And then of course there’s what early indicators suggest is the most important piece of all - Hugh Freeze. The unparalleled television exposure, astronomical income and the modern administration all converge at a time when Ole Miss has something it hasn’t possessed – perhaps ever – a football coach with a dynamic offense, personality and ability to recruit. In Freeze the Rebels may finally have the piece that will tip college football’s scales in their favor. Perhaps it’s early to make such a bold prediction, but judging by the last 12 months alone Freeze is like a David Cutcliffe who can recruit, or an Ed Orgeron who can coach. Take your pick. Except Freeze actually won seven games with a group of kids that the year before had finished 2-10 and set a record for consecutive conference losses – Cutcliffe never did that. And except that in his first full year of recruiting, Freeze signed the best class in Ole Miss history – surpassing any recruiting ranking achieved under Coach O. Regardless of comparisons with the past, it’s undeniable that Freeze is a unique personality with a charisma that assistant coaches, players and recruits love. Even better than that he’s a native of North Mississippi and spent a good portion of his coaching career in Memphis, which would seem to indicate that Freeze meant it when he said Ole Miss is the only place he aspires to coach in his introductory speech. There’s at least the possibility that Freeze isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Of course time goes on and things change, but if Freeze does stay at Ole Miss and he keeps the Rebels on the current upward trajectory on the recruiting trail and on the playing field then the stars may finally be aligned for us to say - for the first time in my lifetime – that Ole Miss’ best years are yet to come. - RN
Follow Bob Lynch on Twitter® @RedCupRebellion
RED SOLO CUP
“The Nkemdiche Effect”
he state of the Ole Miss football program is unquestionably far better than what it was just one year ago. Recovering from a 2-10 season and under the leadership of an enthusiastic but relatively inexperienced head football coach, it was clear to most Rebel fans that 2012 would be yet another year to regroup, rebuild, and hopefully reestablish some legitimacy in the brutal SEC Western Division. Expectations were low, and with that came infighting, insecurity, and perilously low levels of fan enthusiasm. Today, however, the football program is viewed as one that is legitimately on the rise in the college football landscape. Fans and pundits alike praise Coach Hugh Freeze and his staff for their collective coaching acumen and leadership abilities. To boot, the coaching staff capitalized off of the program’s return to bowl contention by signing a top-10 recruiting class in its first full-year recruiting cycle. Fan support is growing tremendously, and with that comes dollars spent on season tickets, merchandise, and capital campaign contributions. And with this surprisingly quick turnaround comes a sharp increase in media exposure, arguably the most powerful catalyst in the sustained success of a college football program. To whom does the credit for this reversal in fortune belong? Of course, no man is an island. Coaches, players, administrators, and fans all contribute to the successes of a college football team. But so much of what has
happened to Ole Miss football over the last year can be attributed to the presence of a tenacious yet undersized linebacker, this staff ’s ability to turn him into an all-SEC caliber performer, and the Ole Miss fans’ eagerness to embrace a budding superstar on an improving SEC football squad. When Denzel Nkemdiche signed to play for Ole Miss out of Loganville, Georgia’s Grayson High School, I remember being fairly impressed with his high school highlight tape. He played defensive back and played the position well. He tackled both hard and fundamentally sound, demonstrated a high football IQ, and had enough athleticism to dominate at that level of the game. Still, what I saw was a guy who was not fast or rangy enough to play cornerback and too small to play safety or linebacker in the SEC. If anything, I thought I saw a guy who could provide much needed depth on the defensive side of the ball and contribute right away as an invaluable special teams player. Houston Nutt and his staff, it seems, agreed with me. Nkemdiche, in spite of choosing Ole Miss for the prospect of early playing time, did not fit into Tyrone Nix’s defense and was redshirted. The Nutt administration took a nosedive shortly thereafter, and Denzel Nkemdiche is rumored to have considered transferring. Enter Hugh Freeze and his defensive coordinator Dave Wommack, who both found the 200-pound defender to be ideal for their scheme’s linebacker unit. As a redshirt freshman, Nkemdiche played in all 13 games for the 2012-13 season. He led the team with 82 tackles, and tallied three sacks, three interceptions, and a fumble recovery en route to second team All-SEC and freshman All-American honors. His meteoric rise to stardom, as well as the Rebels’ quick turnaround under coach Hugh Freeze, contributed tremendously to the program’s ability to sign his younger brother Robert, the consensus top high school football player in the country as a pass rushing defensive end, as a part of the 2013 freshman class. This, in turn, paid tremendous
additional dividends in the 2013 class, and continues to do the same for the 2014 class. Robert Nkemdiche’s class is undoubtedly one of the most talented groups of football players to ever sign with Ole Miss, and is definitely the single most talented in the “modern era” of 365-day-a-year online recruiting coverage. Joining Nkemdiche are players such as South Panola’s Tony Conner, a standout safety and one of the top players in Mississippi; Crete, Illinois’ Laquon Treadwell, the nation’s top receiver prospect; and Lake City, Florida’s Laremy Tunsil, the country’s top high school offensive tackle. The quality of athletes the Rebels signed mirrors that of the signing classes of Alabama, Florida, and LSU - and indeed, many of the players Ole Miss signed could have easily accepted scholarship offers to the aforementioned schools, among a host of others. So why, you may ask, did they choose Ole Miss? If they had numerous options available to them, why would they choose a program still recovering from the fallout of the Houston Nutt era? A program whose fan base routinely falls prone to infighting and bickering over trivial matters? A program that does not have the stadium or gameday experience of the bigger, more successful schools against which it competes? We could look at the aesthetics of the Ole Miss campus, the safety and welcoming environment of Oxford, the enthusiasm of the student body and alumni for Rebel football, The Grove, and all of the other things Ole Miss is renowned for. Or one could argue that the Indoor Practice Facility and FedEx Academic Support Center can and do rival similar facilities across the country. And with new dorms and academic buildings popping up seemingly annually on the Ole Miss campus, it’s easy to suggest that Rebel athletes are as well taken care of as any. Coach Hugh Freeze and his staff are also tremendous assets to their own recruiting efforts. They’re likeable coaches who have See Nkemdiche – Page 50 REBELNATION MAGAZINE - 13
“Derby Day” Donors Do Make a Difference By Susan Ates, Mississippi Blood Services Public Relations Specialist
he 2013 Boston Marathon ended in a different race: one to save lives. Many of the participants finished their run not at the Finish Line but at the nearby blood center where they donated blood. That is inspiring. So is the fact that the Boston Blood Donation Center had to turn away donors because so many Bostonians were willing to roll up their sleeves and donate blood. However, they were not the ones whose blood saved lives that day. Flash back to the annual Derby Days Blood Drive at the University of Mississippi. What do the Ole Miss Derby Days have in common with the Boston Marathon? This year it was the students who took the time to donate blood, making it available for patients during a crisis marathon runners and fans never expected. Abby Posey, Anna Liddy, William Hays, Ann Stringer and Laken Hamilton all donated during the Ole Miss Derby Days Blood Drive Promotion during the week of April 1. Because of a senseless act of violence, their blood was needed in Boston. “Anything we do can impact people’s lives,” Abby Posey, a junior from Philadelphia, Miss., said. Posey had donated the year before at the annual Derby Days blood drive. She already knew that donating blood was a good thing to do; however, learning that her unit of blood went to help Boston put the experience in a new perspective. “You don’t realize what donating blood means until you learn about it first hand—that it does save lives.” “I’m glad [to know] my blood went to good use,” Anna Liddy, a junior from Holly Springs, Miss., said. Liddy has been a blood donor since her junior year in high school, but this is the first time she’s seen the impact of donating. “I’m glad I was able to help [the people in Boston]. I encourage others to donate because you never know when something like this will
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RebelNation™ Magazine has teamed up with Mississippi Blood Services to help promote Derby Days. Each Ole Miss fan who donates blood will receive a “FinsUp™ Donate Blood” T-shirt.
“What I did took 30 minutes and actually went to save somebody’s life,” William Hayes, a freshman from Memphis, Tenn., said. This was his first time to donate blood. To others who can donate blood he adds: “Absolutely give because you don’t know whose life you’ll save.”
happen and you need more [blood] than you expected.” “What I did took 30 minutes and actually went to save somebody’s life,” William Hayes, a sophomore from Memphis, Tenn., said. This was his first time to donate blood. To others who can donate blood he adds: “Absolutely give because you don’t know whose life you’ll save.” “I really appreciate [knowing] where my blood went, especially something as critical and tragic as that,” Ann Stringer, an Ole Miss student from Flowood, said. Donating blood during the time of a crisis is a positive thing people can do; however, the blood that is needed then is the blood that was donated before the explosion went off, before the storm hit, before the world was rocked on its heels. The people who save lives are the ones who take a few minutes of their time between classes, after work or while running errands to roll up their sleeves and donate. The Ole Miss Derby Days ran from April 1 through April 5 where those five units of O negative blood were drawn. (O negative blood is the universal blood type, anyone can receive it, which is why it is used in any situation dealing with massive trauma.) The Boston Marathon ran on April 15 and the bombing took place at 1:49 p.m. Eastern time that day. When the call came in, Mississippi Blood Services shipped out those five units of O negative blood at 4 p.m. Central time. There wasn’t time to schedule an emergency blood drive, draw the units, process them and then ship them out. The heroes of the Boston Marathon were the first responders, the medical teams that worked to save lives, the law enforcement officials who restored order, the men and women who comforted the injured and helped one another. And they were the blood donors who donated before the crisis—like the students at the University of Mississippi who donated their time and blood because it was the right thing to do. Something in the back of their minds said “someone is counting on you to donate” and they heeded that little voice. No one knows what tomorrow holds. Taking the time to donate blood today will ensure that whatever it is, blood will be available for those who need it. Every day there are people who face their own personal crises: victims of trauma and illnesses. Every day there is a race to save lives—calamities where seconds count. Blood donors make a difference before tragedy strikes. Just ask the students who donated blood at the Ole Miss Derby Days Blood Drive. - RN
DRESSCODE Here are your official gameday colors for the 2013 Rebel Football season. Make sure to get your RebelNation™ FinsUp™ Red and Blue gameday t-shirts at www.omrebelnation.com.
AUGUST 29 AT VANDERBILT WEAR RED
SEPT. 7 SE MISSOURI WEAR RED
SEPT. 14 AT TEXAS WEAR RED
SEPT. 28 AT ALABAMA WEAR BLUE
OCTOBER 5 AT AUBURN WEAR RED
OCTOBER 12 TEXAS A&M WEAR BLUE
OCTOBER 19 LSU WEAR RED
OCTOBER 26 IDAHO WEAR BLUE
NOVEMBER 9 ARKANSAS WEAR BLUE
NOVEMBER 16 TROY WEAR BLUE
NOVEMBER 23 MISSOURI WEAR RED
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WHERE ARE THEY NOW?
Photo Courtesy Ole Miss Athletics
Game Changer How Rebel great J.R. Ambrose learned to deal with a life without football BY JAKE ADAMS
e’s known as Ambrose or ‘Bro at the Rankin County Juvenile Detention Center. Asking the front desk for J.R. will get you quizzical looks. “Who?” the secretary asked. This was the second time since I’d entered the building that I’d had to repeat the name J.R. Ambrose to my greeter for the name to register. “J.R. Ambrose,” I repeated, emphasizing the Ambrose. “Ooooh… Ambrose,” the secretary replied. She spoke a code into her intercom and told
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me to take a seat. A few minutes later a six-foot-one, wellbuilt man with a shaved head and solid “don’t mess with me” arms walked into the room. He filled out a black knit sheriff ’s deputy shirt like a marine drill sergeant. I knew his name was J.R. Ambrose because I’d met him one time before, but I was baffled how nobody else in the building knew him as such. “Around here I’m just Ambrose,” he explained. J.R. Ambrose was the greatest wide receiver of my youth. When I caught passes from my dad in the front yard he was John Elway and
I was J.R. Ambrose. And yes, I realize they never played for the same football team, but that should be enough to tell you the esteem in which I held Ambrose as a 10-year old. “He was the Donte Moncrief of his day,” longtime sports columnist and current Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame Executive Director Rick Cleveland said. “Ambrose was a big play threat. He got double-covered a lot. He was a force to be reckoned with.” In an Ole Miss career that spanned from 1984 to 1987 Ambrose caught 118 passes for 2012 yards. He still sits 5th all time for career receiving yards behind receivers like Shay Hodge, Chris Collins and Grant Heard, receivers who played for teams that slung the ball around more than Ambrose’s head coach Billy Brewer would have ever thought prudent. “We were about trying to control the foot-
Photo Courtesy J.R. Ambrose
Photo by Greg Pevey
ball,” Brewer said. “We did a lot more running than throwing, but J.R. was just such a game changer. He had speed, quickness and athletic ability. If you ever got the ball to J.R. there was a threat he would do something with it. Sometimes even J.R. didn’t know how he did the things he did because it just came so natural to him.” Ambrose was highly recruited from his Monroe, Louisiana, high school. West Virginia, LSU and Tulane were among the schools that wanted him, but Ambrose was familiar with the staff at Louisiana
Tech, then coached by Billy Brewer, because it was close to home. A year after Brewer took the job at Ole Miss, Ambrose followed. His first two catches as a Rebel were touchdown passes from Kent Austin against LSU his freshman year. He caught a 77-yard score in the 1st quarter and a 38-yarder in the 4th. Ambrose’s eyes light up as he talks about it. “I loved playing against LSU,” he said. A brilliant SEC career over which Ambrose caught 13 touchdowns ensued. Ole Miss was a 4-win team Ambrose’s freshman and sophomore year, but things changed for the better in 1986 when Brewer led the Rebels to his second Independence Bowl as Ole Miss head coach. Ambrose led a team that finished 8-3-1 in receiving (578 yards and 2 touchdowns) and All-Purpose Yards (95.7 per game). The highlight of that 1986 season was the 21-19 upset of then No. 12 LSU in Tiger Stadium on a game-ending missed field goal by LSU kicker David Browndyke. Ambrose scored one of Ole Miss’ touchdowns that day on a 23-yard run up the sideline on an option play, and he was as nervous as anyone in Rebel Nation when Browndyke attempted the potential gamewinning field goal. “I had my head turned,” Ambrose said in an old game article from Clarion Ledger writer Butch Jones. “I hate this kind of game. Too much pressure for me. I had my head turned and went by the team’s and crowd reaction. When they started jumping up and down, I started jumping up and down.” That’s the J.R. Ambrose I remembered. I figured just about anybody else in Mississippi remembered him the same way, but a lot changes after a football career ends. Ambrose’s Ole Miss career ended with an injured ankle after his foot got hung in the Tennessee artificial turf in 1987. He was later drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs, but ended up signing with Green Bay. He only lasted one season. “My ankle was still messed up,” Ambrose said. “It was never 100 percent. It felt more like 40 percent. My 4.3 40 turned into a 4.8 and I couldn’t cut like I was used to. It messed me up.” After one season Ambrose returned to Monroe and tried to learn how to deal with a life without football. “It really is depressing to lose football. I mean depressing,” he said. “You lose all your friends, lose everybody that was on your side and they all kind of fade away from you. I went through a depressed stage for about a good 14 - 15 years and people didn’t really know how bad I was feeling. I knew I should have been playing ball and I went through years of hurting and I cut a lot of people loose. I guess I was just kind of mad at the world.” Crushed dreams are a struggle that every man faces at one time in his life or another, but for a star college football player who loses his physical giftedness to injury those crashing dreams can shatter worse than some others. Ambrose had to learn to deal with his loss. Ambrose eventually decided he needed to get out of Monroe and move on with his life, so he started work with the Mississippi Department of Corrections in 1992, but he continued to battle depression in a life without football. Watching NFL games only led to the inescapable thought that he should be out there on that field. It hurt. But time has a way of healing wounds. In 1998 Ambrose had a son, and suddenly his life started to make more sense. The void left by football was filled. “I wouldn’t change what happened to me back then now for the whole world,” Ambrose said with an uncontrollable smile. “I love my boy to death. I wouldn’t trade my boy for the world. I mean for the WORLD. Even if you offered me a trillion dollars I wouldn’t take it to go back and leave my boy. I couldn’t do it.” His name is Johnny Ray Ambrose, II. He is 15 now, loves and plays football and he appreciates his dad’s accomplishments at Ole Miss the See Ambrose – Page 50 REBELNATION MAGAZINE - 17
FinsUp, with Jerrell Powe A former Ole Miss great talks LandShark and life in the NFL BY JAKE ADAMS
RebelNation™ Magazine Photos Courtesy Jerrell Powe
errell Powe was one of the top nose tackles to ever play at Ole Miss. Not only that, but Powe was also in on the beginning of the phenomenon Ole Miss fans now call the “Landshark.” Now entering his 2nd season with the NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs, Powe returns to Oxford frequently during the off-season and remains a fan favorite. With the “Fins Up” movement taking off like it has we thought it would be fun to catch up with Powe and talk Ole Miss, Landsharks and the NFL. RN: You went through some really tough times to become eligible to play at Ole Miss. Now that you’re a few years into your NFL career, how do you look back on that experience? JP: It was a tough process, and there were a lot of obstacles to overcome. But I committed to play at Ole Miss, and that was what was going to happen. The most rewarding things come after the hardest work, and that’s definitely true. But, looking back, the whole situation should never have happened. I should have worked harder in high school, but then it ended up going way beyond that with other people getting involved. I’ve been blessed, though. Everyone has to deal with troubles in life, and those just happened to be mine. Compared to so many others, I had it easy, and I am thankful for that. RN: How does the NFL compare to the SEC from your perspective? JP: I have to brag on the SEC. You can’t look far in the NFL without finding SEC players, and we lead the League and the Draft just about every year. But college and the NFL are really different. In a lot of ways, college 18 - REBELNATION MAGAZINE
(Above) Powe was never afraid to throw up the “FinsUp” after a big play for the LandShark Defense. (Right) Former teammate Tony Fien.
football is harder. Not only do college players have to perform on the field, they have to go to class, maintain a certain GPA, go to study hall, and deal with all the pressures of being a player. It is not easy, and it takes all your time. Being in the NFL is a job. It’s very demanding and takes all of your time as well, but it’s a one-track thing. In college you’re having to walk across campus all day to do your duties, but in the NFL, your meetings and training are all in one spot. In that way, it can be a better system. If you treat it like a job, you can succeed. RN: Do you remember the first time you did the Landshark? JP: Of course, very well. Let me tell you the story. My sophomore year, 2008, I was backing up Peria Jerry at noseguard, and Tony Fein was backing up Jonathan Cornell at middle linebacker. But our defense was really competitive at that time. Tony and I pushed
hard for playing time, and we wanted to go up against the first string defense all the time. Tony and I were hanging out in one of our apartments after pre-season practice one day, and we were talking about fighting to play more. We decided we needed to come up with a celebration for when we got the tackles. Just joking around, Tony threw up the fin on his head and said that was what he was go-
LANDSHARK The Official
O f f i c i a l ly E n d O r s E d
J E R R E L L P OW E in honor of
Fingers Together Thumb In #FinsUp
Donâ€™t do this. T h e La n d s h a r k : A n O l e M i s s O r i g i n a l O f t e n I m i ta t e d , N eve r D u p l i c a t e d #FinsUp
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ing to do when he got tackles. We didn’t have a name for it, and we were laughing talking about doing that. It was about showing that we were there and ready to play. We probably gave Coach Nix a pretty hard time about how hungry we were to play, and the fin during practice made our defense that much hungrier. Then, I remember it clearly the first time the fin came out on the field. It was 2008 against Vanderbilt. Vandy had a running back named Jared Hawkins. They had been bragging on him calling him “a bowling ball with butcher knives.” Coach put me in, and we got to Hawkins. TFL. Right then, I threw up the fin; that was the first time it ever got used on field. In that picture, I’m looking over at the sidelines staring right at our guys. The crew in that picture was there to destroy. You can see Tony, Greg [Hardy], me, and Johnny Brown. The team struggled that year, but that Egg Bowl was the beginning of the feast. We didn’t have a name for it then, but pretty soon the fans came up with Landshark. We loved it. Mississippi State didn’t love it, but we did. 45-0 will do that to you.
As for the players, I always try to give encouraging words to those guys and hopefully give them some useful advice on how to succeed in college. Every player wants to go pro, but you’ve got to prove yourself in college before you even think about that. Be the best at your position on your team first, then maybe the conference… one day at a time. I’m also glad to see Coach Wommack’s defense lighting a fire. I’ve known Denzel, and I’ve gotten to meet him and Robert together. These tight groups are important for four strong quarters.
RN: What did you think about Marshall Henderson doing the Landshark during basketball season last year? JP: It was great! Murphy Holloway used to do it too, but to see such a high profile player like Marshall doing it was great. The Landshark is just becoming a fan symbol of unity at Ole Miss, and that’s what we love. The basketball team giving a tribute to the football team shows that all the players want to win. Then, seeing Charles Barkley and David Robinson doing it was perfect.
RN: Kansas City has struggled in the last few years. What do you think will be different next year?
RN: Give us your guide to proper Landshark technique. JP: Thumb in, fingers together, but I’m not going to come down on anyone for having their own style. RN: How often do you come back to Oxford? JP: If I come to Mississippi, I come to Oxford. All the people who supported me all those years are really important to me, and, with the new culture building around here, I don’t miss it. I try to end up in Oxford at least two or three times a year. RN: What’s your relationship like with Coach Freeze and the current staff and players? JP: Great! Coach Freeze, Maurice [Harris], Barney [Farrar], Coach Nix… all those guys 20 - REBELNATION MAGAZINE
“We didn’t have a name for it then, but pretty soon the fans came up with Landshark. We loved it. Mississippi State didn’t love it, but we did. 45-0 will do that to you.” are great, and we always talk when I’m in town. Coach Freeze always showers me with love, and they are all so positive, laughing and smiling. We had a few years where things weren’t so good, and it’s exciting to see the change and think about the future. I remember a couple of years ago even some Ole Miss fans making fun of me for speaking up, but you can’t mind those people. They were just confused, but we’ve got it together now.
JP: If you think about it, Kansas City isn’t that different than Ole Miss. Coming off a 2-14 season puts you in a position where the players give up, or they buy in. Coach Reid has the players bought in. We were one of the only teams in the NFL where all the players showed up for OTA [Offseason Training Activities]. The thing is that our team is young and hungry, very close knit. This is a bunch of unselfish guys under a new staff. Remember that Kansas City has four Ole Miss players on its roster: me, Dexter, Kendrick [Lewis], and AJ Hawkins. If you’re an Ole Miss fan, you should support us! RN: What are your next plans? JP: Play. Our whole team struggled, and so no one has had a great time. But I’ve worked every day this summer getting better. Twohour training sessions multiple times per day with Bus’s [Cook] trainer. We have a new Dline coach with a new formation, and I haven’t stopped working to be a leader there. - RN
Are You Ready? A look behind the scenes of Ole Miss’ JUMBO-sized pregame tradition BY CHUCK STINSON Contributing Writer
hile the Grove ranks as the tradition at Ole Miss, there is a new tradition that has quickly become a fan favorite. The celebrity “Hotty Toddy” intro that is played on the video board prior to every home game is all the talk during the pregame festivities in the Grove with fans wondering, “Who will it be?” And ironically it was an Ole Miss legend that got the tradition started. “I think it was 1997 maybe, and we were getting ready to play LSU and Connie Braseth, who is our marketing coordinator, thought it would be great to get coach Johnny Vaught to do our school cheer over the Jumbotron because it was going to be the most people in Mississippi to ever see a game on campus”, says J Stern, Assistant Athletic Director for Ole Miss Sports Production. Thus a tradition was born. Fast forward 16 years later and it is almost as highly anticipated as kickoff in Vaught-Hemmingway Stadium on game day. “When we did our first in game experience survey it was the top rated item out of 60 different ones. People just love it,” says Michael Thompson who is the Senior Associate Athletic Director at Ole Miss and in charge of Marketing and Communications. The ‘cheerleaders’ have ranged from ‘A’ list stars like actors Russell Crowe and Dennis Quaid, to rapper Snoop Dogg and Playboy’s Hugh Hefner. Of course there are favorite Rebels and former Ole Miss greats, as well as Mississippians like Morgan Freeman and Kermit the Frog. Then there are the obscure ones like the cast of the cult television series “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.” Regardless, fans love them no matter who they are since they are pumping up their team just before game time. So how do they get the stars to participate, especially if they don’t have a connection to Ole Miss football or the University? They make phone calls and lots of them.
The celebrity-led “Are You Ready?” is one of the highlights of every Ole Miss home game. The cheer has been led by notable stars such as hip-hop artist “Snoop Dogg”, NFL Pro Bowler Patrick Willis, actor Russell Crowe and even Mississippi’s favorite amphibian “Kermit the Frog.” Comedian Betty White leads the cheer in this photo from 2012. Photo by Greg Pevey RebelNation™ Magazine
“We just started making phone calls and knowing people that know people that know people helped. It’s kind of gotten to be a big deal.” Stern has been in on the recruiting end of it from the time the idea was born. “It was a hit. So, Connie and I just started racking our brains to see who we could get. We just started making phone calls and knowing people that know people that know people helped. It’s kind of gotten to be a big deal.” As a recruiting tool the staff has put together a reel of the stars that have participated in the tradition in hopes of swaying others in the future. Because the Rebel marketing staff roots out the stars through their connections, all those that have done it have done so free of charge. And the best way to get them is just like everything else, it’s all in who you know. “If you ask the star or at least someone close to them
to look at the demo (reel), they will do it in a heartbeat. A case in point is with Jack Black, his agent turned us down for two years. A friend of mine was a cameraman in Atlanta and was shooting something with Jack and asked him if he would mind and Jack did it.” So is there a wish list? Stern says of course. The top of that list would be Will Ferrell and Cheri Oteri reprising their roles as the cheerleaders from Saturday Night Live but Ferrell could be a tough get. “Ferrell is a Southern Cal fan and a huge supporter and I’ve not had a whole lot of luck,“ says Stern. A few years back Tiger Woods, who had a connection to the school through a professional relationship, turned down his chance to do it and wrote Stern a nice letter explaining his reason for not participating. He is a Stanford fan and stands by his team. So who is on the agenda for 2013? That, like all the others before, is a secret guarded to the best of the Ole Miss marketing staffs ability so Rebel fans will just have to see for themselves first hand when kickoff comes around in the fall. - RN REBELNATION MAGAZINE - 21
STATE OF THE PROGRAM
Ross Bjork: The Man with the Plan With a successful first year behind him, Ole Miss A.D. Ross Bjork looks to the future BY JAKE ADAMS
oss Bjork took over as the Ole Miss athletics director on March 12, 2012. In his first full academic year on the job he presided over a football program that earned an improbable bowl berth, a basketball team that won an SEC Tournament Championship and ended the SEC’s longest NCAA Tournament drought and a baseball program that made another NCAA Regional. Additionally Bjork instituted both short-term and long-term facilities projects and has been hard at work raising the funding necessary for the new basketball arena and the renovation and expansion of Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. We caught up with Bjork to talk about his first full year on the job and his goals and expectations for Ole Miss athletics in the future.
RN: After one full year on the job what are your goals for the Ole Miss athletics program moving forward. RB: Well, it’s been a lot of fun the last 14 or 15 months. A ton of fun and, you know, our goals heading into next year are really to build on the foundation that’s been laid in the last year and really beyond with Coach Freeze with his transition and the things he had going well before I got here. We want to build on the foundation, continue to focus on the process in our journey of changing the culture of how Ole Miss Athletics is viewed. How we operate; What we stand for; How we think, The mind-set of the total program from fans, to students, to our student-athletes, to everybody who touches Ole Miss Athletics. We have to really focus on that, and there has to continue to be a call to action. We’ve got to grow our resources. We sit in 22 - REBELNATION MAGAZINE
Photo Courtesy Ole Miss Media Relations
the Southeastern Conference, the toughest athletic conference in the country and we’ve got to have resources to compete. Now we don’t have to have the biggest, we’ve talked about that before, but we should try to have the best. So that’s our goal - to have the best of everything and to give our student-athletes and our coaches the best chance to succeed. That’s accomplished by selling our program more and getting more donors involved and more season ticket holders and growing the resource base in order to compete at the highest level. We’ve got a great foundation. We know what our goals and aspirations are and that’s to compete for and win championships. Right now we’re in between our foundation and our ultimate goals. We have no idea where our ceiling is but the expectations that we have for ourselves and for our program are that we perform at the highest level in that zone and eventually we’ll reach our goals because we’re
doing everything correctly and we’re maximizing our capabilities in that high performance zone that we call it. That’s what we’re really focused on moving into the next year and we feel really good about where things sit. We’re confident in our abilities, we’re confident with what’s happening, but we also have to remain humble in how we do things and why we do things and keep that perspective in balance because we’re not where we want to be and I believe we have a lot more success and championship future ahead of us. RN: Talk about the different factors you consider as an athletics director when analyzing a coach’s performance and the decisions you are charged with making when it comes to the coaches of the various programs. How do you make those decisions? RB: I think when you analyze a program, a head coach, I think you have to look at every component of the program. You look at on-the-field, off-the-field, how they manage their budget, academics, their social conduct, compliance, and of course you have to manage what happens on the field, the track, the court, etc. And then, absolutely, you weigh the public sentiment. That’s the confidence factor. What is the confidence factor of the program from the public point of view? So, of course, you weigh that, you look at your emails, your tweets. Personally I don’t read message boards but we have staff that monitor, we have staff that answers questions on there, so we have a pulse of what’s out there from a message board community standpoint and that feedback is vital, too, because that’s the world we live in today. If we’re not paying attention to it, then I think we’re doing our program a disservice. So you look at everything, you look at your season ticket success, you look at your donations specific to that program. Again, all back to the confidence factor, so there’s data points and then there’s sort of tangible things and there’s intangible things that I could get to review in the analysis and sometimes they’re not going to be black and white, sometimes they’re going to be more subjective than objective and you’ve got to use your instincts and ultimately do what’s best for the institution. RN: During basketball season the team went through a very tough stretch including a loss to Mississippi State, and a lot of people on the outside and in the media sort of gave up and thought a coaching change was inevitable. You backed up
Coach Kennedy and in the end it paid off with an SEC Tournament Championship and an NCAA Tournament bid. What was that experience like from your chair? RB: You know my belief in what I’ve learned working in athletics is “never too high - never too low”. And so, let things finish, let things play out. Coming back from Starkville on that Saturday, that was a rough moment for our program. Andy took some very direct questions after that game about his future but the way I looked at it is we had a game to play on Tuesday night, and we had a game to play on Saturday, and then we were going to Nashville. You have to let these things play out for the season, for whatever time line you’re on, let things play out and then you make your
program knowing that this is year two with Coach Freeze, knowing that we still have some challenges with depth to build our roster to a complete roster to compete in this conference and to compete nationally. I’m excited to watch us continue to evolve and grow knowing that we’ve got a great foundation, knowing that there’s a lot of energy we can capitalize and build upon, and we’ll see where the season takes us. We can’t predict anything, we have no idea what will happen. We know we start out with a tough road stretch and I think we can weather that storm early on and then come back obviously with that unprecedented 6-game home stretch with a week off in the middle to give the Grove grass a chance to re-grow that week, and then we finish with our rival on the road Thanksgiving night. I
The new gameday parking policy on campus has been the center of debate this summer.
decisions accordingly. I believed that our players could play at a high level, we believed that we could finish the season strong and I think my message that week was we have a game tomorrow night and we expect to compete and we have a game on Saturday and we expect to compete. Let’s go to Nashville. So, using that example, honestly, things worked out, they worked out great for everybody, the program, for Andy, for our players especially, to send our seniors out with a ring, you can’t put a price tag on that. To me, those are the moments. The simple version of it is “never too high - never too low”. Keep everything in perspective and capitalize on momentum and try to solve problems when you have challenges. RN: What are your expectations for the football team this season? RB: It’s exciting to see the energy around the program, to see our players responding to our coaches, to see them responding to our strength and conditioning programs. There’s a lot of buzz and the way I look at it is that I want to continue to watch us grow as a
think it’s going to be a lot of fun to watch the program continue to evolve and grow knowing that we have a really solid and energetic foundation that’s been laid. RN: How are football season ticket sales going? RB: We’re 6,700 season tickets ahead of where we were last year. There’s a lot of momentum with our fans, our donors, our alumni, RebelNation buying tickets. We expect by the time this article would run, we probably will be in the 42,000 range and we have about 45,000 season tickets we can sell. We’ll be pushing a sell-out with our season ticket capacity. The students are buying at a high clip. That section will sell out rapidly. The visiting team section, depending on how many they take, will have some single game tickets left for some of the games. The ticket sales are going great. Donations were up over $1.3 million in year-to-date donations from last year related to football season tickets. So there’s a buzz, there’s an energy, and our fans are responding and they’re responding at a high level. I get a tweet about every day from a fan saying
“I just bought my first season tickets”. That fits into our message of, “Give what you can to help your program and give it your maximum,” and people are responding. It’s been really fun to see our staff react to the demand and watch our fans jump on board in a positive manner. RN: Campus parking on game weekends has been a hot topic. Could you tell us how the new parking arrangements came about and what that will look like? RB: When we set the course for 2013, we review everything, we take survey information, we review everything as a staff and I noticed and our staff noticed that there was something wrong with gameday parking from a perspective of safety. We had an inquiry from the Office of Civil Rights on why people were parking on sidewalks and blocking access so that was something we had to fix. We had to fix that problem of parking on sidewalks and blocking access points for those that needed that, just general safety, so that was just one trigger point. And then we looked at it and said, “How do we become more consistent around our campus and have everything under one umbrella?” We had 4 or 5 different units on campus that were managing parking but yet athletics didn’t have access to all those spots so there was an inconsistent message to the fan base where you could pay $20 and park at the Law School but a donor parking right across the street had to pay $2,500 for essentially the same parking spots. So the idea was that we had a safe plan, we had a fair plan, we had a consistent plan, and we had a plan that was equitable. We knew that there would be some angst from some people who may have had access to parking and now have to go thru the Ole Miss Athletic Foundation. But the way we looked at it is that we had to come up with a plan that encompassed all those things, safety, fairness, equity, and consistency. And, we’ve done that with this plan. We also have an ingress and egress plan for how people get on and off campus. That’s being publicized. We’ve got more shuttles than we’ve ever had before and we’re working with the City and the rest of the campus to get those shuttles on and off campus efficiently. So everyone’s been great, the City of Oxford’s been great, the police, the City officials, campus officials, campus police, Sheriff ’s department, Highway Patrol. They really have a comprehensive plan to make sure that we get people on and off campus as safe and as efficient as possible. We still want to maintain those great tailgating traditions. We’ll be able to drop things off at the Grove, be able to drop things off on campus to maintain those tailgating traditions that we cannot lose, we cannot change. There have been some challenges but we’ve communicated with just about evREBELNATION MAGAZINE - 23
erybody, either face-to-face or over the phone in some manner who have had concerns and questions. They may not like the answer but I think our customer service has been as topnotch as possible and we try to facilitate those conversations every step of the way. It’s a long answer, but we just felt that really we had to have a safe and consistent plan to really maximize the experience that is Ole Miss football. We had 6,500 spaces on this campus, we’ve got about 6,200 now so really we didn’t lose hardly any spots on campus with the exception of the sidewalk parking and with the exception of protecting the residence halls for our students. That’s all the parking that we lost on campus so we really have the same number of spaces. We’re building a new parking lot by the IPF, there’ll be a parking garage that will come on-line with the basketball arena, so we’re going to add parking over time and the campus has long range plans to add parking. Over time, it will get built back up to where we can maximize the space that we have. RN: What’s your relationship with Hugh Freeze like? RB: I would say we probably talk or text or communicate in some way once a day, even on the weekends. We’re both fanatics about keeping our cars clean and neither one of us have a lot of time to go to the car wash. He sent me a text about that this morning telling me he found this new service. We have a terrific relationship. We both think alike. We both have high aspirations for this program. We understand the challenges. We also understand the opportunities, and we’re just embracing everything together and I think it’s just been fun to come together, to join him and really just lock arms and build this program. So it’s a lot of fun to have a relationship like that with somebody who just has passion and energy and you can see it every day in Freeze no matter what he does. If it’s fishing, golf, family, or football, he just has passion that he wears on his sleeve. Working with him and knowing him has been a lot of fun and I appreciate his confidence in me to help him and to help us all grow the program. He’s been terrific in seeing things very consistent with the way I do and vice versa, me with him. I think it’s been a lot of fun. RN: You have a large Twitter following. How do you deal with fans on Twitter and what do you do to keep from Tweeting the wrong thing, etc.? RB: I think it goes back to what I said earlier about “never too high - never too low”. I know there’s going to be some storms that come with it and there’s going to be some 24 - REBELNATION MAGAZINE
New basketball arena concept. Photo Courtesy OleMissSports.com
shots taken and that’s fine. We’re in that world. But I also know there’s moments where we can capitalize on momentum and passion. I also know that we have great responsibility to run a program at the highest level in college athletics and with that comes great accountability. Great responsibility equals great accountability. I understand that’s part of the deal and you just have to balance and keep everything in perspective, that we can’t make everyone happy - that’s just part of the world we live in. There’s going to be shots taken and we’ve just got to respond with accountability and with responsibility every step of the way and know it’s a lot different sitting in this chair vs. the Western Kentucky chair. I understand the microscope is much greater and that the volume of communication keeping up with it is hard sometimes. RN: Do you follow the Ole Miss athletes on Twitter? How do you manage student athletes with such large social media audiences? RB: I follow as many as I can - as many that I’m aware of - and when things get retweeted by somebody I can pick up on that. I think social media is terrific. Obviously I’m an advocate of it. I use it to hopefully promote the program as best we can. The same thing, responsibility and accountability have to go hand-in-hand. When we see things we point things out. Since I have been here we have never banned anybody from Twitter. We’ve told them to clean things up, we’ve told them to act more responsible about how they’re treating that medium but we believe that we should have expression. But we’ve got to use it the right way and we’ve got to teach and educate before we hand them the keys to those types of mediums because it can be damaging. We’ve got to continue to learn, continue to monitor and make sure that we’re doing things the right way. We also have an NCAA
compliance world that kind of crosses a different line so we’ve got to be mindful from a compliance perspective, not just social conduct. There are different lines that we have to monitor along that social medium conduct and we do that I think in a good manner, but we’ve also got to make sure we hold our kids responsible for things that they do and I think we do a good job with that. RN: Have you ever personally directed a player or coach regarding deleting a Tweet? RB: I sure have. Our coaches have been terrific about understanding that. A lot of times they’ve already taken care of it by the time I saw it. Our coaches are terrific about that and our athletes get it. Our athletes are good people, they want to do the right things and it’s our job to continue to educate them. RN: What impact will ESPN’s new SEC
Network have on Ole Miss? RB: The SEC Network is going to really change the landscape of our league in a big way and I think it’s terrific. I think it’s got upside for all of us. Upside for exposure, for our student-athletes and our programs. It’s got upside financially although we don’t know what that definition is yet but we know it will be big financially and they’re working on distribution of the network to be up and running by 2014. I know everyone around the A.D. table in our league is excited about it and I know our coaches are excited about the exposure and we can’t wait for it to get here in 2014. The folks at ESPN are working daily on distribution, discussions and a plan to have it as widely distributed as possible by Fall of ‘14. I
you’ve got so much of a business side that you have to worry about combining that with the academic side, combining that with the welfare of student-athletes. I don’t know if anyone ever envisioned that we would be in this place. I do think we all have to be mindful, and we all have to worry about what the future holds. Is this sustainable long term? Is the model sustainable where we are balancing education and life lessons through athletics and through college and being on a campus with trying to expose our program at the highest level? We are trying to have the resources to compete in the world of college athletics, and build buildings, and do things to set your program apart so that you have a chance to be successful on the field, and I do worry whether we can sustain it. I think we have to continue to
Ross Bjork awarding Olympians Brittney Reese and Isiah Young at a football game in 2012. - Photo by Greg Pevey
think the timing was perfect. I think the way our league and Commissioner Mike Slive and the folks at ESPN have handled it has been great. I think we have plenty of lead time to get there knowing that these things are hard, these are not easy conversations. But the brand value of our league and the brand value of ESPN combining those two together, I think the success rate is going to be very high on getting the network distributed. RN: You’ve placed a heavy emphasis on the well-being of the student-athlete since you arrived at Ole Miss. Do you ever worry that with these giant television contracts and all the media attention that it’s all getting too big to be a positive experience for the student-athlete? RB: I think that if you go back at the beginning when college athletics came on the scene of higher education, I don’t know if anyone ever thought that it would be like this, where
really use our platform that, if done correctly, athletics is a great thing. It’s a great thing for a university to have top flight athletics. Now how you run it, how you’re held accountable, your integrity, all those things, you’ve got to every single day make sure that you’re doing the right things. As to the future of our business I think we’ve got to get back to center and we’ve got to focus on student-athletes, we’ve got to focus on their welfare and why we’re here every single day and never lose sight of that. And never lose sight that we’re on a campus. We are on a campus of higher education and if we forget that then we go down a path that is not good for our industry. I’m mindful of that every single day. Our responsibility is great and we’ve got to always continue to talk about the great things that are happening in our business of college athletics because there are great moments. There are great moments where somebody receives their degree and they go on and compete professionally
like a Jason Jones who is going over to Germany. He received his degree and he wants to play football, there’s nothing wrong with that. We need to promote those moments where somebody may not have a chance, except for athletics, to go to college but he was given a chance and now they can live out their dream, professionally and having that degree in hand. That’s what we’ve got to get back to and always continue to focus on. RN: What’s the status of the new basketball arena? RB: The basketball arena is moving along. We are full speed ahead in schematic design, by the time this is out there in August we might be ready to flip to design development which really focuses in on the details, but we’re moving along. Things are accelerating fast. We hope to really have some big announcements around our first football game here at home to talk about the “re-launch” of the campaign, to talk about the basketball arena with specifics on location, on timing, on cost, what it looks like, and also talk about the north end-zone and some components there. Our facility projects are moving along rapidly, both what’s being built right now that will be ready, a lot of things will be ready by the season, a lot of things will be ready later this fall, and then the next wave are the big things which are the arena and the north endzone. Everything is accelerating as fast as we can push, as fast as we can raise money and as fast as we can design a plan and we’re excited about what’s out there because it will change the landscape of this campus, not just for athletics but for the entire campus. It’s going to be fun. RN: What’s your relationship like with Chancellor Dan Jones? RB: I have a great relationship with Dr. Jones. He wants to hire great people and let them do their jobs and he’s there when you need him. He’s there for advice and counsel every step of the way and he’s been so supportive of what we’re trying to do in athletics because he understands that athletics can provide this great platform for the institution and he’s excited about the energy that’s being created and being generated and the foundation that we’ve laid. We talk all the time and meet frequently. I’m on his senior staff with all the other ViceChancellors on campus so I have a seat at the table, which is great for athletics to be there. He gets it at the highest level. He wants us to be successful in everything that we do. He has a big job managing a broad campus including the Medical Center down in Jackson and he’s pulled in many different directions, but he’s great for athletics and we just have a terrific relationship. - RN
REBELNATION MAGAZINE - 25
Photo by Greg Pevey, RebelNation™ Magazine
BY JAKE ADAMS
It’s one of college football’s greatest traditions. The Grove. We have a few tips to get ready for the fun.
he Grove. For 358 days a year it’s a literal 10-acre grove of hardwoods with huge canopies of oak shading lush, neatly manicured grass interrupted only by a couple of long sidewalks that navigate students from one side of campus to the other. On occasion one might see a lone stu-
26 - REBELNATION MAGAZINE
dent leaned up against the base of one of the giant tree trunks in the seclusion of the wide open space reading a book for class to the sound of birds chirping above. But on seven Saturday’s in the fall that tranquil scene is almost magically transformed into “The Grove” – an ocean of red and blue tents from which thousands upon thousands of Ole Miss fans young and old gather togeth-
er for one of college football’s most famous traditions. “The Grove” is as much a part of Ole Miss football as the game itself, and it’s so many things. For some the Grove is a family reunion. For others it’s a gathering of close friends and new friends. And still others just come to be a part of the world-class college football party. For all of us the Grove acts as a
butter and jelly sandwiches. It can be overdone with chandeliers, fine silver and catered food fancy enough for a five-star restaurant or televisions bigger than most of us have in our houses. But no matter how you do it, Groving takes planning and a little work. We’re here to help. Below is a list of the most important things you need for Groving.
Table Every Grove Tent has at least one table for all the food. That’s a no-brainer. Any table will do, although if you’ve been asked to bring your own we recommend the Office Star 72-in x 30-in Rectangle Steel Folding Table. It folds neatly into a square and has a briefcase-like carrying handle for carrying to that perfect spot. The most important part of the table though is what goes on top. It’s the table cloth, food and other accessories that make the Grove tent sing. TeamTailgateShop.com has an Ole Miss themed table cloth that would do the trick. As for utensils and tableware, we think silver and china is a little much. Buying a box of red and blue Dixie plastic ware and some matching plates will do nicely. Be sure to get the heavy-duty plates though so that Abner’s sauce doesn’t soak through onto any of that fashionable gameday attire. Chairs Groving involves a lot of walking around and mingling. Eventually you’re going to have to give those feet a break, which makes having a comfortable chair an absolute must . Be sure to get the fold-out one’s with the built-in cup-holder, and if you’re toting from the car make sure your chair comes with a carrying case with a shoulder strap. The Caravan Elite Quad Chair is available from Dick’s Sporting Goods for $34.99 and is perfect for a day of Groving.
Photo by Greg Pevey, RebelNation™ Magazine
A nice flask could be a handy for gameday (left) as well as this bottle tote (right) available at Circle Seven, in Madison, Mississippi.
staging area where we gather together in pregame rituals of bantering about our beloved Rebels, eating delicious food, imbibing our favorite gameday drinks and most important of all - “visiting.” It’s an activity many of us fondly refer to as Groving. Proper Groving takes a lot of work. It can be underdone… such as four lawn chairs set around a cooler filled with cokes and peanut
Ole Miss.” If you decide to set up your own tent, be on campus and ready to run to your desired spot at 9 p.m. on Friday night. The best spots fill up fast. Also, don’t be surprised if you see a disagreement or two. People take their Grove spots mighty serious.
Tent A tent is vital. It provides shade, defines your group’s territory and gives you some shelter in case of rain. Groving starts with a tent. Many tent set-up companies will provide a tent, table and chairs. Some will even provide a television and fill up your ice chest. The best way to find a setup company is to hit google.com and search “grove tent set up
Ice Chest On fall Saturdays in Mississippi it can still be downright hot. Cold drinks and ice are essential. The Yeti cooler is the ultimate Grove chest, and it is a fine piece of hardware. It’s got thick foam walls and sealing technology that will keep drinks colder longer. Plus, Yeti will even customize an Ole Miss cooler just for you and for $19.99 ship it straight to your door. One tip: Get a dolly. Yeti’s don’t come on wheels, and it can be a mighty long walk between the car and the tent. Drinks No Grove tent is complete without an ice chest full of cokes, diet cokes and some light beer, but to make your tent really stand out be sure to get at least a six-pack of craft beer. Mississippi has three great breweries to choose from. Lazy Magnolia (Kiln), Lucky Town (Gluckstadt) and Southern Prohibition (Hattiesburg) make some truly great beers. Share a few of those from your ice chest and watch your popularity skyrocket. Tip: Most REBELNATION MAGAZINE - 27
Cheering the team down the Walk of Champions is one of the Grove’s greatest traditions.
Photo by Greg Pevey, RebelNation™ Magazine
craft beers require a bottle opener. Don’t leave home without it! If you like a little something extra in your coke, get a flask. Not only do they look really cool, they’re also discreet. Circle Seven in Madison has a fine selection of flasks and bottle totes that are perfect for the Grove. Food If there’s any one food item absolutely critical for successful Groving it’s Abner’s Chicken with as much Abner’s sauce as you can carry in. No Grove table is complete without it, and no, Abner’s didn’t pay us to write this! It’s just fact. A table with Abner’s chicken will draw more people than a table without it. Abner’s serves up thousands upon thousands of chicken platters on gameday. Be sure to make your order in advance. Abner’s contact information can be found at abnerschicken.com. Of course many Rebel fans take great pride in topping their tables with homemade dips and specialties. Just remember when planning your spread that it gets pretty hot out there and you don’t want to serve anything that won’t hold up well over several hours. It’s hard to go wrong with chips, salsa, and sandwiches. Clothes We’re not here to tell anybody how to dress. We’ve been to the Grove enough times to know that most of you are doing that just 28 - REBELNATION MAGAZINE
Photo by Jason & Misty Butts, Oxford
fine… However, the proper accessories are a must. On dry days the Grove gets really dusty. On wet days it can be the opposite. In either event comfortable shoes that can handle a little off-roading are a must. Dubarry makes a fine shoe that would dress up any outfit. Circle Seven has those, too. If there’s one mistake to avoid it’s over dressing. Gamedays in Mississippi can be brutally hot. And that walk from the car can get you sweaty and sticky before the good times even get started. Dress light and bring a jacket in case you get cold. Parking The most difficult and most stressful part of
gameday, apart from the possibility of being behind in the 4th quarter, is parking. Ole Miss is charging for on-campus parking this year, but free parking is available at the Oxford Mall and Whirlpool parking lot. A free shuttle will transport mall parkers to and from Paris Yates Chapel and the Whirlpool shuttle will deliver to and from the Turner Center. Five dollar shuttles will also be available from the Activities Center, Middle School and Conference Center with drop off and pick up off Gertrude Ford Parkway just northeast of the Stadium. Ole Miss will provide traffic and parking updates on Twitter @RebelGameday, on 1630 am radio and at olemissfb.com. - RN
The Scent of Football
Tips for making the perfect cocktail in the Grove
few mornings ago I was tasting a new bourbon – I like tasting new whiskeys in the morning when my palate is sharpest – to see if I wanted to buy it for Pecan Old Fashioned our shop. While discussing the intricacies of this genteel spirit, I was asked what I thought of the nose. Without hesitation I responded, “It smells like football”! Now, that’s not normally how I describe bourbon, mind you. My colleagues were taken by surprise with this, but after a moment they nodded in agreement. For many folks across the southern and eastern parts of our country, football and good whiskey are inextricably linked. Perhaps nowhere is this truer than in The Grove where tailgating is taken to its highest form. And since all good Rebels have tailgating on their minds, let’s take a look at some great tailgating food and drink ideas to help you get your game face on! For me, there are really two tailgating seasons. Some of the food and drink I would serve in November, I would never serve in the searing heat of September. When it’s hot I like chicken and pasta salad or fish tacos with something cold and refreshing like Acrobat’s dry rosé of Pinot Noir. Dry rosé, although pink in color, should not be confused with blush wine which is candy-like in its cloying sweetness. Rather, rosé wines are delicate versions of red wines that are fermented totally dry and served cold, like white wine. If it’s beer you crave try a crisp American pale ale like Lazy Magnolia’s Deep South (a.k.a. Reb Ale) or maybe their Indian Summer American wheat ale brewed with coriander and orange peel. After raiding the tailgate table though, I want to sit down with a good cocktail and start talking football smack. One of my favorite hot-weather cocktails is a Ginger Cat (recipe below) made with Mississippi’s own Cathead Honeysuckle Vodka. However, if whiskey is your thing there are some great whiskey cocktails I like to make in the summer like the Locomotive Cocktail utilizing scotch and lemon juice. The smokiness of the scotch lets you know you’re drinking a whiskey while the lemon juice brightens the beverage and allows for a crisp finish. When the heat subsides and a chill starts to fill the air, the whiskey and football purist in me comes out. At that point I want a really
good whiskey the way it should be enjoyed – with a little ice – very little ice, like one or two cubes. If you see me in The Grove in October I’ll most likely be sipping on Four Rose’s Small Batch Bourbon, Jefferson’s 10 Year Old Rye, or Highland Park 12 Year Old Scotch. These three spirits are distinctly different, yet each one is rich and complex enough to keep me from being too distracted by all the beautiful er… scenery. My food choices tend to get a little heartier this time of year as well. Grilled steak and sausage with peppers and onions, homemade chili, duck and sausage gumbo all seem to fit the bill. I like to wash this sort of cuisine down with a medium to full-bodied, earthy red like La Vielle Ferme Rouge from France’s Rhone Valley or a dark, bittersweet beer like North Coast’s Old Rasputin Imperial Stout. If it’s a cocktail you crave before heading to the stadium, as soon as we tasted Cathead Distillery’s new Pecan Vodka, we knew its nutty, slightly sweet flavor would be complimented by the cherry and orange flavors in the classic Old Fashioned Cocktail. Now, I’m ready! Hotty Toddy! Ginger Cat 1 - 3/4 oz Cathead Honeysuckle Vodka 2 ounces of ginger beer juice of 1/4 lemon or lime dash Peychaud’s bitters Combine all ingredients over ice and stir. Garnish with a lemon wheel. Locomotive Cocktail 1 - 1⁄2 ounces Johnny Walker Black Label 3⁄4 ounce fresh lemon juice 1⁄2 ounce Cointreau 1/4 ounce simple syrup Lemon twist Pecan Old Fashioned 3 dashes of bitters 2 teaspoons water 1 small wedge orange 2 maraschino cherries 2 ounces Cathead Pecan Vodka Club soda Add the sugar cube, bitters, water, orange wedge and cherry to the bottom of an old fashioned glass. Use a small spoon to muddle ingredients. Add ice to the glass and top with vodka and club soda and stir well. - RN *About the Writer: Scott Jackson is Managing Partner of Colony Wine Market in Madison, MS, an Ole Miss Alumnus, and has always believed the Rebs will return to glory! REBELNATION MAGAZINE - 29
Coach Johnny Vaught with Archie Manning Photo Courtesy Ole Miss Athletics
30 - REBELNATION MAGAZINE
he Ole Miss Rebels may be in the midst of an epic rise under Hugh Freeze, the likes of which hasn’t been seen since legendary coach John H. Vaught walked the sidelines. While Freeze is only entering year two on the job, there’s no question Vaught’s smiling from above with the direction of a program he first put in the national spotlight. As Rebel Nation looks ahead to a bright future on the gridiron, now is the perfect time to look back at the lasting legacy of Ole Miss’ winningest football coach of all-time. Journey to Rebel Country While Vaught achieved immeasurable success at Ole Miss, his life prior to becoming the Rebel leader was also paved with greatness. Growing up in Texas, Vaught was a high school valedictorian before enrolling at TCU. He excelled both in the classroom and on the gridiron as a Horned Frog, becoming both an honor student and AllAmerican offensive left guard. Having found a true niche for the game he loved, the former player spent the next few years as a high school coach in Fort Worth, Texas before ultimately setting his eyes on the college game. After spending six years under the guidance of head coach Ray (Bear) Wolf at North Carolina (a fellow TCU man), he served his country in the United States Navy during World War II. First entering the Navy’s Preflight Program, Vaught went on to continue as an assistant coach at both North Carolina and Corpus Christi before becoming a Naval Lieutenant Commander towards the end of his service. In 1946, Vaught landed in Oxford as a line coach under Rebel Head Coach Harold “Red” Drew. On the heels of a dismal 2-7 season, Vaught’s career as a college head coach was about to begin. Drew soon departed Oxford to become head coach of the Crimson Tide, and Vaught was promoted to lead the Rebels. During his inaugural year at the helm, Vaught led his club to a remarkable 9-2 turnaround season and the school’s first SEC Championship. Little did Ole Miss fans know at the time, the coach’s 1947 season was simply a prelude to a legendary 25-year reign. In a 1960 Sports Illustrated article “Babes, Brutes and Ole Miss,” Joe David Brown wrote on the coach’s quiet, confident demeanor: “Johnny Vaught is a burly, level-eyed and hard-working man of 52. He has the weather-beaten look of a telephone lineman and the calm, authoritative eye of an old-time police captain. To use a Mississippi expression, Vaught knows he can hit the center of a spittoon every time. When he wishes, Johnny Vaught can be marvelously accurate with words, too, but this is not very often. Sometimes he is glumly laconic, particularly when he is asked to expound on his team’s prospects.” Through his success on the field, humble, easy going demeanor and love for the university, in the end Vaught would become one of the most revered Rebels of all-time.
The Father of Ole Miss Fooball:
JOHN H. VAUGHT BY seph anderson Contributing Writer
The Legend of Johnny Vaught Having posted an overall record of 190-61-12 at Ole Miss, Vaught only suffered one losing season in his 25 year tenure. Further, his lone losing season in 1949 only came by way of a 4-5-1 overall record. After winning the SEC Championship in his first year on the job (1947), Vaught REBELNATION MAGAZINE - 31
“To an out-of-state boy, for example, a game with Mississippi State will be just another game. But a Mississippi boy knows all about the fierce rivalry between Ole Miss and Mississippi State. It’s a personal thing. What it boils down to is that we want a defeat for Ole Miss to hurt the individual. Hurt him bad.” - Johnny Vaught went on to claim five more conference titles (1954, 1955, 1960, 1962 and 1963). Ironically, this year makes 50 years since Ole Miss last captured an SEC crown. As for National Championships, the coaching icon claimed three for the Ole Miss program over the course of his lengthy tenure (1959, 1960 and 1962). That’s right young Rebs, Ole Miss has won three national titles in football. Your daddy wasn’t lying. Over the 1950’s, Vaught posted a record of 80-21-5. However, the 1960’s proved to be even more successful from a win loss standpoint behind the coach’s 72-20-6 mark with the red and blue. Even 40 years since he last roamed Holling32 - REBELNATION MAGAZINE
sworth Field, Vaught remains ranked among the top-20 winningest college coaches of alltime and ahead of coaching icons like Bobby Dodd, Bob Neyland and Darrell Royal. Egg Bowl Dominance Prior to the Rebels reclaiming the Egg Bowl trophy in 2012, Mississippi State had been victorious the previous three seasons by a combined score of 103 to 53. While Freeze will look to push the Ole Miss win streak to two on Thanksgiving night in Starkville, what Vaught did against the Bulldogs was nothing short of amazing. In fact, it’s almost hard to even believe. In what may be the least-recognized sta-
Photo Courtesy Ole Miss Athletics
Photo Courtesy Times Picayune
tistic of his career, the coaching legend went 23-2 in Egg Bowls. Beginning with a win in 1947, Vaught rallied off 17 consecutive Egg Bowl wins to begin his famed Rebel career. When the clock struck zero in his final Egg Bowl, Vaught’s teams had outscored the Bulldogs by a combined score of 603 to 203 over his career. Moreover, 15 times he kept rival State to no more than a touchdown. Freeze may have snapped Ole Miss’ Egg Bowl skid in
2012, but it’s safe to assume no coach will ever win 17 in a row again. Thinking back to Freeze’s pre-game Egg Bowl speech last season, the coach spoke to the entire team about how important the game was to in-state kids. Vaught held the exact same sentiment. He told Sports Illustrated’s Joe David Brown, “To an out-of-state boy, for example, a game with Mississippi State will be just another game. But a Mississippi boy knows all about the fierce rivalry between Ole Miss and Mississippi State. It’s a personal thing. What it boils down to is that we want a defeat for Ole Miss to hurt the individual. Hurt him bad. If
3 Maryland fell 21-14 to No. 11 Ole Miss in front of the Rebel faithful. It was a win that propelled the Rebels to greatness over the next decade. Fittingly, in 1982 Ole Miss added Vaught’s name to the stadium in which he reigned supreme. It had to be one of his proudest moments. Bowl Game Legend While the Ole Miss Rebels are 22-12 alltime in bowl games, Vaught led his club to 18 of the 34 postseason contests. From 1957 to 1971, the three-time national champion took the Rebs to 14 straight bowls.
Photo Courtesy Times Picayune
they are Mississippi boys, it will, too. When these boys go home they hear about the games they lost all summer long. Everybody wants to know why, and they won’t let them forget a bad year. It gets right down to local pride and a desire to win. It’s all based on the fact that this is home.” Unstoppable at Home Every football coach feels their team must protect the home field to be truly successful. Undoubtedly, Vaught instilled the same principle in his own men. With incredible success, the head coach protected thenHemingway Stadium like his life depended on it. From 1947 to 1973, he compiled a home record of 57-6-2. That’s not a typo. Vaught only lost in front of the home crowd six times during his 25-year coaching career in Oxford. Within those 57 wins, he posted a 34-game home unbeaten streak from 1952 to 1964. By comparison, the record for the longest home winning streak of the 21st century is only 39 games (Oklahoma 2005-2011). On November 15, 1952, Vaught’s Rebels pulled off what was likely his greatest home win. Riding a 22-game winning streak, No.
By the time his coaching career finally came to an end, the Ole Miss great had notched a 10-8 bowl record, including five Sugar Bowl victories. With a bowl win in his first season, Freeze is headed in the right direction. However, he still needs a daunting 9 more wins in 17 bowl appearances to catch Vaught. Producer of Top Talent A 25-year coaching career at any school is bound to produce some great talent. Such was the case for Vaught, producing 26 first-team All-Americans in 25 years. If the names Charlie Conerly, Charlie Flowers, Jake Gibbs and Archie Manning sound familiar, it’s because each was a top-five Heisman Trophy finalist under Vaught. Since Archie in 1969 and 1970, the only Ole Miss Rebel to claim such an accolade was Eli Manning in 2003. Joe David Brown of Sports Illustrated shared the letter Vaught wrote to his players the summer before each season, “Have a daily work schedule planned and start training by the 1st of August. The first thing you should do is reach your playing weight. You can lose
weight by exercising and by pushing away from the table. Run distances up to a mile for your wind, short sprints of 25 yards (and gut them) for toughness, and calisthenics and grass drills for quickness, agility and control of your body. A well-conditioned squad will not be bothered by injuries. Remember, running is the secret. Above all else, there is no substitute for desire, for spirit and morale. To be a winning team, we must be a hungry team. We must want to win more than the teams we encounter this fall, and I can assure you they’ll be hungry. Be ready to start practice here September 1 at top speed. And remember—every football Saturday is the most important date on our schedule, with no exceptions and no reservations. Until proved otherwise, we’re No. 1. We want no one moving up at our expense.” With that type of confident, winning attitude, it’s no wonder so many of his players enjoyed illustrious playing careers. Greatness Recognized On top of earning three national titles and six SEC championships, Vaught was named AP SEC Coach of the Year six times over his career (1947, 1948, 1954, 1955, 1960 and 1962). When he stepped in for coach Billy Kinard three games into the 1973 season, the tried and true Rebel was also serving as Athletics Director (1973 – 1978). No sweat off the old coach’s back though, as he finished the season with a 5-3 record. The Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame inducted Vaught in 1976, while the National College Football Hall of Fame inducted him three years later in 1979. Rebel to the Bitter End Despite facing the physical and mental trials that come with aging, Vaught continued to attend practices and home football games as long as he physically could. He remained a loyal Ole Miss Rebel from the moment he arrived as an assistant coach in 1946 until he took his last breath in Oxford at the age of 96. Fittingly, his funeral procession slowly drove the immortal Rebel by Vaught-Hemingway Stadium a final time on February 9, 2006. His funeral at St. Peters Episcopal Church in Oxford turned out to be a “who’s who” of Ole Miss football, as many former players came to pay their respects. The old coach would have been proud. When entering Vaught-Hemingway Stadium this fall, do yourself a favor and take a look at all of the bowl and championship signs. If a year between 1947 and 1970 appears alongside one of the signs, know it’s just one of the many accomplishments by the man responsible for building Ole Miss football. - RN
2013 FOOTBALL PREVIEW - 33
The Recipe for SEC Greatness
Charting the path to the top tier of the greatest conference in football BY STEVEN GODFREY Contributing Writer
hat is a top tier SEC program? Who are the top tier programs? How can you define it? More importantly for Ole Miss, there’s the question of how – if at all – one can become a “top half ” program. For years, if pressed to name the “top half ” of the once 12-team SEC, rational fans would spout out what historical data supports: Florida, Alabama, Tennessee, Georgia, LSU and Auburn. Three schools per division, with all six holding every one of the conference’s national titles since the BCS was created before the 1998 season (of the six, only UGA is missing a crystal football). Nowadays – and at critical moments in recent years – that list of six might look different depending on the year. But for hard, statistical proof, we counted up every single SEC record from 1992 (the year of expansion to 12 teams and the creation of the East and West Divisions) through the 2012 season, using an old-fashioned calculator and notepad. Here’s the evidence: SEC Standings, 1992- ‘12 The Top Half Florida 131-37 Alabama 111-56-1 Tennessee 108-60 Georgia 106-61-1 LSU 101-66-1 Auburn 98-68-2
The Bottom Half Arkansas 79-87-2 South Carolina 73-94-1 Ole Miss 63-105 Miss. State 62-105-1 Kentucky 45-123 Vanderbilt 31-137
A few quick notes: Only conference games were counted. With the vast difference in quality of opponent between schools’ non-conference schedules, 34 - REBELNATION MAGAZINE
Photo by Greg Pevey, RebelNation™ Magazine
Photo Courtesy Ole Miss Media Relations/Forward Together Campaign (Top) Will future stadium expansion at Ole Miss help get the Rebels to the top of the SEC? (Left) Ole Miss is the only team in the SEC (besides newly added Texas A&M) to not make a trip to Atlanta to represent the SEC West in the Championship game.
including those games would muddy up our math. The list doesn’t include the W/L totals for SEC newcomers Texas A&M (6-2) and Missouri (2-6), for reasons of perspective. However, wins and losses against these teams in 2012 do count towards the total above. Probation and vacated wins were ignored. This is a cheating league, and retroactive changes mean about as much as the math on an Alabama t-shirt. What stands out? After that top six, the bottom six can be defined by three sets of pairs – the Class of ’92 entrants South Carolina and Arkansas, Ole Miss and MSU (separated by a measly half game!) and base-
ment dwellers Kentucky and Vanderbilt. But these “top six” are the SEC programs that define not only the conference but college football. They’re perennial national title contenders, bowl teams (good bowls, mind you) and recruiting titans. With the push to 14 teams and thanks to two rather opposite freshmen seasons, you could tentatively add Texas A&M to that top pile and Missouri to that bottom one. But no matter how you judge it – empirically, emotionally, numerically, religiously – Ole Miss is not among this level of conference “elite.” In simple terms, a plan on
how to reverse this fortune and join the upper-level of the SEC involves an increase in everything – really, everything: ticket sales, stadium size, state population, university enrollment, state education test scores, merchandise sales, marketing buys in out-of-state TV markets, you name it. And that’s not to mention the obtuse measurement of plain old hope, because every other program in the conference is fast at work either maintaining their dominance in these categories or trying to build past those currently above them. But let’s look at that simple set of standings. It’s agreeable, but it’s deceptive. And good news for Ole Miss: It’s possible to jump and be jumped. 1. You need the right coach Certainly the SEC is home to storied programs that provide perennial winners, but nothing lasts forever, and anyone can be awful for three or four years. Let’s split those win/loss totals up, starting with the first decade of the SEC football iteration we recognize today, REBELNATION MAGAZINE - 35
the 1990s. Starting with the first 12-team season (’92) and running through ’99, take another look at the top and bottom programs: The SEC, 1992-’99 (8 seasons) The Top Half: Florida 56-8 Tennessee 52-12 Alabama 46-17-1 Auburn 34-28-2 Georgia 34-29-1 Miss. State 31-38-1
The Bottom Half: Arkansas 28-34-2 LSU 26-37-1 Ole Miss 26-38 Kentucky 21-43 South Carolina 19-44-1 Vanderbilt 10-54
Now, let’s take the remaining 13 seasons, from 2000 through last year, and rank them. Why divide them between 1999 and 2000? Because that’s when a certain coach from Michigan State arrived: The SEC, 2000-‘12 The Top Half: Florida 75-29 LSU 75-29 Georgia 72-32 Alabama 65-39 Auburn 64-40 Tennessee 56-48 South Carolina 54-50
The Bottom Half: Arkansas 51-53 Ole Miss 37-67 Miss. State 31-73 Kentucky 24-80 Vanderbilt 21-83
Notice anything, like, say, Nick Saban? Saban’s influence on LSU is stunning, and marks the most notable ascension of any SEC program in the modern era. The Tigers’ winning percentage from Saban’s arrival until today is .721, or as it’s known around Baton Rogue, “The New Golden Age.” Pre-Saban, the Tigers were only a half-game better than Ole Miss through eight years. Afterwards? They’re one of the most powerful programs in the nation. Through his ability to unite the talent-rich state of Louisiana in recruiting and rally for massive facility overhauls to ability to coach up players and strategize in key moments of big games, Nick Saban alone is a program-maker. Just ask Alabama. 2. You can win in either division, but an easier one helps It takes really bad teams to make really great ones. Notice that Florida and the Volunteers were the only schools to win 50 or more SEC games (and two national titles) in the 1990s timeframe. One reason? The fact that their SEC East neighbors Vandy, Kentucky and South Carolina coughed up 141 conference losses combined. Therefore, the SEC West – not the SEC – created the league’s famous parity. Save for Georgia at No. 5, the entire SEC West ranks below the Vols and Gators, yet above the rest of the East. In half of these seasons, the West was represented by a team with two or more losses in the title game. When the SEC West – namely LSU, Auburn and Alabama – rose to greater power than Florida and Tennessee in the 2000’s, it wasn’t by picking off one quality division opponent but rather grinding out a survival strategy in the brutal West, where, as the standings above illustrate, the worst is still better than most of the East. What can be done about this? Not much, but it’s worth noting that the two 2013 newcomers both hailed from the western side of the country. If there was ever a push for a more geographically inclined divisional structure, you can bet the Rebels would prefer Missouri over any number of eastern leaning schools (Alabama, Auburn). 3. Some team has to get worse for you to get better Ask a friend at a tailgate in 2013 for their top SEC teams, and they’d likely pick South Carolina instead of Tennessee. It’s the most notable swap between the top and bottom since the ’92 expansion. In the 7-team SEC West, Ole Miss should narrow its focus. Call this the Carolina approach. For most of their early time as SEC members, the Gamecocks were dangerously skidding towards levels of Kentucky and Vanderbilt irrelevance. Steve Spurrier helped push 36 - REBELNATION MAGAZINE
So far so good, but only time will tell if Hugh Freeze is the right coach for Ole Miss. Photo by Greg Pevey, RebelNation™ Magazine
When the SEC West – namely LSU, Auburn and Alabama – rose to greater power than Florida and Tennessee in the 2000’s, it wasn’t by picking off one quality division opponent but rather grinding out a survival strategy in the brutal West... through that glass ceiling thanks to Lou Holtz (both are great examples of our No. 1 point). Spurrier is 35-29 at South Carolina. That’s not a remarkable number, but it’s come just as former titan Tennessee has fallen on its hardest times. In the last three seasons, South Carolina has 17 SEC wins and a division title. In the same time frame under Derek Dooley, the Vols have five. How does this translate for the Rebels? Auburn and Arkansas, quite frankly – both are programs above Ole Miss, both have suffered different but entirely similar structural failures in the last year, and the Rebels built a 7-win 2012 season by beating both. Simply put, Ole Miss can’t advance unless one of these stumbling former successes stays down on the mat, or recuperates on a bended knee long enough for the Rebels to build up some momentum. When it comes to recruiting, consistency is as important as ratings. Remember the experiment that was Ed Orgeron’s recruiting classes and Houston Nutt’s coaching? It caught fire for about three fourths of a single season, and then steadily declined. Ask a Rebel fan at the moment why they feel confident about the Hugh Freeze era and they’ll tell you it’s his highly touted 2013 Signing Class, because Freeze can bring talent that could play for any
16th. 4. Mascots do matter, especially ones that sell A 2012 ranking by the Collegiate Licensing ranked the top schools in the country by official merchandise sold. Compare this ranking to the W/L standings, and you’ll notice a trend: 1. Texas 2. Alabama 3. Kentucky 4. Florida 5. Michigan
(Above) Love him or hate him, “Rebel” the Bear is the mascot at Ole Miss sporting events yet there is little to no merchandise showcasing the furry mascot. - Photo by Greg Pevey, RebelNation™ Magazine (Below) South Carolina has become a SEC East contender by taking advantage of the downfall of Tennessee. - Photo courtesy ESPN. com
SEC school to Oxford. That’s half the answer. Going back to South Carolina, you’ll find nothing as impressive as Freeze’s 2013 class in Spurrier’s first two seasons in Columbia. But after landing the No. 6 ranked class nationally (per Rivals) in 2007, the Gamecocks began to build through consistency. In fact, South Carolina didn’t break nine wins until 2010, when that ‘07 class was in its senior season. That year USC won the Eastern Division for the first time with recruiting classes ranked (chronologically) 6th, 22nd, 12th and 24th on the field. It’s important to note this because it’s highly unlikely Freeze can pull a 2013-sized coup every single Signing Day. Frankly, he doesn’t have to for the Rebels to be competitive. The bigger picture here is that it’s less about the number you earn in February and more about the consistency of the system – that the same staff bringing in class after class establishes quality depth and that no large scale attrition occurs thanks to a transitioning coaching staff or a wholesale scheme change. The ‘Cocks are 31-9 overall in the last three seasons, and entering 2013 Carolina is a favorite to win their division. Keep in mind, that’s a team primarily made up of classes ranked 24th, 18th, 19th and
6. LSU 7. North Carolina 8. Georgia 9. Notre Dame 10. Oklahoma
Four of the aforementioned “top half ” SEC football schools show up here, plus Kentucky (who along with North Carolina make the list almost purely for basketball reasons). It pays to have merchandise in the market, both literally and theoretically. It’s not just as simple as the old idea of “Free Advertising” because college sports fans are far more passionate and detailed about their loyalties. Apparel – be it bumper stickers or sweatshirts – is sported by living, breathing brand ambassadors. That’s why the long-running battle of Colonel Rebel does in fact hurt Ole Miss Athletics. Regardless of your side in the debate, not having a marketable logo that’s accepted in every culture and marketplace prevents branding and exposure, which in turn lessens revenue. 5. YOU matter most: Why volume is fuel for great programs Ole Miss has one of the smallest athletic budgets in the SEC, depending on the year ($42.9 million in reported revenue in the 2011’-12 academic year. The SEC leader, Alabama, reported $124.1 million in the same timeframe). The same bleak news goes for attendance. Ole Miss averaged 57,066 at home games in 2012, ahead of only Mississippi State, Kentucky and Vanderbilt. Even newcomer Missouri, often stigmatized as being in a region of the country not as passionate about football, averaged over 10,000 more fans a home game during a lousy 5-7 year. Because of the complexities that go into maintaining a successful college sports program, there’s a variety of must-haves in vastly different areas. However, the sole unifying factor in the breakdown of any consistently good or great SEC football program is unwavering fan loyalty. That means it’s up to each Ole Miss fan to do as much as possible: Attend as many home athletic events, especially football games, as you can. When you go, buy your tickets through official university channels. Buy officially licensed apparel and accessories. Wear it. As much as possible. Ubiquity is the key, especially when it comes to impressing teenage recruits. 6. Recruit. Whoa, hang on, let’s clarify: recruit FANS. Bodies in seats means money in coffers. Find anyone in the South (it’s rare, but Yankees migrate everyday) who isn’t dedicated to a particular team and send them to the Grove Support academics. Giving money to athletics is sorely needed to compete with Alabama, but academics make alumni, not football games. Alumni give more on average than fans with no official university connections. Don’t waiver. Coaches notice. Recruits notice. When those Gamecocks went 0-16 in the SEC in 1998-’99, they sold out every home game. When Nick Saban lobbied for better athletic facilities to compete to recruit nationally, he had the support of 90k-plus in Tiger Stadium behind him. Nothing is impossible. There are major games and BCS bids won in Boise, Idaho. South Carolina was an ACC reject for two decades and could very well win a national title in football soon. Ole Miss only needs more money, more time for the right coach, more fans and hope. A lot of hope. - RN REBELNATION MAGAZINE - 37
ELI BY JAKE ADAMS
Photo Courtesy Ole Miss Athletics and the New York Giants
Eli Manning needs no introduction in a magazine focused on Ole Miss. He led the Rebels to the 2003 Cotton Bowl and sits atop nearly every passing category in the Ole Miss record books. Since then he’s been the quarterback of one team - the NFL’s New York Giants - where he’s won two Super Bowls and two Super Bowl MVP awards. Oh yeah, he’s also the youngest son of legendary Ole Miss quarterback Archie Manning. Despite all that, to most Ole Miss fans he’s just Eli, and perhaps because of that the younger Manning can still be frequently found in and around Ole Miss and Oxford, where he makes his home during the off-season. We caught up with Eli to talk a little Ole Miss sports. 38 - REBELNATION MAGAZINE
2-TIME SUPER BOWL MVP Eli Manning
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RN: As an NFL quarterback with a game nearly every Sunday are you able to watch Ole Miss games? ELI: Yeah. I try to watch every one I can. When we have home games on Saturdays, we are usually done with practice by 12:00 p.m. and I can come back and watch. If it is on in the afternoon I have all the college football packages where you can usually find the Ole Miss game on and then sometimes if it is on later at night where we stay in a hotel prior to games, I can find it on that night or if it is not on tv by going online and getting updates throughout the day. When we’re traveling to away games I keep up on my phone trying to get updates and check out the scores. RN: You’ve been around football and Ole Miss football your whole life. You played Ole Miss football. You still play professionally. Are you able to be just “a fan”? ELI: I am a fan. I started off as a fan, growing up as a little boy going into the Grove, going to games, you know, probably early on I was way more interested in my own pick-up game of football in the Grove than the actual Ole Miss game being played, but as I got older, got more into football, I enjoyed watching the games. I saw some games growing up as a little boy at Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge. I watched them on television on Saturday as well so I grew up as a fan and then obviously got to play football there at Ole Miss and after I left, continued to be a fan I’ve gotten to know every coach that’s come in and still go around Oxford. In the off-seasons I meet some of the players, get to know them and so I am still very much a fan and root for them and support them in any way I can. RN: Do you work out with Ole Miss players in the summer? ELI: I have thrown routes with them. I will call up the coach and some players and find out what days they are throwing so I can go throw some routes and work on my timing and also it is fun for me to get to meet some of the guys. It kind of makes me feel like I am still 20 years old, in college and trying to prepare for a big season running around with those young guys. RN: What do you think about Hugh Freeze’s spread offense? ELI: You know, it works. I like the high tempo, the upbeat tempo, the quick passes, getting the ball out of the quarterback’s hands, getting quick completions and also taking some shots down the field, and in the run game, they are getting big runs so it is a fun offense to watch 40 - REBELNATION MAGAZINE
and honestly produces a lot of big numbers in yards and points. I think it is a perfect fit. Bo Wallace does a good job because he throws the ball well. He runs the ball. As a non-running quarterback, you know, I cringe at some of the hits that he takes, running as often as he does, but that is one of his strengths and why the offense does well, having that aspect to pull the ball down and tuck it and get the big gain. RN: Do you ever talk to Hugh Freeze? ELI: I have. This spring and last spring I got to sit down with him several times and talk football. You know we are both guys who enjoy the game and so it is just fun to talk some
x’s and o’s. I got to see him outside the locker room a little bit and hang out and get to know him. Sent him some text messages during the season to congratulate him on some big wins so we keep up a little bit. RN: What do you think about the job athletics director Ross Bjork is doing? ELI: I think Ross has done a great job and I think the excitement around Ole Miss is different right now than it has been in the last few years. I’m just excited about the direction that Ole Miss sports overall is going and so I think that is part of Hugh Freeze and Ross Bjork coming in, and the other coaches just having a great commitment. They are put-
ting Ole Miss at the top tier of athletics in the country and have the new facilities being built now so there is a lot of buzz and a lot of energy around campus and around the Ole Miss nation and that is exciting. RN: Do you and your Giants teammates every talk college sports with each other? ELI: Yeah, there is always - amongst team mates, there is always bragging rights when Ole Miss is playing another team that a team mate played for. We have a number of SEC guys on the Giants. There are a couple LSU guys and so those games are always big and Iâ€™m always rooting hard for Ole Miss on those games just because you know you are going to hear about it the next day, and I had rather be the one talking, not the one listening on that day. That would be nice in our meetings before games. RN: What do you think about Marshall Henderson and the basketball team? ELI: Marshall is exciting and again, he
brought a great energy to the stadium, to the arena, made some big shots, had some big games and so that is exciting. The guy can create great energy, back it up with his game and make clutch shots and create big moments in the game. It makes it fun and brings a big crowd and gives you a home court advantage. So that is exciting, it is fun to go to some games and see the Rebels playing well. RN: Youâ€™ve always been a low-key guy on the field. Henderson is the opposite of that on the basketball court. What do you think about his style of play? Is there anything in you that ever wants to draw attention to yourself after a big play like he does? ELI: You have got to be yourself and you have got to act natural and if that is your personality, and it works and it is not a distraction to the team, not hurting the team but helping the players around you and the fans and gives you an edge, then I am all for it. That is not my personality, I do things the way I feel comfortable. If you do something that is not you because you are trying to do something,
guys will sense that and it would be bogus. Youâ€™ve got to be yourself, whatever personality has got you to that point, you have got to stick with it. RN: How do you think the football Rebels will do in 2013? ELI: I am not setting goals for them. I expect them to compete each and every week and the SEC is tough and it is a grind and each game is, you know you got to find a way to make great plays at the end of games to win football games. I think they will be right there with every team they play and that fourth quarter, in those last five minutes, someone will step up and make that game-changing play that is going to help them win those close games. I think after this recruiting year some of the other guys that have been around the program the last several years, have competed in a lot of close games are going to be ready for those moments and hopefully steal some of those games that they lost last year. RN: Your dad played a key role in the hiring of Ross Bjork and Hugh Freeze. Do REBELNATION MAGAZINE - 41
Q&A: ELI MANNING y’all ever talk Ole Miss sports together? ELI: Yeah, we will talk and he will keep me informed on different things that are going on that I might not always know, just being up here in New York. Obviously, he’s going to Oxford more often and being around and kind of being plugged into the main stream line, so he will keep me updated on everything that is going on around all the sports or around the campus so we definitely both have a love and passion for Ole Miss and I try to stay as involved as I can from a distance. It is definitely a part of our communication. RN: I have a child that’s been to Blair E. Batson Hospital and am aware and thankful for the work you’ve done for that place. Could you talk to us about that? ELI: A few years ago we opened up the children’s clinic there which we thought was very important. I wanted to do something for Mississippi. It’s a place where both my parents grew up, where I went to college, going to games in Mississippi. Even though I wasn’t born there and didn’t grow up there, I feel in some ways I did as much time as I spent going to my grandparents’ houses or going to the Neshoba County Fair or just being around Oxford and sporting events. I wanted to do something for Mississippi and it was also something to do with kids and helping out kids and that was a great opportunity. The hospital needed a new children’s clinic so we did a big fund raising event and raised $2.5 million, really almost $3 million dollars after five years. I support the hospital and am always looking for a new project and different ways to help out different organizations around Mississippi. RN: How are you feeling about the New York Giants this season? ELI: I am feeling good. We just finished up our spring training and spring practices and guys were flying around and moving around well and I’m excited about the players we have and the new guys that are in and the young guys that are stepping into the role that they need to. I am excited about where we stand and what we can do this season. RN: What’s your best memory playing football for Ole Miss? ELI: That is a tough question. There are a lot of big wins. Winning the Cotton Bowl my se42 - REBELNATION MAGAZINE
nior year, my last game was a great moment. It was a big bowl game and going out knowing it is going to be your last game and to win, especially all the seniors that we had who had been there five years, a bunch of us had
registered and spent those five years together and the other seniors that had been there four years, we had gone through a lot together. We had some ups and downs and to finish strong like we did is a great memory. - RN
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FEEDING TIME Junior receiver Donte Moncrief is looking to make a statement in 2013.
Photo by Greg Pevey
BY JOHN DAVIS Contributing Writer
le Miss quarterback Bo Wallace hasn’t been around a harder working wide receiver than junior Donte Moncrief. Considering that Wallace played his prep career in Tennessee, started his college career at Arkansas State and spent a year around some of the most talented players in junior college at East Mississippi, that’s a mouthful. Wallace said Moncrief, a native of Raleigh, trains to be the best. There hasn’t been a practice session that he took a play off or ran an ill advised route. Everything, up to this point, has been executed at full speed. Moncrief ’s standout sophomore season, in which he led the Rebels with 66 catches for 979 yards and 10 touchdowns, definitely didn’t go unnoticed by the media either as he was named to the All-SEC preseason secondteam offense. Bigger and better things are expected for Moncrief in 2013, both as a leader and player on the field and he seems fine with an increased role as long as it means the Rebels garner wins. “Being someone that someone else can look up to and doing things right even when you don’t think anybody is looking,” Moncrief said when asked about being a leader. “Coming out every game and fighting for the full four quarters. That’s what the fans want to see. They want to see some action. They want to see us do good but at the same time they want to see us giving it our all even when we’re not winning.” In order for Moncrief to be an even better player in 2013 and for the Rebels to be a team that wins seven or more games, it’s going to take a team effort. “You can’t do it all by yourself. You’ve got
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Photo by Greg Pevey
Donte Moncrief has become one the deadliest offensive weapons in the SEC and he’s still hungry.
to work hard and give it all for the guy that’s next to you. If all 11 people on the field give it their all, there’s nothing else you can give,” Moncrief said. “We’re a better team now just from the summer. You could tell that we built chemistry last year but now it’s more like a brotherhood. We know we have to do it all together. If we don’t have everybody’s back, we know we can’t do it. We’re going to fight.” The players who have been interviewed during the summer have all down played the expectations. Ole Miss was picked to finish fourth in the SEC West, a marked improvement compared to a year ago when the Rebels hadn’t won an SEC game in 14 previous match ups.
“There are a lot of people talking because we bring a lot players back. We’re going to come out there and fight. We’re not just going for a bowl game, we’re going to go for it all,” Moncrief said. “There’s going to be a target on us, but at the same time, people still see us as an underdog. That’s what we like, we like to be the underdog. I like it because they feel like they’re automatically going to win when they see Ole Miss on the schedule. This is a different type of team.” It’s not likely that opposing defenses will shy away from Moncrief and his abilities. If cornerbacks entrusted to cover him do, it would be at their peril because the 6-foot-3, 223 pounder feels like he is that much fast-
Photo by Greg Pevey
DONTE MONCRIEF - BY THE NUMBERS >>>>> 2011 G 12
2012 G 13
TOTAL G 25
er, stronger and capable of performing at a higher level thanks to another summer under head strength coach Paul Jackson. “Coach Jackson has done a great job. He’s gotten me stronger and faster. He’s gotten me even tougher mentally and physically. I’m just ready to play the game and give fans what they want to see,” Moncrief said. “I’ve grown a lot. Coach (Hugh) Freeze is a great guy, he’s a good father figure and he’s going to make us the best men he can on and off the field. Mentally and physically I feel better. I feel great actually. I feel stronger, faster, my hands have gotten better.” While last year was a breakout season for the Rebels and Moncrief, the win over Mississippi State in the annual Egg Bowl was his best effort and top to bottom, the team’s most impressive showing.
“We’re a better team now just from the summer. You could tell that we built chemistry last year but now it’s more like a brotherhood. We know we have to do it all together. If we don’t have everybody’s back, we know we can’t do it. We’re going to fight.” Moncrief caught three of his 10 touchdowns against the Bulldogs, who came in to Oxford having won three straight in the rivalry.
“I know how much bad stuff they were talking about us prior to that game. We played out of love, not out of hatred. We played like it was just another SEC game but it is a big rivalry and we came out and gave it our all,” said Moncrief, who still watches that contest. “I go home almost every night and just watch all the small things that we do wrong. That’s why I know we can fix those small things.” The end result of the win not only garnered a bowl victory for the Rebels, it made Moncrief a huge star on social media. The King Kobraz recorded a song prior to the game and it was played over the speakers at VaughtHemingway Stadium in unison with his big catches. Moncrief took his new fame in stride as he reflected back on the highlights that included a 77-yard catch-and-run for a score among other top plays. “I’m happy about the situation because I was going up against some great guys like Jonathan Banks and Darius Slay who are both in the NFL now but at the same time, it was just a lot of hard work the week before the game,” Moncrief said. “Coach (Grant) Heard and Coach Freeze stayed on us and they told us that we could beat them and we could beat them by throwing the ball. We did and it was fun.” One of Moncrief ’s goals moving forward is that he wants to try and obtain the all-time receiving yardage mark held by his cousin, Shay Hodge. Moncrief credits Hodge, as well as other members of his family, for making him the receiver he has become. “Growing up I was always the baby of the whole Raleigh community. Everybody was older than me so playing against the older guys, I thought it was kind of easy when I got here because I was always playing against older guys,” Moncrief said. “Everybody in the family played football and they all went to college and did big things.” “Shay is a big influence now that he has the record. I should have broken it last year but that’s something I’m fighting to get so I can laugh at him.” A future in the NFL is more probable than not for Moncrief. The big question left to be answered – does it come after 2013 or after his senior year in 2014? “I’m going to look at (going to the NFL) when it comes. If it’s time to go, I’m going to go. If not, them I’m coming back to Oxford and playing football. If you think about it, it will get in your head. You have to stay humble and stay focused,” Moncrief said. “The big goal is to really just stay focused and be coachable. Stay humble and do things to get better, fix up my craft. It’s actually staying hungry and not letting the stuff you hear around and the stuff on the internet or in the newspaper get to you. If it gets in your head, it can mess up your game. I just try to stay away from it and stay focused.” - RN REBELNATION MAGAZINE - 45
Mike Marry The big middle linebacker is ready for a giant senior season. BY JOHN DAVIS Contributing Writer
he past is the past for Ole Miss linebacker Mike Marry. There hasn’t been many times when the Clearwater, Fla., native has looked back at his early days in Oxford and wondered if he should have or could have done something differently. Everything for the 6-foot-3, 253 pound middle linebacker is not about the future, but his last season at Ole Miss and what he can do to make the Rebels even better in 2013. “I try not to think about getting recruited or the NFL process. I try to, like Coach (Hugh) Freeze says, just win the day. If you think of your past or think ahead, it’s going to get you down and prevent you from reaching your maximum abilities,” Marry said. “There are times where I will watch game film and I see how much my game has changed from year to year. I learned so much from last year and that made me that much better of a football player and leader.” Leadership on and off the field is how Marry won the coveted No. 38 jersey given annually to the Chucky Mullins award winner. He has been a rock of consistency during his career at Ole Miss and his play in the BBVA Compass Bowl only demonstrated what coaches have seen from him in practice. Marry finished the 2012 season with 78 tackles and he was one of the three Rebels who came to Hoover, Ala., for SEC Media Days, an honor usually only reserved for players who are captains. “I feel like we’ll be a lot better team if we go
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Photo by Greg Pevey
MIKE MARRY - BY THE NUMBERS >>>>> 2010 G 10
ASST. TOTAL 8 22
ASST. TOTAL 35 81
ASST. TOTAL 41 78
ASST. TOTAL 84 181
2011 G 12
2012 G 13
TOTAL G 35
out and handle our business. The games we lost last year we lost for ourselves. We need to eliminate our mistakes and just believe in what the coaches are telling us to do and what they’re calling,” Marry said about the team coming out of workouts. “I think if we do that, we’ll be a lot more successful than we were last year. Knowing the scheme and Coach (Paul) Jackson’s conditioning, he pushes you to the limit every day so that when game situations come, it almost feels easy because you’re doing it on a daily basis.” The defense under coordinator Dave Wommack was an adjustment for Marry and his teammates last year but that’s not the case after an additional spring of learning. “New schemes, new coaches, it was like coming in from high school again because the
coaches don’t know you and you don’t know them. First you got to get to know the coaches and build a relationship there and then you got to learn the scheme and try to execute to the way he wants you to do it. It may not be the same as the previous coaches,” Marry explained about the transition. “It’s very beneficial having the same system in place. It’s going to help us a lot because the more of a relationship you have with the person playing next to you the harder you’re going to go and play. If you’re just playing for yourself, you’re team is not going to be successful. You have to play for everybody else that is around you. If you really care about that person and know what that person is going through and know how hard he’s playing, it will make you play that much harder.”
Photo by Greg Pevey
Marry was awarded the 2013 Chucky Mullins Courage Award.
The linebackers, as a unit, are tight, Marry said. Denzel Nkemdiche, who led the team in tackles last season, was recently named to the preseason All-SEC first-team defense. Marry has been recognized by some publications for his play in 2012 while others such as Keith Lewis are expected to have an even bigger impact once the Rebels travel to play Vanderbilt on Aug. 29. “That’s who we spent the most time with. That’s the closest group of guys out of anybody. Me and Denzel work out together every day,” Marry said about the linebackers. “We hold each other accountable and make sure each person does every rep. Our goal is to be
“It’s a great honor to be a part of this tradition. Not many people get the chance to do it and it comes with a lot of responsibility, but I feel that the coaches believe that I can handle them, so I am glad that they chose me. It will make me try to go harder and make sure that I do all the little things right because I have more eyes on me now.” - Mike Marry on winning the Chucky Mullins Courage Award the best corps in the SEC and the best in the country.” There was a time Marry didn’t always have the size he does now. While he doesn’t like to look back, he did recognize how important his grayshirt year was for him to come in and play in Houston Nutt’s old 4-3 scheme.
“My grayshirt year was when I really gained my weight. Before that I was around 215, 220. I was a lot faster. In high school, I was in a whole different scheme so I didn’t have to have as much weight. Most of my high school career I played around 157. After my senior year is when I hit the 200s,” said Marry, who attended the same high school as former Rebel standout Dexter McCluster. “Last year I played at 267. This offseason I’ve been focusing on losing weight and doing more toning up and getting faster. It’s not always about being big. I’m trying to work on speed and being quick, things that can help my team.” Ole Miss had a banner year on the recruiting trail, signing several top prospects on both offense and defense. Marry said the newcomers have done a great job of adjusting to life in the SEC and he feels like many will make an impact. “I feel like most of them will help us out this year. They’re focused. The best thing I like about the majority of them is they listen. When I tell them something, they listen, right away,” Marry said. “There’s no back talking because they were five-star recruits. They listen and try to fit into the team. They all came in focused and trying to get better. We really never hear them talking about their high school career unless one of the older guys just brings it up and we’re joking around.” -RN REBELNATION MAGAZINE - 47
Matt & Tom Luke
For Matt and Tom Luke Ole Miss is a family reunion BY JOHN DAVIS Contributing Writer
wo of the most beloved Ole Miss Rebels were re-united in Oxford back in May when former Rebel quarterback Tom Luke was hired by head coach Hugh Freeze to be the Assistant AD for Player Development. Tom joined his brother, Matt, on the staff. It was the first time that the two had been together in the same town since 2005 when they both worked under Ed Orgeron. Matt, who serves as Freeze’s offensive line coach, said it was very special to have his brother back on staff and his overall family so close. “My parents are just an hour away. My wife’s parents live here, she’s from here, and she has two brothers that are close. My sister is just two hours away in Madison so everyone is very close now that Tom is here,” Matt Luke said. “Coming back to Ole Miss has been special. I think that’s the right word to use. I think anytime you can come back to somewhere you consider home and grew up as a huge fan, it’s special. My dad and brother played here and anytime you can come back and work and be happy, I think that’s really special. The longer you go in life coaching you realize that quality of life is the most important and the way Coach Freeze does things with him putting an emphasis on family just makes it better.” Matt had already been back in Oxford for a season before Tom was hired. Tom, who spent 12 years coaching at Jackson Academy, said coming on board with Freeze was a “no brainer” of a decision. “To be a part of what they have going, to be back at Ole Miss and to be a part of the Ole 48 - REBELNATION MAGAZINE
Photo Courtesy Ole Miss Athletics
Miss family again, it’s just a dream come true,” said Tom Luke, before taking time out to point out some fond memories. “When you grow up an Ole Miss Rebel from the time you’re born and your dad played there and you drive up to all the Homecoming games from Gulfport back when it used to be 55 miles-per-hour all the way up to Oxford. It was a long, tough drive but we seemed to
make every Homecoming and we made most every game that they played in Jackson back then.” “Wearing the Buford McGee jersey and then to have the opportunity to play there and have the opportunity to work under three different staffs. Not many people get that opportunity.” Now that Tom has come back to Oxford,
Photo Courtesy Ole Miss Athletics
“I’m somebody they can go to because their parents aren’t here with them. That’s kind of how I perceive player development. There is a lot of things that go on with these kids and their life and the pressure for an 18-year-old is so much greater than when I played.” - Tom Luke he’s looking forward to building an even deeper relationship with his brother, who is seven years younger. “It’s a special time now for me to be around my brother and that we can have an actual conversation. If you could imagine somebody who was seven years younger, there wasn’t a lot in common when you’re growing up,” Tom Luke said. “I didn’t get a chance to see him play in junior high football. I occasionally got a chance to see him play high school football.
Very rarely did I get a chance to see him play college football because I was coaching on the high school level Friday nights and with him playing on Saturdays and sometimes being on the road and stuff like that. I never was able to watch him play that often and it was always special when I did. He was hard-nosed.” Matt, who played center for the Rebels from 1995-1998, got his toughness from his brother, who was known as a tough-nut quarterback when he played for the Rebels in 1989-1991. “He was my hero and when I went to games, I was wearing his jersey. He played the game the way it was supposed to be played,” Matt recalled. “I think growing up that my dad and my brother were my two biggest role models. I wasn’t able to see my dad play so really what I was taking was the way my brother played on the field and the way he carried himself on and off the field. He’s a tremendous person and I was able to learn a lot by just watching him. It starts with my mom and dad but obviously getting to see my brother living that just reinforced it.” While Matt Luke’s job as offensive line coach is much more explanatory, Tom’s position has more challenges, at least from a daily
experience standpoint. “It’s different every time I walk in the office. Something new always comes up. The title is player development but it’s really like player support. I’m there for them and it’s anything that doesn’t have to do with x’s and o’s. If something comes across the table, either (Asst. AD for Football Operations) John Miller or (Assistant Recruiting Director) Branden Wenzel or myself work hand in hand on that kind of stuff. Not so much academics but housing and food, just everyday life and their troubles,” Tom Luke said. “I’m somebody they can go to because their parents aren’t here with them. That’s kind of how I perceive player development. There is a lot of things that go on with these kids and their life and the pressure for an 18-year-old is so much greater than when I played. They get a lot more credit but they get a lot more blame too. It’s an awful lot of pressure that comes along with being an Ole Miss Rebel and being in the SEC even more.” The attention and the pressure that comes from playing on TV all the time is something Tom noticed compared to when he played. “It was just a big deal back then to get on TV when I was playing. To get on three or four times in a year meant you were on a roll. Now everybody is on every time you strap it on,” Tom Luke said. “It’s a situation now to where TV has taken off and the money has escalated and the more people see you, the more pressure, the more credit, the more criticism you have.” While Tom wasn’t always able to see his brother play in person, he will never forget watching Matt’s 1997 Rebels defeat Mississippi State in Starkville, 15-14. He also remembers when David Cutcliffe came in to take over for Tommy Tuberville how Matt’s ability to design a play and blocking scheme was appreciated. “The Mississippi State game going for 2, that put an exclamation on his career as a player and when Tuberville left after that Mississippi State game, he had a chance to get on the chalkboard. The story that I love to tell was Coach Cutcliffe came in and he had Matt explain things. Romaro (Miller) drew up what he knew on the board and all the skill positions and things like that. Then they gave Matt the marker and he drew up what he knew and afterwards Coach Cutcliffe said when his career was over that he was going to come back and be a student assistant,” Tom Luke said. “He probably had no desire to be college football coach at that point but he was given that opportunity and he just fell in love with it. He’s just so great with the kids. He’s an unbelievable relationship guy. He’s just relentless about doing the right things. There’s no gray area. This is the way we do it. We’re going to play as hard as we can or you’re not going to play. There is no comprise.” - RN REBELNATION MAGAZINE - 49
Nkemdiche – Continued from Page 13
already proven to possess a winning edge, with personalities and skills that serve them well in their duties. They have made a point of selling the program on its potential a top priority, and have definitely made sure to highlight Ole Miss’ track record of successful NFL alumni. But, regarding this year’s signing class, no single factor played a bigger role than “the Nkemdiche Effect.” Robert Nkemdiche gave the program a legitimacy that arguably no other person could have. He is the reason Coach Freeze was able to pull off what would have been unthinkable just one year ago. The giant defensive end was the reason that ESPN’s National Signing Day cover-
Ambrose – Continued from Page 17
same way I did as a kid. Probably more. As fond as J.R.’s memories of playing against LSU are, sharing those memories with his son has made them even better. “I’ve got the 1986 game on an old VCR tape,” Ambrose said. “My boy watches it all the time. He can tell me the play-by-play, and the people talking, he can tell you exactly what they said before they say it.” A couple years after Johnny Ray was born Ambrose took a job with the Rankin County Sheriff ’s Department. He’s worked at the county’s Juvenile Detention Center ever since. While the birth of his son helped Ambrose forget about what could have been with professional football, the youth at the Juvenile Detention Center helped him discover his true calling. “I love dealing with the kids,” Ambrose said. “I talk to them about
BE EARLY. BE LOUD. lock the vaught! 50 - REBELNATION MAGAZINE
age might as well have been a multi-hour advertisement for Ole Miss Rebel football. He is the reason that Ole Miss will be a widely discussed program this fall. “Will Robert Nkemdiche and others live up to their hype?” will be as compelling a storyline as any in the Southeastern Conference. And Nkemdiche is also a big reason current recruits are showing interest in signing with the Rebs in 2014. In short, a lot of different people, their hard work, and a fair bit of good fortune have coalesced to give Ole Miss a football program that, per most observers, is on a positive trajectory. But arguably nothing has contributed more to this era of good feelings than “the Nkemdiche Effect.” - RN
staying in school, and I always try to encourage them to get into some type of sports - football, basketball, golf, tennis or something that keeps you active. We’ve got some good, talented guys that come through here, that aren’t playing sports. They are just in the streets.” “He is wonderful with the kids,” says Michelle Rhoads, who is in charge at the Juvenile Detention Center. “Ambrose is the stone tower here. He keeps everything running smooth. When he is here working we don’t worry about anything - the kids are taken care of and treated right and that everything is going to be in order here.” Rhoads says Ambrose even plays the drums for the kids. “We have fun here a lot of time,” Rhoads said. “There are a lot of good ‘Bro stories. I mean, he is silly but he is serious when he needs to be. We have a lot of fun working here. I feel like I am 8-feet tall when I am with Bro back there.” Brewer was right. Ambrose was a game changer. He still is. - RN
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REBELNATION MAGAZINE - 51
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The Perfect Day in The Grove Starts Here Before you head to The Grove, stop by Colony Wine Market. We pride ourselves on having the most extensive collection of wines in Mississippi. Plus, we have the spirits that give football season its own flavor. Our staff can help you with your selection and even recommend cocktail recipes.
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REBELNATION MAGAZINE - 53
RECORD DAY >>> On November 14, 2009, Rebel running back Dexter McCluster put on an exhibition against the Tennessee Vols as he rushed for the greatest individual rushing performance in Ole Miss history -- 282 yards on 25 carries with touchdowns of 15, 23, 32 and a game-changing 71-yarder which boosted the Rebelsâ€™ lead to 35-17 with 13:59 left to play in the 4th quarter. 54 - REBELNATION MAGAZINE
“He (McCluster) set the school record for rushing yards and we probably set a school record for missed tackles,” lamented UT head coach Lane Kiffin. “Guys had angles on him and never even touched him.” McCluster’s performance for the ages -- no one individual in 113 seasons of Tennessee football abused the Vols with so many rushing yards -- was the highlight of Ole Miss’ most complete game of the year. - Photo by Greg Pevey REBELNATION MAGAZINE - 55
VIEW FROM THE GROVE
Follow Steven Godfrey on Twitter® @38Godfrey
For Ole Miss, attaining elusive ‘elite’ status has little to do with the Egg Bowl STEVEN
hile I was putting together the statistics for the main feature of this issue (see page 36), I noticed something that jumped out at me, so much so that I double checked my math. Not including vacated games and retroactive probation years from other teams, since the football division expansion of 1992, Ole Miss is exactly one-half game better than Mississippi State in conference play. A half-game. That’s it. The Rebels have the slimmest of edges: a 63105 conference record vs. State’s 62-105-1, with the whopping difference being a 13-13 tie between MSU and Arkansas in 1993. There are any number of ways to gauge superiority in the often-ignorant Egg Bowl rivalry: home game attendance, head-to-head wins, quality of bowls attended, size of the jumbotron, recruiting tallies and so on. I’ll take conference records. They’re the games that matter most in the best conference in the sport, and since the modern era of college football dawned, the two programs in Mississippi are indistinguishable. It’s a fact. Understand it, deal with it, stop denying it and move on. The point of this issue’s feature story was not to advance the pointless, never ending battle of superiority within state lines. Instead it was to try and analyze (in broad strokes) how a “bottom tier” SEC program like Ole Miss could somehow jump to the conference’s top level. I couldn’t tell you how long it would take or how feasible it would be, but doing so should be the ultimate goal. Not beating Mississippi State. I repeat: Ole Miss and Mississippi State shouldn’t define the success of their programs by the final score of the Egg Bowl. Nowhere else in the Southeastern Conference would you find such a shortsighted definition of “success.” Auburn and Alabama breathe hate for one another, but the Tigers’ seven-win streak over the Tide meant virtually nothing as soon as Bama won their first national title with Nick Saban, at least until Auburn finally got there the following year. The Bulldogs and Rebels share the same thin pool of resources – state budget, state population, demographics, median income, high schools, etc. – so it’s often easy to measure the two based off almost equal sets of ingredients. And for years a majority of Mississippians have been content to do just that, to enjoy a paltry six or seven win season that ends in a consequence-less bowl game so long as they’ve got the Golden Egg. If Ole Miss truly wants to achieve greatness, it should all but ignore its in-state rival for 51 weeks a year. The Rebels should try and figure 56 - REBELNATION MAGAZINE
out how programs like South Carolina (recently) and LSU (last decade) made seemingly unexpected strides to the top of the conference. When Steve Spurrier was brought to Columbia, it was with a longterm view in mind. When Nick Saban revolutionized the Tigers, it was with unified support from top money men and sidewalk fans alike. There was no emphasis on one-upping the team next door, because in both cases each program didn’t have a natural in-state rival that played in the SEC. In South Carolina’s case, maybe it’s the benefit of their newcomer status. The Gamecocks got to the SEC in 1992, and didn’t arrive with decades of bitter conference rivalry games. The focus, as it should be for Ole Miss, was on building a program that could eventually compete at the top of the SEC East, not one-upping a particular team. Sure, their rivalry with Georgia has become must-see TV and an acrimonious early-year affair, but all-time the Bulldogs have played Clemson more than Carolina. There are some exceptions, namely recruiting. Obviously Mississippi is a talent-rich state that Ole Miss will have to dominate on Signing Day. And while power programs have routinely parachuted in to pluck out top prospects, MSU remains the strongest foe in the fight to lure several Dandy Dozen type prospects. But too often Rebel fans are concerned with the total number of the state’s (alleged) top players either going to Oxford or going anywhere but Starkville. There’s a system in place under Hugh Freeze, as there is under Dan Mullen, and occasionally the two styles dictate different kinds of prospects needed. Freeze’s success on the recruiting trail in 2013 is a positive indicator of thinking bigger. Of all the states in the country, there might be four – Texas, Florida, Georgia and Louisiana – where it’s possible to construct a BCS bowl worthy team entirely inside state lines. Ole Miss recognizes that Mississippi is deep, but not deep enough, and fought recruiting battles for its top signees far from Jackson or Tupelo that didn’t even involve MSU. It’s also worth noting that no matter how bad either team is in a given season, the other school can only beat them one time. When Ole Miss was 0-8 in the SEC under Houston Nutt, it only gave Dan Mullen the same number of wins as when he beat Nutt’s Rebels two years prior: One. So if MSU goes 1-11 or 11-1, as long as Ole Miss beats them, it shouldn’t matter to Rebel fans. Where’s the focus on Auburn? On Arkansas? Both the Rebels and Bulldogs built their bowl resumes off of two wins against each school last year, as the Razorbacks and Tigers had unprecedented flops. It’s within the realm of possibility that both Mississippi teams could take another four wins from those programs again in 2013. That kind of success in the division hasn’t been seen for both Mississippi programs since the days of Sherrill and Tuberville. If either Mississippi program is serious about being something other than an afterthought in this brutal landscape of national title winners, focus will have to shift on dominating someone other than their next door neighbor. That is, of course, unless Ole Miss enjoys the neighborhood its been in for the last two decades. - RN
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Don't miss our exclusive interview with Rebel great Eli Manning and MORE!