LANDSHARKS READY FOR FRENZY
CHAD KELLYâ€™S CASE FOR THE HEISMAN
EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH ADEBOYEJO
C O N T E N T
CONTENTS 3 EDITOR’S NOTE Welcome to The Rebel Walk 6 2016 DEPTH CHART Meet the two-deep Rebels 11 CONTRIBUTORS A little bit about us 12 FIVE BOLD PREDICTIONS David Johnson’s 2016 predictions 15 KELLY’S CASE FOR THE HEISMAN TROPHY
Why the Ole Miss QB can take it home 19 Q&A KENDARIUS WEBSTER We visit with the starting free safety 21 2016 SCHEDULE BREAKDOWN A look at the Rebels’ schedule 27 QUINCY ADEBOYEJO Exclusive interview with Quincy 30 SEC WEST PREVIEW Comprehensive look at the SEC West
42 OLE MISS GROUND GAME A look at the Rebels’ RBs 46 LANDSHARK DEFENSE Can they be as good as in 2014? 50 ENGRAM EMBRACES SENIOR YEAR
Standout tight end ready to reach Atlanta 54 O-LINE: QUIETING THE NAYSAYERS Offensive linemen with something to prove 58 OLE MISS SOFTBALL Rebels are Rising in Rugged SEC West 60 THE KEYS TO THE COURT Q&A with Kory Keys 63 ARMINTIE PRICE HERRINGTON Rebel legend joins Insell’s staff 66 DIAMOND REBELS Future bright for Ole Miss Baseball 69 OM LEGEND: CORY PETERSON Star WR talks Ole Miss football
E D I T O R ’ S
N O T E
EVELYN VAN PELT MANAGING EDITOR
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO WALK THE REBEL WALK? Thank you for reading The Rebel Walk magazine. Together with our online site, TheRebelWalk. com, we are entering our third year of covering and supporting Ole Miss Athletics, and we are proud to announce in the last two years our content has been viewed over 10.8 million times! That number is humbling as we know you have many options when it comes to reading about the Rebels. We work hard to bring you information about men’s and women’s sports at Ole Miss with integrity and in a way that makes you proud to be an Ole Miss Rebel. Last year we attended every Ole Miss football game, home and away, culminating with the Sugar Bowl victory over Oklahoma State in New Orleans. We proudly presented our “Gridiron Gallery” of exciting game photos on our website, TheRebelWalk.com. We covered football practices and press conferences, reporting on big wins like Alabama and A&M and heartbreaking losses like Arkansas and Memphis. We followed our women’s and men’s basketball teams to the SEC Tournament, covered our Diamond Rebels as they fought and clawed their way into the NCAA tournament, and provided live play-by-play updates on Twitter for every one of our Ole Miss football games. We are thankful for the talented writers and photographers who do us the honor of contributing their work; for the graciousness of the Southeastern Conference Media Relations Office; for the players and coaches who give so much of themselves to Ole Miss; and, of course, for the enthusiasm, pride and love shown by Ole Miss fans everywhere for the University of Mississippi.
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P H O T O S
A LOOK AT THE
By John Luke McCord Contributing Writer
2016 DEPTH CHART Here’s a look at the Ole Miss depth chart as we see it. Of course, with all the talented incoming freshmen, there might be some changes. What you can be assured of, however, is the Rebels are loaded at many key positions.
EVAN ENGRAM AND JORDAN WILKINS CELEBRATE WILKINS’ TOUCHDOWN IN THE REBELS’ 2015 EGG BOWL WIN. (PHOTO CREDIT: CAMERON BROOKS)
And while Ole Miss fans enjoy Kelly’s final ride this fall, freshman Shea Patterson will be envisioning how high he can carry the program starting in 2017. There’s likely no need to redshirt Patterson, because not only is he an incredible talent in case anything happens to Kelly, but it is expected that he might choose to depart for the pros following his junior season for the Rebels. Running back:
1st team Senior, Akeem Judd Junior, Jordan Wilkins 2nd team Freshman, Eric Swinney
CHAD KELLY WARMS UP BEFORE THE REBELS’ 2015 GAME VS. MEMPHIS (PHOTO CREDIT: BENTLEY BRELAND)
1st team 2nd team
Senior, Chad Kelly Freshman, Shea Patterson
Chad Kelly is the Southeastern Conference’s top returning signal caller in 2016. Not only did the Buffalo, New York, native lead the league in passing yards and passing touchdowns in 2015, but he was also the Rebels’ second-leading rusher with 500 yards and his 10 rushing scores led the team. The only question for Kelly in 2016 is how he will follow up a season where he became the first Ole Miss quarterback to beat Alabama, Auburn and LSU in the same year and was named MVP of the Sugar Bowl. An early-December appearance in his home state at the Heisman Trophy presentation could be one way Kelly might even surpass last season’s success.
No matter who gets the first carry this fall, both Akeem Judd and Jordan Wilkins will be called upon to get the Ole Miss rushing attack where it needs to be. Both were quite solid down the stretch last season, and running backs coach Derrick Nix is pushing for more of the same in 2016. Wilkins has always had a knack for making big plays, while Judd has the combination of quickness and acceleration, to go along with his size, to earn the tough yards. Both of their skill-sets will be needed this season. Swinney is the youngster of the bunch, but he didn’t run like it in the spring. He may well possess the best traits of each of the other running backs on the roster all rolled into one. He will get carries this season after making would-be tacklers pay during spring practices. He is quick, fast and powerful, which is why he was so coveted by the Rebels as a high school recruit. Receiver:
1st team Senior, Quincy Adeboyejo Junior, Damore’ea Stringfellow Freshman, Van Jefferson 2nd team Sophomore, DaMarkus Lodge Senior, Derrick Jones Junior, Markell Pack While the loss of a receiver with the talent of Laquon Treadwell would be a significant hit to most receiving corps, there’s a reason Ole Miss is building a reputation as “Wide Receiver U.”
on the watch list for the Mackey Award honoring the nation’s most outstanding tight end, could be in for a productive fall. In fact, Engram’s skills dictate that with increased depth at the position, he could even see time in the slot or out wide. Speaking of depth at the tight end spot, Octavious Cooley should provide another playmaking option in the middle of the field this season. Cooley could be the best freshman tight end in the country and one of the most talented tight ends Hugh Freeze has ever signed. Offensive Line:
WR QUINCY ADEBOYEJO (8) AND TE EVAN ENGRAM (17) (PHOTO CREDIT: BENTLEY BRELAND, THE REBEL WALK)
Quincy Adeboyejo is a proven playmaker with elite speed, while Damore’ea Stringfellow has enough skills to replace Treadwell all by himself. However, the strength of this position going forward is going to be the depth of talented options. Markell Pack could easily be the game one starter in the slot, but look for Van Jefferson to break out this season. DaMarkus Lodge, like Stringfellow, has the talent to follow in the footsteps of Treadwell. Additionally, three true freshman, D.K. Metcalf, A.J. Brown and Tre Nixon, could all see time and make an impact in 2016. Tight End:
1st team 2nd team
Senior, Evan Engram Freshman, Octavious Cooley
Evan Engram could be on an NFL roster right now, but fortunately for Ole Miss he decided to spend another season as a Rebel. That is good news for Chad Kelly and the Ole Miss offense as Engram is the most experienced and reliable target coming back. Engram,
1st team Freshman, Alex Givens Sophomore, Javon Patterson Senior, Robert Conyers Sophomore, Jordan Sims Sophomore, Sean Rawlings 2nd team Freshman, Greg Little Junior, Rod Taylor Freshman, Eli Johnson Junior, Daronte Bouldin Senior, Jeremy Liggins On paper this position might concern some Rebel fans, due to the fact that there are three sophomores and a redshirt freshman on the first unit. However, with a solid season already under their belts, much is expected from Javon Patterson and Jordan Sims at the guard spots. Pair those two with Robert Conyers at center and the interior of the offensive line is going to be pretty stout. That’s before you even mention Rod Taylor as the third guard. An immensely talented Taylor could also play tackle. Speaking of tackle, that is one area of concern for Matt Luke’s unit heading into this fall. With that said, Sean Rawlings has been battle-tested in the SEC and has incredible potential for the Rebels. Freshman Alex Givens has shown that he not only has an elite frame, but that his footwork is advanced enough to protect Kelly’s blindside. However, it could be a challenge for Givens to hold off 5-star signee Greg Little in 2016.
The road back to the field for Gross following a neck injury has been challenging, and it will certainly be rewarding for him to have a productive final season in Oxford. Also, 5-star signee and Wayneboro, Mississippi, native Benito Jones is a name to watch in this group. Linebacker/Husky:
1st team 2nd team D.J. JONES (93) AND FADOL BROWN (6) STOP MEMPHIS SHORT OF A FIRST DOWN. (PHOTO CREDIT: BENTLEY BRELAND, THE REBEL WALK)
DEFENSE Defensive Line:
1st team Senior, Fadol Brown Senior, DJ Jones Sophomore, Breeland Speaks Junior, Marquis Haynes 2nd team Senior, John Youngblood Senior, Issac Gross Sophomore, Ross Donelly Sophomore, Victor Evans Even without Robert Nkemdiche, this unit will be dominant. Fadol Brown, D.J. Jones and Marquis Haynes could all be drafted highly in 2017, and Breeland Speaks might be the most talented of the bunch. Furthermore, there is literally no drop-off with the second group, as they are just as skilled and experienced as the first team. Regardless of who starts, Chris Kiffin has a group he will rotate frequently and one that he may well mold into one of the best in the conference. If you want to key in on three guys, consider Brown, Haynes and Gross as each appears poised to have a huge season.
Junior, DeMarquis Gates Senior, Rommel Mageo Senior, Tony Conner (Huskie) Senior, Terry Caldwell Sophomore, Detric Bing-Dukes Freshman, Myles Hartsfield (Huskie)
Beyond Chad Kelly and the offensive line, the linebacker group will be the most important factor in determining the success of the Rebels in 2016. The depth of the position will rest on the shoulders of two transfers in Rommel Mageo and Detric Bing-Dukes. Mageo seems like a sure thing after leading Oregon State in tackles last fall. Alongside returning starter DeMarquis Gates, the Landshark defense could have two very good starting linebackers, but others will have to step up behind those two to bring depth to the position.
TONY CONNER THROWS UP A LANDSHARK AFTER DROPPING AN LSU TIGER FOR A LOSS. (PHOTO CREDIT: BENTLEY BRELAND, THE REBEL WALK)
At the huskie spot, Ole Miss will simply trot out the best defender on the teamâ€”Tony Conner. He was hampered by injuries for much of the last two seasons, and that is why you didnâ€™t see him join his
classmates Treadwell, Nkemdiche and Laremy Tunsil in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft. But don’t be surprised if you hear Tim Tebow discuss Conner as a “Freak of the Week” when SEC Now comes to Oxford this fall. Conner will be a huge plus to an inexperienced linebacker and safety groups this season. Cornerback:
1st team Junior, Ken Webster Senior, Tony Bridges 2nd team Senior, Kailo Moore Sophomore, Cameron Ordway Iron sharpens iron, right? Well, that could be said for the Ole Miss receiving corps and the cornerback group. Ken Webster and Tony Bridges will start the corner spots for a second straight season and each is very experienced. Bridges really began to put it all together by the 2015 season’s end, while Webster was his usual solid self. We expect 2016 will be the year Webster makes his leap into the top tier of SEC defensive backs. Behind Webster and Bridges is a mixture of experience, size and speed. Cameron Ordway didn’t redshirt last season, mostly because he was physically ready to play in the SEC. He is long and lanky and learning to be a very good cover guy. Kailo Moore was once touted as future star at running back, but his speed and hip flexibility may have made him a potential star on the defensive side of the ball. Many expect his play this fall to help him campaign for a chance to make it on Sundays. Carlos Davis is also healthy and ready to make an impact on this group in 2016. Safety:
1st team Junior, C.J. Hampton Sophomore, Zedrick Woods 2nd team Junior, C.J. Moore Freshman, Armani Linton Despite this being C.J. Hampton’s first season as a starter at safety, he is expected to be the stalwart of
the bunch, and this could be when we see him take his game to the next level. Zedrick Woods, who earned praise from Defensive Coordinator Dave Womack in the spring, plays with a non-stop motor. He could bring many of the same qualities to the table that the Rebels had in Mike Hilton. C.J. Moore and A.J. Moore could blossom into stars this fall with increased opportunities. Armani Linton, fresh off a redshirt, could bring back the physicality and centerfield presence that Ole Miss had in 2014 with Cody Prewitt. Though the Rebels will be young at the safety position, there is incredible talent in the group. Punter:
1st team 2nd team
Junior, Will Gleeson Junior, Gary Wunderlich
Both Will Gleeson and Gary Wunderlich have shown they can be effective in their own way when it comes to punting duties. Wunderlich can boom it, while Gleeson is a bit more crafty. Gleeson is likely to get the initial nod with punting duties because Wunderlich is the place kicker and kickoff man, but don’t be surprised to see the Memphis native pin opponents deep on occasion, either. Place Kicker:
1st team 2nd team
Junior, Gary Wunderlich Senior, Tyler Jackson Senior, Nathan Noble
Wunderlich, who increased from eight to 25 attempts from his freshman to sophomore year, saw his accuracy percentage increase also, so one would expect him to be an even more reliable weapon in 2016. Additionally, he is a perfect 83-83 on PATs in his career. All-SEC honors could be on the way this fall.
CONTRIBUTORS WRITERS David Johnson
Courtney A. Smith
David is the Recruiting Analyst and Publisher for Rebels247 and 247Sports. Twitter: @DavidRebels247
Courtney received his Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Arts from the University of Memphis in May of 2014. In addition to writing for The Rebel Walk, Courtney has been a freelance writer for the Associated Press. Twitter: @RebelWalkCAS
John Luke McCord
John Luke McCord is from Tupelo, Mississippi. In addition to writing for The Rebel Walk, John Luke covers high school football for the Southern Elite Sports network, most frequently for SES Mississippi. He is the host of The Buzz on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 2-3 p.m. on 95.1 FM in Tupelo, MS. He is also a frequent co-host of Mississippi Sports Today with Craig Horton on ESPN 96.3 FM, The Ticket, 7-9 a.m. in Tupelo. Twitter: @JLgrindin Chris Muller
Chris Muller is a 1995 Graduate of Ole Miss. He is a collegiate recreational sports professional currently residing in Arlington Texas with his wife of 19 years, Amber, and German Shorthaired Pointer, Sophie. Chris is an avid Ole Miss Rebels fan whose hobbies include watching college football and baseball as well as playing poker with his friends. Twitter: @rebelinc Chad Neipling
Chad is a contributor to GridironNow, co-founder and analyst for SEC Breakdown, and a frequent guest of some of the nation’s top sports radio shows. Twitter: @SEC_Chad
EDITOR Evelyn Van Pelt
Evelyn is the managing editor of The Rebel Walk. Twitter: @OleMissEvie or @TheRebelWalk
PRODUCTION Bo Pentecost
Bo is the owner of Solve Design Studio, Inc. in Ridgeland, MS and the owner of Hell Yeah Damn Right LLC — otherwise known as the HYDR Guy! Twitter: @hydr_olemiss
PHOTOGRAPHY Amanda Swain
Amanda is a photographer for the Barlett Express and also owns her own photo studio, Amanda Swain Photography. Twitter: @AmandaMSwain
Ole Miss fall camp has begun and
By David Johnson 247 Sports
the Rebels’ season opener is set for Sept. 5, versus Florida State in Orlando. Coming off a 10-3 season
in 2015 that culminated with a rout
of Oklahoma State in the Allstate Sugar Bowl, great expectations, once again, have been placed on the Rebels, who are a consensus Top 20 team in preseason polls. Five bold predictions for the 2016 season:
1. CHIPS ON THE SHOULDERS It has been a tumultuous off-season for the program, as an NCAA investigation went into hyper mode. Some in the national media (and others) have done yeoman’s work in an attempt to paint the Rebels to be, well, dirty. As a party to the legal process, Ole Miss has mostly been forced to sit back and take the cuts and stabs aimed at diminishing the program’s reputation. There is a sense of pent-up frustration within the walls of the Manning Center. The only way to alleviate that frustration, other than this never-ending NCAA thing finally ending, is to release it on the field, right? The bet, here, is this team will somehow find a way to exorcise some of its demons on opponents this fall. That Egg Bowl in Oxford ought to be a doozy...for Ole Miss fans.
2. CHAD KELLY GETS A FREE TRIP TO NEW YORK The latest Vegas odds, according to Bovada, have quarterback Chad Kelly at 16-1 to win the Heisman Trophy this season. If Bovada had recently seen a thicker, more physical looking Kelly strolling around
CHAD KELLY SMILES AFTER THE OLE MISS WIN OVER MISSISSIPPI STATE IN THE 2015 EGG BOWL. (PHOTO CREDIT: CAMERON BROOKS)
the Manning Center, those pretty outstanding odds might even be better. Kelly shredded the Ole Miss record book last season when he passed for 4,042 yards and 31 touchdowns, while rushing for 500 yards and 10 TDs. He only improved as the season progressed, and he seemed to have carried that forward into spring ball until he was sidelined with a sports hernia injury. Fortunately, he’s fully healthy now. Kelly came to Ole Miss with a bad boy image that he has worked diligently to erase. He’s the nephew of one of the greatest QBs to ever play the game (Jim Kelly). He plays for a team that has been in the national spotlight for all the right and wrong reasons of late. He has plenty of offensive weapons at his disposal. We believe Kelly tops the impressive numbers he put up last season and earns a ticket to the Heisman Trophy ceremony in his native New York this December.
3. NEW ATTENDANCE RECORD WILL BE SET Go ahead and mark it down. A new attendance record for Vaught-Hemingway Stadium will be set on Sept. 17, when the Rebels host Alabama. The newly expanded Vaught will officially seat 64,038. The bet here is, somehow, some way, there will be many more than that inside the stadium. It will be the largest crowd to ever watch a football game in the state of Mississippi.
4. THE THREE-PEAT HAPPENS
Speaking of the Alabama game...that’s right. We’re calling it here. Ole Miss finally has comparable talent to the Crimson Tide; the game is in Oxford; and, the Rebels may very well have the best play-making quarterback in all of college football. Why couldn’t it or wouldn’t it happen? After beating the Tide for the third consecutive year,
DEMARQUIS GATES (31) SACKS THE ALABAMA QB FOR A LOSS IN THE REBELS’ WIN OVER ALABAMA. (PHOTO CREDIT: BENTLEY BRELAND, THE REBEL WALK)
the Ole Miss fans won’t even storm the field. They’ll just head back to the Grove and bask in the new normal. (Warning: That does not mean Alabama won’t beat everyone else on its schedule and win another national title.)
5. LINEBACKERS WILL BE A STRENGTH Give the Rebels an A+ for a quick-fix on what looked to be a questionable linebacker corps. Ole Miss brought in post-grad transfer Rommel Mageo from Oregon State and JUCO transfer Detric Bing-Dukes (a former Georgia signee) from Iowa Western after National Signing Day. The super-active Mageo led Oregon State last season with 87 stops. Both of those guys should help plug the middle at the Mike spot and allow leading tackler DeMarquis Gates to patrol at the stinger. If everyone comes together, and we think they will, this trio gives Ole Miss one of the most underrated group of linebackers in the SEC.
CHAD KELLY’S CASE FOR THE
By John Luke McCord Contributing Writer
Quarterback Chad Kelly set the world on fire right out of the gate last fall. It was something to behold, as he guided the Ole Miss offense to back-to-back, 70-plus point outings against UT Martin and Fresno State. In week three, however, he forever supplanted himself into Rebel lore by beating Alabama in Tuscaloosa at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
CHAD KELLY KEEPS THE BALL FOR A BIG GAIN IN THE 2015 EGG BOWL. (PHOTO CREDIT: CAMERON BROOKS)
Kelly, as Rebel fans well know, would go on to lead Ole Miss to a 10-win season, a second straight win over MSU and a Sugar Bowl victory.
first-year starter in the SEC, he managed to carry the offense without star left tackle Laremy Tunsil for the first seven games.
Kelly, the Sugar Bowl MVP, also became the first Ole Miss quarterback to defeat Alabama, Auburn and LSU in the same season. Each of those wins was enormous on the Rebels’ way to their first 10-win season since 2003. Even more impressive for the second team All-SEC selection Kelly was that, as a
All in all, Kelly finished the season with 4,042 passing yards (1st in SEC, 10th in FBS), 31 passing touchdowns (1st in SEC, t-9th in FBS), a 65.1 completion percentage (4th in SEC, 19th in FBS) and threw for an average of 310.9 yards per game.
Additionally, Kelly also proved to be a dangerous runner in 2015. He rushed for 10 touchdowns, including big runs against Alabama, Mississippi State and Oklahoma State. It seemed like he executed a crucial run in nearly every game. More than anything, it appeared that Kelly and Hugh Freeze were speaking the same language; there was perhaps no better fit for the scheme than the Buffalo, New York native. With all of this mind, what is not to like about Kelly’s chances of winning the Heisman Trophy in 2016? Here is why we believe Chad could very well walk away as the winner of football’s most prestigious award.
CHAD KELLY RUSHED FOR A GAME-HIGH 110 YARDS AGAINST ARKANSAS IN 2015. (PHOTO CREDIT: BENTLEY BRELAND, THE REBEL WALK)
Depth at wide receiver
Sure, go-to receiver Laquon Treadwell was drafted and signed by the Minnesota Vikings. He won’t be able to make spectacular leaping catches and physical runs for Kelly anymore. However, his void only opens up room for another playmaker to step in. Quincy Adeboyejo and Damore’ea Stringfellow are the most likely candidates to take over the go-role, but returning experience in the persons of Derrick Jones and Markell Pack should also prove very helpful. Tight end Evan Engram deserves his own paragraph, and we are all aware of just how dangerous he can be. Last season Engram continued to show his value to the team with his excellent blocking skills in the Rebels’ running game, yet he still managed to come up with huge catches when his team needed him the most. This season, Engram is a senior and this will be his final go. With an influx of tight end talent coming in this fall, look for Engram to be lined up more similarly to other receivers more frequently this season. Finally, there are the young pass catchers such as Damarkus Lodge, Van Jefferson, as well as incoming freshmen, A.J. Brown, D.K. Metcalf and Tre Nixon, who could all be game breakers.
Literally, there will be receivers everywhere Kelly looks this fall. More opportunity than the competition
The ACC, Pac 12, Big 10, Big 12 and other conferences simply will not produce as many marquee match-ups to give players in their leagues the opportunity for as many Heisman moments as Chad Kelly will have the chance to create. Two early favorites for the 2016 Heisman trophy are last year’s runners-up in Clemson signal caller Deshaun Watson and Stanford all-purpose back Christian McCaffrey--though LSU’s Leonard Fournette, Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield, Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett and others will be contenders, as well. Kelly will square off against another Heisman favorite in Florida State’s Dalvin Cook in the season-opener. While all those players, as well as many others across the county, are considered viable candidates, most of them will trail Kelly in opportunities to create Heisman moments.
Sure, the Ole Miss/Alabama game could be the most anticipated of 2016, but the Rebels’ games with LSU, Florida State, Georgia, Texas A&M and Mississippi State are also sure to be tense games in which Kelly could emerge with a hero play or Heisman-worthy performance. When it comes to Fournette, the Tigers could see a boost in their passing game this season, and will likely have to in order to be contenders in the SEC West. Also, while the Tigers are favored by many heading into this season, it is clear the program could fold with a bad loss or two. So, Kelly seems to be the more stable candidate, who will have the ball in his hands more.
receivers, linemen and other playmakers. He has become an even more vocal leader, as well. Make no mistake, the team will be Kelly’s this fall--and he knows it. Limiting interceptions this year, after chucking 13 last season, will be a major element of Kelly’s improvement. His decision-making will be even better as he heads into year two at Ole Miss. Additionally, his second run through a tough, SEC schedule is likely to go more smoothly, as well, as he knows what to expect and is better prepared for what’s coming. Additionally, Kelly is a year more mature, a year more comfortable in his skin within the Ole Miss program and community.
Enjoy the ride!
Many look at Kelly’s outstanding numbers from 2015 and wonder where he could possibly improve—but we believe this is the area a lot of people are overlooking. Kelly’s ceiling for this season is much, much higher. Not only is he more versed in the offense, but he is entering his second year with a lot of returning
If you haven’t already done so, you might want to jump on the Swag Kelly Heisman train with the rest of Rebel nation as Chad Kelly’s senior season will be one for the ages! Are you ready?
CHAD KELLY AVOIDS TWO STATE TACKLERS IN THE 2015 EGG BOWL. (PHOTO CREDIT: CAMERON BROOKS)
PHOTO CREDIT: BENTLEY BRELAND, THE REBEL WALK
By John Luke McCord Contributing Writer
KEN WEBSTER Rebel Walk: What is one reason you will be better in 2016 than in 2015? KW: “I’ve been playing since I was a freshman. I know the defense pretty well and I communicate well with everyone.” Rebel Walk: What are some of the areas you’ve improved most since getting to college? KW: “Getting in the film room and just being able to know where my teammates are at and what my assignments are.” Rebel Walk: What is it that put Ole Miss ahead of Florida State and Georgia and all the big time offers you had? How do you feel about the decision to come to Oxford now? KW: “Coming in, I was basically looking at where I was going to be able to be on the field as a freshman. But throughout the recruiting process I started looking at the defensive players that were going to be on the field with me or the players that were coming in with me. The front four that we got and have had since I was a freshman, they’ve been good and tremendously talented.” Rebel Walk: Though you’re just a junior, your playing experience and number of starts make you the vet of the cornerback group. What is your approach to leading and guiding the unit? KW: “Getting everybody together and getting everybody ready to practice. Getting everybody ready to take this fall practice at full steam.”
Rebel Walk: Talk about the group of corners going into 2016. There is returning experience and senior leadership in the group. So how good can you guys be out there in coverage? KW: “We can be very good. We have one new freshman coming in. Everybody is ready to work, like everybody is in the gym every day since we’ve been back in June. Everybody is working hard and I see everybody wanting to get better.” Rebel Walk: What’s it like going against such a talented group of receivers every day? KW: “All those guys are talented. Quincy (Adeboyejo) all the way to the newest one, Tre Nixon.” Rebel Walk: What part did you play in helping get Charles Wiley to Oxford and what is your assessment of him as a player and how he fits in the Landshark defense? KW: “In high school my defensive line was always, like we take care of our defensive line in high school, and I looked after him in high school. He came up here a few weekends and he loved every moment of it.” Rebel Walk: Obviously there is depth and experience at corner. So how can you guys use that to help a young group of safeties grow up early in the season? In what ways can you all help make the transition for them easier? KW: “We as a cornerback room just need to know our assignments and our checks. That will just take more pressure off them and they can focus on getting
the backers set and getting the other checks called all the way across the board.” Rebel Walk: What skills do you possess that will make you attractive for NFL teams? KW: “I’m coachable. I know the game, I know the schemes. I study the game each and every day. I have the size, and I pretty much get along with everybody.” Rebel Walk: Being in the SEC, you’re used to the intense battles. So who are some of the receivers that present the most challenges to you in coverage? KW: “Amari Cooper, he was pretty good. Sammie Coates. Laquon (Treadwell). Speedy Noil, he’s pretty good. Travis Rudolph from Florida State, I’ve been watching him a lot lately. He’s pretty talented himself.”
Rebel Walk: Whats the best thing about Oxford that doesn’t deal with football? What’s one thing or a few that always make you happy to live there? KW: “I can just always go somewhere by myself and watch the sunset over the beautiful campus we’ve got.” Rebel Walk: What is the defense’s mindset as a whole knowing that some people will doubt what you guys can do because of the names that are gone, like Robert Nkediche and Trae Elston and CJ Johnson? KW: “We are relentless to the football each and every play. We can do it.”
Rebel Walk: Which of your teammates have you noticed standing out this summer? Whether it be in the weight room or because of skill or work ethic, etc. KW: “Victor Evans, he’s more of a standing end and he’s very quick. He runs fast for a big guy, he moves pretty well for his size. The incoming transfer, Detric (Bing)Dukes, is learning the defense well. Rommel Mageo from Oregon State. They are settling in well and they seem to be catching on pretty fast. They’re not vets here, but they’re vets at other places, and they’re mature enough to get in the film room.” Rebel Walk: What’s your favorite thing to do away from football? KW: “I really don’t do too much. I have my dog. We sit and walk and watch the sunset, or go by the lake. I take him on walks by the lake. “ *His dog is a dachshund named Ali. PHOTO CREDIT: BENTLEY BRELAND, THE REBEL WALK
2016 SCHEDULE BREAKDOWN By John Luke McCord
Head coach Hugh Freeze has improved by one win in each of his first four seasons at Ole Miss. The Rebel Walk’s John Luke McCord takes a look at this year’s schedule to find out what is in store for Freeze and the 2016 Rebels. We’ve categorized each game as “will-win,” “toss-up,” or “should win.”
FLORIDA STATE SEMINOLES
ALABAMA CRIMSON TIDE
2015 record: 10-3
2015 record: 14-1
Where: Orlando, FL
Where: Oxford, MS
Though the Seminoles are favored by Las Vegas, we believe the game is more of a toss up. The Rebels’ rebuilt offensive line will need to match up with FSU’s experienced defensive front. Chad Kelly gives Ole Miss a decided advantage when it comes to the quarterback spot, but Florida State has a Heisman contender of its own in running back Dalvin Cook.
While this game isn’t a “must-win” game for Alabama, as they have navigated their way to the top of the division despite losing to the Rebels each of the past two seasons, it will likely feel like as if it is. If the Rebels earn their third straight victory over the defending national champions, they might just propel themselves to Atlanta for a first-time SEC championship game.
Both teams are deep and talented on defense, particularly up front. The two keys of this game will be whether the offensive skill guys for the Seminoles can match the play of Ole Miss’ offensive playmakers. On the flip side, how will the new faces along the offensive line of Ole Miss fare against that ferocious front seven of Florida State?
2015 record: 5-6
Where: Oxford, MS
Welcome to the new look Vaught-Hemingway stadium, Rebels fans. The bottom line for Ole Miss here is to get a victory. This will be the first chance for Rebel Nation to see their team in action in the new season, and the first in a string of three home games. While this game might be considered the “break” of the first four games, it will be an intriguing challenge early in the season for the front seven of the defense against an offense that finished in the top in the country in 2015. However, similar to the first two games of last season, it should be a chance for the offense to put on a fireworks show.
This contest could be a bit different, though, as Ole Miss will not enter the game as heavily doubted as in year’s past. They have proven they can beat Nick Saban’s machine—and they will also be at home, where Bo Wallace guided the Rebels to a victory over the Tide in 2014. On the field, Alabama’s front seven will provide many, if not more, of the same challenges that FSU presents. In the SEC opener, however, the Ole Miss offense will have to overcome not only a front seven full of future NFL Draft pics, but a secondary that features Eddie Jackson, Marlon Humphrey, Minkah Fitzpatrick and Tony Brown. That being said, we believe the Ole Miss offense stands a better chance on paper than Alabama’s does.
2015 record: 10-3
Where: Oxford, MS
Though we expect this game to fall into the category of “will-win” for the Rebels, we also consider it something of a “must-win.” Because of the difficulty of the first four games, the Rebels could find it imperative
OLE MISS REBELS 2016 FOOTBALL SCHEDULE DATE OPPONENT LOCATION WEAR 09/05
at Florida State
09/10 vs. Wofford Oxford 09/17 vs. Alabama Oxford 09/24 vs. Georgia Oxford 10/01 vs Memphis Oxford 10/15
at Arkansas Fayetteville
at LSU Baton Rouge
10/29 vs. Auburn Oxford 11/05 vs. Georgia Southern Oxford 11/12
at Texas A&M
11/26 vs Mississippi State Oxford
to defeat Georgia if they expect to fight for a trip to Atlanta. The Bulldogs will likely arrive in Oxford with a true freshman, Jacob Eason, playing quarterback, and Ole Miss defensive coordinator Dave Wommack will almost certainly have a plan in place to confuse the talented youngster. While Chad Kelly should be able to have a field day against the Georgia secondary, the Bulldogs’ 3-4 defensive scheme could cause trouble for an Ole Miss offensive line that may still be gelling just four games into the season. This game feels a little like Florida in 2015, because Georgia doesn’t seem as concerning on paper—however, the Bulldogs have the ability to challenge the Rebels if Ole Miss is unprepared. Fortunately, they will face off in Vaught-Hemingway and the Rebels should grind out the win.
We’ll grant you that it might not be wise to put this game in the “will-win” category after what happened in the Liberty Bowl last season. However, Justin Fuente is now the head coach at Virginia Tech and Paxton Lynch is playing with the Denver Broncos. Sure, the Tigers will be a quality opponent in 2016, but they will be at a disadvantage when it comes to talent. We expect Ole Miss to exhibit a renewed level of focus when they get their shot at Memphis this season and look for Chad Kelly to shine.
2015 record: 8-5
Where: Fayetteville, AR
2015 record: 9-4
Where: Oxford, MS (Homecoming)
The game against the Razorbacks falls into the “should-win” category, though we could argue that avoiding a third, straight loss to Arkansas places the game in more of a “must-win” situation.
Fortunately for Ole Miss, senior quarterback Chad Kelly is the best returning quarterback in the conference, and the Rebels will look to capitalize on that advantage. Though its 2014 and 2015 losses came in completely different ways, Ole Miss has to be concerned that the Hogs have just flat-out been able to find a way to beat the Rebels. Perhaps it’s the power formations Arkansas uses on offense, but, whatever it is, the Rebs will need to solve this mystery this season if they hope to reach their number one goal. Arkansas might not be as good along the defensive line in 2016 as they were the previous two seasons, but the rest of the defense is chock-full of experience. On the other side of the ball, it appears the Rebels will have the bulk up front to match the size of the Razorback offensive line this season.
It will be tall task for Ole Miss, and everyone in the SEC for that matter, to slow down Leonard Fournette and the Tigers’ rushing attack. However, there are question marks surrounding quarterback Brandon Harris. If he is effective, LSU has the receivers to make it tough on their opponents; if he’s ineffective, as he was last season, LSU isn’t likely to be that much of a threat in the toughest division in college football. Expect there to be added juice to this already intense rivalry matchup this season, especially if they are both close in the standings as is anticipated. If both teams play to their expectations, this game, along with each team’s result against Alabama, will decide who represents the SEC West in Atlanta.
While Arkansas will be breaking in a new starter at quarterback this season in junior Austin Allen, their signal caller does have experience against Dave Wommack’s defense. Allen played most of the game against Ole Miss in 2014 when his older brother, Brandon, went down with an injury.
2015 record: 7-6
Where: Oxford, MS
We believe the Rebels should win this game; however, strange things happen when Arkansas and Ole Miss play one another.
After making it a game against the Rebels last season on The Plains without a quality option at quarterback, Auburn could be a bit of a concern in 2016. Gus Malzahn and the Tigers feel they have found another play-making quarterback in John Franklin III, but, until that is proven, this goes in the “willwin” category. Jovon Robinson and Kerryon Johnson, alongside Franklin, are likely to form a dynamic rushing attack; however, the question remains whether the Auburn passing game will be effective.
2015 record: 9-3
Where: Baton Rouge, LA
We believe the Rebels could emerge from the “real” Death Valley with a win this season over LSU, hence our categorizing it as a “toss-up.” However, we all know that games against SEC West teams are usually a battle until the end. Ole Miss will need this conference victory to get to Atlanta, but this game pits the Rebels against a team who is expected to also compete for that spot. In fact, most are projecting a close race between LSU and Ole Miss for who finishes immediately behind Alabama in the division this season.
Auburn is similar to LSU, as far as being a team that could be too one-dimensional; however, Malzahn’s team has more upside at quarterback. Nevertheless, Auburn does not have the receiving options LSU has, nor does Malzahn’s bunch have the defense the Bayou Bengals possess. However, Auburn’s defensive line should be much improved and superstar Carl Lawson should be fully healthy coming off the edge this fall. Ole Miss is much better on paper, for sure, but Auburn has the potential to beat the Rebels and that is concerning. Fortunately, the game will be played in the Vaught and we look for the Rebels to emerge victorious.
GEORGIA SOUTHERN EAGLES
2015 record: 9-4
Where: Oxford, MS
This is a no brainer for the “will-win” category. As we said of Wofford, if you don’t win this one, the conversation will assuredly go in a direction Ole Miss does not want. This will be a tricky little speed bump in the season, however, due to the preparation the Rebels must make for for the triple option offense. It will require the Landshark defense to play disciplined football. Last year against West Virginia in their season opener, the Eagles were defeated 44-0, so they may struggle against an up-tempo, high-powered offense such as Ole Miss runs. Even if GSU is able to control the time of possession, Ole Miss will still be able to dominate the game because of their ability to hit home run plays and put together short, explosive, productive drives. This game likely doesn’t offer many benefits, even if the Rebels dominate the game. They will have to prepare in a different way and playing against the Eagles really won’t help them against any of the other teams they will face. However, this is a game on the schedule, it’s winnable and it must be won if Ole Miss wants to reach its goals.
TEXAS A&M AGGIES
2015 record: 8-5
Where: College Station, TX
We are on record as categorizing this as a “will win” for the Rebels. However, our hunch is that A&M proves to be the third team, along with Ole Miss and Alabama, that contends for the western division title. The Aggies return the league’s best pass rusher in
Myles Garrett, and unfortunately Laremy Tunsil will not be around to stifle his pressure this fall. Additionally, this is year two of defensive coordinator John Chavis running the TAMU defense, and he should have an improved bunch, especially when it comes to third downs and getting after the quarterback. A team effective in that area might have more success defending the Rebels’ offensive attack. Chad Kelly has come close, but he’s never completed a pass from his rear end—and that’s where defenses will have to put the senior signal-caller in order to stop him. With that said, transfer quarterback Trevor Knight and the Aggie offense might struggle with the Ole Miss defense to a greater degree. This game should be one of 2016’s most exciting contests.
2015 record: 4-8
Where: Nashville, TN
Though the game against Vandy is definitely another in the “will-win” category, it concerns us a bit. First off, though Ole Miss won by double digits last season, the Rebels faced a physical contest that was closer than the score would lead one to believe. This season, we expect Derek Mason’s defense to be a year better and a year more versed in his scheme. With stability at quarterback, an improving group of young receivers and Ralph Webb back again, the Commodore offense will be markedly better. This game will be close if Ole Miss turns it over—or if the Rebels give the ‘Dores confidence from letting them stick around in the game. It would be ideal for the Rebels to come out and put their foot on the throat of Mason’s bunch early. Chad Kelly will need to make quick, correct decisions without trying to be too fancy in order to have success against this defense. While most folks won’t be too concerned about this contest until game-week arrives, they could see a Vandy team—barring injuries to key players—that will
C.J. JOHNSON HOISTS THE EGG BOWL TROPHY AFTER THE REBELS DEFEATED MISSISSIPPI STATE IN STARKVILLE IN 2015. (PHOTO CREDIT: CAMERON BROOKS)
get stronger as the season goes. Ole Miss will win the game, but they shouldn’t overlook Mason’s squad.
MISSISSIPPI STATE BULLDOGS
2015 record: 9-4
Where: Oxford, MS
We chalk this up as a “will-win” for the Rebels in 2016, but let’s face it—the Egg Bowl game is always a “must win,” especially considering it will be in Oxford. Not only will Freeze and company look to “hold serve” against their in-state rival this November, but given the chance they could look to run up the score due to a few off-season happenings.
Though we think Dan Mullen could be going on another full year with no sleep, we expect him to put a solid offensive product on the field this fall. Beyond Fred Ross and Donald Gray, however, Mullen will need playmaking pass-catchers to emerge. Also, will his young running backs be able to make the leap to where they need to be for State to be competitive? While we expect a quarterback to be well-established by the time the battle for the Golden Egg rolls around, we are closing in on the start of the season and still don’t know exactly who that will be. Peter Sirmon, MSU’s new defensive coordinator, brings a new 3-4 defensive philosophy to the Bulldogs’ defense. There are enough playmakers returning on that side of the ball to make one believe the unit has the potential to be good. Though it should provide a challenging regular season finale for the Rebels, a good Bulldogs’ defense was carved up by Chad Kelly in 2015—and we expect more of the same until proven otherwise.
P H O T O S
Quincy Adeboyejo By Evelyn Van Pelt Managing Editor
This is Quincy Adeboyejo’s time to shine. In 2013, the 6-foot-3 wide receiver, a native of Cedar Hill, Texas, arrived in Oxford along with another great receiver, Laquon Treadwell, as a part of Ole Miss’ heralded recruiting class. Treadwell and another standout receiver from last year, Cody Core, are now playing on Sundays, and Adeboyejo is the player many expect will fill the void left by their departure. The Rebel Walk recently interviewed Quincy and asked what he will remember most about his time at Ole Miss. “I think what I’ll remember most is just my first week being here, just getting used to being here and being away from my family,” he began. “I’ve come a long way,” he said, explaining that he used to go back home to Cedar Hill whenever he had any break.
QUINCY ADEBJOYEJO (PHOTO CREDIT: AMANDA SWAIN,
But as is the case with many young men who begin their careers at Ole Miss, it soon becomes home. “I just really fell in love with the place,” Quincy said, noting that he doesn’t go home nearly as frequently as he used to.
THE REBEL WALK)
Most Ole Miss football fans can probably name Quincy’s choice for his most memorable gridiron moment, at least thus far in his career. If you guessed the 2015 Alabama game, you’re absolutely correct. In last year’s matchup in Tuscaloosa, Quincy caught
a Chad Kelly pass intended for Treadwell—the pass deflected off the helmet of one of the Tide players and landed in Adeboyejo’s hands. The rest is history.
Adeboyejo, who runs a 4.41 40, not only was alert enough to catch the ball as it caromed off a helmet, but he ran 66 yards for a touchdown in the Rebels’ 43-37 win over Alabama. It was one of ESPN’s top plays of the year, with good reason. When we asked Quincy what was going through his head on the play, he explained that it all happened so quickly he wasn’t quite sure what occurred. “I really don’t know. Honestly, I can’t tell you exactly what was going through my mind,” he said. “I saw the ball and next thing you know, I had it. It literally happened so
With so many talented receivers on the roster, we wondered how the group manages to remain so cohesive. But Quincy made it clear it is an incredible advantage to be around all that talent: “Having so much talent in one room is just going to bring the best out of all of us, you know, especially the competition every day.” Quincy and the other receivers know they are among the top in the nation at their position. “There’s like a handful of guys here that would probably play anywhere in the country,” he said. “We all like to push each other because we want to make that room the best in the country. We pride ourselves on being ‘Wide Receiver U.’ I think just having those guys and having everybody in there pushing each other is just going to bring the best out in every last one of us.” Helping the newcomers
Ole Miss wide receiver coach Grant Heard, who refers to Quincy as the “old man” of his group, commented recently on how much Quincy helps the new receivers, so we asked Quincy how he is making the transition to college ball easier for the incoming recruits.
QUINCY ADEBJOYEJO CATCHES THE INFAMOUS PASS DEFLECTION AND RUNS FOR A TD AGAINST ALABAMA. (PHOTO CREDIT: BENTLEY BRELAND, THE REBEL WALK)
fast, I didn’t even see it. I thought one of them caught it, and I was kind of wondering, like, where’s the ball? And then it was in the air right in front of me.” “We pride ourselves on being ‘Wide Receiver U’”
This season Quincy is surrounded by what many consider to be the best receiving corps in the nation: Damore’ea Stringfellow, Markell Pack, Van Jefferson, DaMarkus Lodge, and Derrick Jones all return, joined by star newcomers A.J. Brown, Tre Nixon and D.K. Metcalf.
“I try to help them out with the mental part a lot,” he said, “because I know how stressed out I was coming in as a freshman trying to learn the plays and trying to put everything together. It just kind of happens so fast. You get one little summer session to try and learn the play book, and once camp starts it’s rolling and you can get left behind—or you can stay on track.” While Quincy is focused on his own play, he’s also doing what he can to help his teammates. “I’ve been trying to give them things that will help them get the playbook down easier and faster, things that I wish I could have done so I try to share that with them so they can do those things that will help them when camp comes,” he explained. “It’s just like home now”
It seems one cannot play for Ole Miss or live in Ox-
The player who has influenced Quincy the most
The Rebel Walk asked Quincy if there is a player after whom he patterns himself or one who has been a role model to him as a receiver. His answer is no surprise. “Who influenced me the most is Donte (Moncrief ),” he explained.
QUINCY ADEBJOYEJO CELEBRATES A TD. (PHOTO CREDIT: AMANDA SWAIN, THE REBEL WALK)
“He still comes up here a lot, and when he works out, sometimes I just try to get out there with him and learn things that he’s learned at the next level. He likes to come up here and pass those things down to the younger guys.” SEC defenders
ford without becoming extremely attached. We asked Quincy why Ole Miss is so special to him. “It’s a welcoming town,” he said. “I just feel so welcome wherever I go. If I go out to eat, there are always Ole Miss fans who speak to me. I enjoy things like that, people going out of their way to say ‘hi’ to me. People just knowing who you are around Oxford just gives you a good feeling. It just feels like home. I have so many friends. I’ve built so many relationships with so many people that it’s just like home now.” Why top receivers choose Ole Miss
With so many highly-ranked receivers committing to Ole Miss, we asked Quincy if he can put his finger on why they are choosing the Rebels. “First of all, Coach Freeze just recruits really well,” Quincy explained. “And also having the opportunity to play for something that’s above yourself, like playing for something like ‘Wide Receiver U,’” he continued. “We are not only playing for the team, but we’re also playing for each other as a group. It’s just the bond that we’ve created and guys just want to be a part of that.”
We were curious which defender Quincy believes is the toughest he has faced, and his answer might be surprising to some. “I would say (Ole Miss junior) Ken Webster. He’s one of our own guys. He’s probably one of the better corners I’ve played against in my career here, high school, all that stuff. He’s just really technically sound. He knows what he’s doing and he knows how to read receivers.” Always improving
We asked Quincy if there was any particular area in which he wanted to see improvement in his game. His answer is exactly what one would expect from a hard-working, senior leader. “Everything. I want to be a better overall player than I was last year. Not one specific thing, but in everything.” From his sophomore to junior year, Quincy doubled his receiving yards. Now, entering his senior season, we asked him if he sees himself doubling last year’s numbers. “You never know, but that’s the goal,” he said, smiling.
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JOHN YOUNGBLOOD (47) AND MARQUIS HAYNES (27) REACH GREAT HEIGHTS IN OLE MISSâ€™ WIN OVER ALABAMA. (PHOTO CREDIT: BENTLEY BRELAND, THE REBEL WALK)
PREVIEW By Chad Neipling
Editor’s note: The road to the National Championship could go through the SEC West, arguably the best division in college football. For a preview of the West, we turn to our SEC analyst, Chad Neipling. In addition to his work with The Rebel Walk, Chad is an esteemed contributor to GridironNow, co-founder and analyst for SEC Breakdown, and a frequent guest of some of the nation’s top sports radio shows. With an expert eye, Chad examines the state of the SEC West and what you can expect to see from each team this season.
ALABAMA Alabama’s road games could very well decide the success or failure of the 2016 season for the Tide, with games versus USC (in Arlington, TX), Ole Miss, Tennessee, a salty Arkansas, and the dark horse in the west, LSU. Yet, it’s history that could be the biggest factor in deciding the upcoming season. Only one team has managed to repeat as national champs since 1996; Alabama. So it stands to reason that if there
were a team that could accomplish the feat, it’s the Crimson Tide. Offense:
Offensively, ‘Bama, yet again, returns with questions surrounding the quarterback position, this time for the third year in-a-row under offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin. At this point, it’s fair to say the QB position is just as much of a plug-and-play position on the field at Alabama as any other. This year two guys will be looking to battle it out in fall camp; redshirt-junior Cooper Bateman and redshirt-freshman Blake Barnett. Of the two, Bateman is the elder with more game experience and typically that’s the guy Saban has gone with in the past. Yet, if there was a guy that could disrupt the flow of tradition at Bama, it would be Barnett. The skill positions are loaded, specifically at wide receiver, but Alabama lacks the experience at running back we’ve become accustomed seeing to under Nick Saban. Two standout preps Bo Scarborough
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and Damien Harris look to take over the reigns as the next set of dominant running backs at Alabama. While lack of experience may be an issue, the lack of talent is not. The depth at wide receiver this year has some thinking this could be the most talented and deepest position the Tide has had under Nick Saban. Whether or not that’s the case has yet to be seen, but it’s really hard to argue that Calvin Ridley, ArDarius Stewart, Cam Sims and Robert Foster won’t have the opportunity to have All-SEC performances this season. Defense:
Defensively, the Tide is just as loaded as they were last year with a few new names of some highly touted recruits. In particular, Da’Shawn Hand will be a fun guy to watch this season. There will be some growing pains, as expected with a group who had to wait their turn, but it will be the experience of Jonathan Allen that will bring the needed leadership within the unit. With the addition of defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, after Smart’s decision to take the head coaching job at Georgia, the Tide defense should be just as dominant without a noticeable drop in performance.
AUBURN There’s been a multitude of change for the Auburn Tigers’ staff this offseason on both sides of the ball. New offensive coaches include wide receivers coach Kodi Burns, a former Auburn player, and offensive line coach Herb Hand, the former Penn State running game coordinator and offensive line coach. Burns was hired after former Auburn quarterback Dameyune Craig left for the wide receivers position at LSU. Offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee will still be the main signal caller along with Malzahn. Following Will Muschamp’s departure, new defensive coordinator Kevin Steele takes over as the Tigers’ third defensive coordinator in four years. Steele left LSU after one year in the same position. Steele won’t be alone, as Wesley McGriff named the co-defensive coordinator. McGriff comes with an NFL pedigree as he is the former defensive backs coach for the New Orleans Saints. Some may remember McGriff as an
assistant at Ole Miss, Vanderbilt, Miami, Baylor and Kentucky. Offense:
Offensively, the Tigers have had a bit of a quarterback problem since the departure of Nick Marshall. It didn’t help matters any that prior to last season’s start, the hype around the incumbent starter Jeremy Johnson was at a fever pitch, including talk of a Heisman run. That bubble not only popped for Johnson, but he found himself riding the pine by the end of September. Needless to say, the quarterback position was of major concern in recruiting for the Tigers, thus Malzahn went the JUCO route and signed three-star quarterback John Franklin III. The signal caller enrolled prior to spring workouts in January and has drawn many comparisons to Marshall. Franklin’s career first landed him at Florida State, but he, like Marshall, found himself in the JUCO ranks looking for another shot at the big time. If Franklin is anything like he’s been advertised, Auburn could be the team to watch in the western division. In addition to Franklin, the Tigers needed to up the ante at the skill positions after finishing 10th in the SEC in total offense—a far cry from their ’13 and ’14 finishes as the No. 2 total offense in the conference. That’s a trend that has Auburn flashing a 15-11 record the last two seasons and finishing 2-6 in SEC play last year. At the offensive skill positions, Auburn will rely on several new faces under Burns. The production from senior wide receiver Marcus Davis just hasn’t been where it should be, opening up a big opportunity for newcomers Nate Craig-Meyers, Kyle Davis and Eli Stove. At running back, the Tigers will look to Jovan Robinson to lead the way, with the addition of Malik Miller who will try work himself into the rotation. Defense:
Defensively, the Tigers have limped along with secondary woes, which may continue to plague them this fall, but with the addition of McGriff on the coaching staff many hope for a vast improvement over the eleventh worst passing defense in the
conference. Steele, on the other hand, hasn’t coached a top 10 defense in five years, while Auburn hasn’t been near a top 10 defense nationally since 2007. In fact, the Tigers have only had two finishes in the SEC in the top 10 in total defense twice: 2009 & 2014. While Steele inherits a talented defensive line that includes Carl Lewis, Montravious Adams and potential shining star Byron Cowart, the production just hasn’t been there. Cowart, a top prospect heading into the 2015 season, only racked up six tackles after playing in all 13 games last season. To top that, the Auburn Tigers averaged just a mere 1.46 sacks per game last season—enough for a No. 13 finish in the SEC.
deepest, if not the deepest, group of talented wide receivers and tight-ends in the conference. Seniors Keon Hatcher and Drew Morgan return to lead a group of experienced wide outs that includes several key newcomers who will be looking to burst onto the scene in ’16. Look for a couple of redshirt wide receivers, LaMichael Pettway and Deon Stewart, to push the already existing rolls of Dominique Reed, Jared Cornelius and Cody Hollister. At the tight-end position, all eyes will be on returning senior Jeremy Sprinkle to take his game to the next level. He’s accompanied by one of the nation’s top tight end classes from a year ago that includes Will Gragg, C.J. O’Grady and Austin Cantrell. Each will be looking for an opportunity to shine in Bielema’s two tightend sets.
Without a doubt, Arkansas is one of the more underrated teams by the majority of the media going into the 2016 season. The questions surrounding the loss of quarterback Brandon Allen, the offensive line losses (3), and the losses of starting running backs Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams are fair reasons to be uncertain. You could probably throw in the loss of Mackey Award winning tight end Hunter Henry into that series of questions. Yet, truth be told, Bret Bielema has quietly been recruiting solid depth at those exact positions. Now, whether or not they pan out on the field of play has yet to be seen. Offense:
Offensively, Dan Enos showed the SEC and the country that he is quite capable of coaching up a quarterback and helping him notch consistent performances game-in-and-game-out. Allen quietly turned in a 166.5 pass efficiency in 2015, best in the SEC, while passing for an SEC third best 3,440 yards behind Chad Kelly and Dak Prescott. If younger brother Austin Allen, the heir apparent after Bielema made the announcement during spring workouts, can produce a similar type of performance this season— with several key home games versus Alabama, LSU, Ole Miss and Florida—Arkansas could very well be the “dark horse” in the west. CODY CORE THROWS UP THE LANDSHARK EN ROUTE TO
At the skill positions Arkansas returns one of the
SCORING AGAINST UT-MARTIN. (PHOTO CREDIT: AMANDA SWAIN, THE REBEL WALK)
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With both Collins and Williams bolting to the NFL, the running back position has been a far bigger question than some anticipated under Bielema. Returning is redshirt senior Kody Walker and sophomore Rawleigh Williams, III. Both are looking to make their stamps as the next set of dual 1,000 yard rushers under coach Bielema, but they’ll have plenty of competition with incoming freshmen Devwah Whaley and T.J. Hammonds. Whaley is the highest-rated running back under Bielema as a head coach (at Wisconsin or Arkansas), while Hammonds has already beefed up to 210 pounds since arriving on campus. With the speed of Hammonds—he runs a 4.4 40—and the elite talent of Whaley, the Arkansas backfield will stand up to expectations in 2016. Defense:
Defensively, the Razorbacks are garnering a lot of comparison to the 2014 defensive unit that finished second in total defense in the SEC and No. 10 nationally. Before that can be official, however, the Razorbacks will need to shore up a secondary that gave up an SEC-worst 275 passing yards per game in 2015. The 2014 unit finished No. 5 in the SEC in pass defense, and in order to get back to that head coach Bret Bielema has hired former Iowa State head coach Paul Rhodes as his defensive backs coach. The secondary is deep with talent that just hasn’t played up to expectation as of late, due to the amount of broken coverage at times from the linebacker position. The linebackers will need to make vast improvements if this 2016 defense is going to look anything like the ’14 defense. While the linebackers and secondary have some questions, the defensive line has zero. The addition of five-star standout McTelvin Agim and underrated Briston Guidry, the Razorbacks are three-deep in most positions. If the defensive line can continue to force pressure upfront in order to make quarterbacks uncomfortable in the pocket, the rest of the defense could have a lot less pressure to deal with.
LSU The last three weeks of the 2015 season were probably some of the most daunting in Les Miles’ 11-year stretch as the head coach at LSU. The hot-seat talk hit a fever pitch across the nation, even though the state of Louisiana was going through a financial crisis that would have only worsened if Miles was fired. He had $15 million remaining on his contract at the time. Even with all of the chatter of Les losing his job, he and his staff went out and signed one of the country’s top five recruiting classes in 2016. On top of signing a top ranked class, Miles managed to pull away rising star defensive coordinator Dave Aranda from Wisconsin, the Tigers’ third defensive coordinator in as many years following Steele’s abrupt departure. Offense:
One of the biggest hires in the offseason was former offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach Dameyune Craig, whom LSU lured away from Auburn to be their new wide receivers coach. From the outside looking in, the hire may not seem like a big move, but behind the scenes this hire could pay massive dividends for LSU’s passing game. During the LSU spring camp offensive coordinator Cam Cameron invited Craig, a former quarterback at Auburn, in to the quarterback film and training sessions. It’s been no secret for those of us covering the SEC that LSU quarterback Brandon Harris has struggled with the X’s & O’s of the game, yet has all the talent in the world. The benefit of having a coach on staff like Craig, who has played the game in the film room and on the practice field, cannot be underestimated. (Ask Brandon Allen at Arkansas how much of an improvement he saw in his game made after having prior All-Big Ten quarterback and current offensive coordinator Dan Enos in his corner. A heck of a lot, if you turn on the ’14 game film prior to Enos’ arrival!) In my opinion, it’s this particular move by the coaching staff that may make LSU a legitimate
threat to Alabama as the SEC West title contender. The skill positions on the offense are deep and filled with enough national championship talent to more than put LSU in the conversation.
The offensive line is just as good as last year’s, if not better with the return of one of the best centers in the game, senior Ethan Pocic. And in addition to a stout offensive line, the Tigers bring back the SEC’s most potent rushing attack in 2015, which was also the No. 7 rushing attack in the country. The combination of Leonard Fournette, Derrius Guice and Darrel Williams should be a scary thought—one that keeps most defensive coordinators across the SEC awake at night. This group of elite backs rushed for over 3,000 yards, minus 226 of which belonged to Harris. That’s still an incredible number.
The memory of being ranked No. 1 for five weeks during the 2014 season still resonates with Bulldog fans, yet so much in the SEC has changed over the same course of time. One of the biggest changes comes at the quarterback position for State. Finding a replacement for Dak Prescott is a tall task for any program, much less a program that has had to rise from the days of being the SEC West doormat. Fortunately for Bulldog fans, head coach Dan Mullen seemingly always finds a way to produce an offense that plays to the strengths of his quarterbacks, and I don’t expect anything less in 2016. Despite quarterback changes and questions on the offensive line, it’s the 2016 schedule that sets State up for moderate success out of the gate. The Bulldogs will face Kentucky and South Carolina out of the east, avoiding the top three teams in the eastern division, while getting Arkansas, Auburn and A&M at home out of the western division. That’s somewhat doable, and let us not forget that Mullen has surpassed expectations by most media outlets the last five years.
Defensively, the Tigers’ personnel has them right back in the thick of things. The LSU secondary that features two of the most vicious hitters in the game— Tra’Davious White and Jamal Adams—will continue to be a dominant unit, despite any scheme changes by Aranda.
Offensively, the Bulldogs return several backs who will be leaned on rather quickly, especially given the lack of rushing threat that left with Prescott. Aeris Williams, Brandon Holloway and Ashton Shumpert will have to work in tandem for State to have a legitimate run threat with Nick Fitzgerald at the helm. The wild card or “x-factor” could be if Mullen decides to use the athletic Elijah Staley at the quarterback position. If Staley was used in run packages, his 6’6 248-pound frame could loosen up some defensive fronts.
If Brandon Harris can come out in the first game versus Wisconsin and hit a few deep routes in the first-half, everyone in the SEC had better take notice. With a wide receiving corps that includes Malachi Dupre, Travin Dural and freshman Derrick Dillon, it is entirely possible for Harris to do so.
The return of linebacker Kendall Beckwith, along with nine other starters from last season, has this group rated as one of the SEC’s top defensive units going into the 2016 season, despite having some potential depth issues at the linebacker position. Where LSU will have to cement itself as the dominant team in the west is upfront defensively. The defensive front of LSU has experienced a bit of a regression the last few seasons and without the big bodies upfront, LSU will be hard pressed to be able to take down the SEC West to get to a title game.
Mullen has said the four-man competition between quarterbacks Damian Williams, Nick Fitzgerald, Elijah Staley and Nick Tiano will continue through fall camp, even suggesting the competition could continue into October if needed. Wide receiver Fred Ross makes his return in 2016 af-
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ter finishing the 2015 season as the SECâ€™s No. 4 best target, hauling in over 1,000 yards off of 88 receptions. Ross, along with Malik Dear and Gabe Myles, will be looked at as leaders of the wide receiver corps after the dismissal of Fred Brown back in April. A guy to keep an eye on if Fitzgerald does indeed become the starter is Donald Gray. Gray will be the deep-man target and Fitzgerald has a big arm that can get Gray the ball down field. Defense:
Defensively, this is one area where State will see little drop-off in personnel. One of the top-five tackling machines in the SEC returns in linebacker Richie Brown. Where there could be significant disruption, however, is with the change of basically an entire defensive coaching staff. Mullen lost all four of his defensive coaches in the off-season. This created a massive void, leading to what some presume is the reason for such a light signing day class (18) in 2016. Mullen made it clear that he wanted top tier coaches, picking up several with NFL pedigrees. New defensive coordinator Peter Sirmon, former linebackers coach/recruiting coordinator at USC, is joined by defensive line coach Brian Baker, safeties coach Maurice Linguist and secondary/recruiting coordinator Terrell Buckley. Hopefully under Sirmon, who is making his signal calling debut this season, the defenses will be less complicated. Former defensive coordinator Manny Diaz liked to create multiple moving parts that overcomplicated the defenseâ€”and that was rumored to be a consistent problem with the personnel.
The offseason hasnâ€™t been kind to Ole Miss with respect to the general media perception concerning the athletic department, but, all that aside, the returning players for 2016 provide a light at the end of a long offseason tunnel. Nine starters return to the team, and despite concerns of inexperience there lies a plethora of talented players looking to make names for themselves. Coach Hugh Freeze and staff have managed to keep Ole Miss a top 15 recruiting
powerhouse nationally since 2013, which translates to quality depth that will be leaned upon late in the season with match-ups versus Texas A&M on the road and Mississippi State at home. Road games versus Arkansas, a pesky thorn in the side of Ole Miss the last two seasons, and LSU would be critical wins for the Rebels in order for Ole Miss to take that ever-so-crucial step forward in the SEC West. Make no mistake; Ole Miss is close. How close? To answer that I say this: the only thing that stands in the way of Ole Miss making it to a title game is Ole Miss, itself. Over the course of each season Freeze has been the head coach, the Rebels have improved their record with a win: 7-6 in 2012; 8-5 in 2013; 9-4 in 2014; and, 10-3 in 2015. It stands to reason that Ole Miss could finish 11-2 in 2016, but in order
CODY CORE MARCHES TO THE END ZONE IN REBELS’ WIN OVER UT-MARTIN. (PHOTO CREDIT: AMANDA SWAIN, THE REBEL WALK)
to do that Ole Miss cannot lose games to teams like Memphis and will need to come out fired up against Florida State to open the season. How does Ole Miss do that? Simple—behind the leadership of senior quarterback Chad Kelly. Kelly has done everything asked of him since he began his career at Ole Miss. He’s been a perfect example of what second chances can look like if one is given an opportunity to have the type of guidance a coach like Hugh Freeze has provided. Kelly has more than excelled on the playing field, leading the SEC as the top passer in 2015 with 4,042 yards and completing 65% of his passes for 31 TDs through the air. He finished the season with another 10 TD’s on the ground. He is as dynamic a player that you’re going to find in college football in the 2016 season, and he should
find himself sitting in New York City once the season is over waiting to hear his name called for the most prestigious award in college football, the Heisman Trophy. The one critique thrown Kelly’s way is the amount of interceptions he gave up during the 2015 season, 13 to be exact. That is the second most of any quarterback in the SEC, albeit the leader was Patrick Towles of Kentucky with 14—but he had nearly half the amount of passing yards (2,148) as Chad Kelly. It is important to note that on a national scale, Kelly’s yardage-to-interception ratio was on par with guys like Trevone Boykin of TCU and Patrick Mahomes II of Texas Tech, two guys who threw for more yardage in systems that faced far less-talented defenses than Kelly saw. Kelly also deserves credit for his ability to
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make his receivers look oh-so-good on Saturdays. Ole Miss had six of the top 50 wide receivers in the SEC last season, including the No.1 wide receiver, Laquon Treadwell, who was believed to be playing at sub100% last season. Kelly has four of those receivers returning for the 2016 season. Offense:
Offensively, the skill positions at Ole Miss are DEEP and will look to pick up where they left off in 2015. Yes, it will be hard to replace a Treadwell, but the combination of Quincy Adeboyejo and Damore’ea Stringfellow will keep defenses on their toes. Throw in preseason Mackey Award watch list tight end Evan Engram, and you can see that Ole Miss has all the pieces to put something truly special together in 2016. The two areas of concern for the Rebels are the replacement of Laremy Tunsil (possibly with five-star freshman Greg Little) and the Ole Miss rushing attack that has been somewhat lacking in recent years, despite the wins. From all indications coming out of Oxford, Greg Little is the real deal and has shown the ability to have better technique at this stage than Tunsil did. That’s a pretty big compliment and should give Ole Miss fans some confidence in his abilities come this fall. That said, he’ll have to face some pretty dominant defensive ends across the SEC like Da’Shawn Hand, Deatrich Wise, Myles Garrett, and on and on. Baptism by fire might be the best way to describe it when Little faces off against FSU and Alabama in the same month. That said, he should be able to take what he learns in those games and improve exponentially as the season goes along. To his advantage, Little will be coupled with some experienced players on the offensive line to help speed up the learning curve—players like Javon Patterson, a highly rated player out of high school in his own right, as well as guys like Alex Givens, Jordan Sims, and Robert Conyers. As far as the run game is concerned, I’m looking at redshirt freshman Eric Swinney to have a breakout season in 2016. Prior to the 2015 season, the young man was sidelined after suffering a stress fracture— leaving a glaring hole in an offense that managed
to finish seventh in the SEC. This year, with the experience of running backs Akeem Judd and Jordan Wilkins, coupled with the four-star Swinney out of Georgia, Ole Miss could be as deadly as ever on offense. All of that spells disaster for SEC defenses as they will have to account for the aerial assault of Kelly and a potentially big-play rushing attack.
Defensively, Ole Miss was hit hard by the NFL draft; however, they return five core players who will be looked at as the bedrock for the 2016 defensive unit. One of those leaders will be defensive end Marquis Haynes, who’ll look to continue his attack on opposing quarterbacks. Haynes finished the 2015 season with 10 sacks, a school record. At outside linebacker is a potential star in DeMarquis Gates. Gates showcased his skills last season and will be leaned upon heavily to pick up where he left off. The secondary has questions with the loss of two starting safeties, but it will have a potential first-round pick in Tony Conners returning—as well as incoming freshman Deontay Anderson. A couple of guys to keep your eye on are JUCO transfer Detric Bing-Dukes and Oregon State transfer Rommel Mageo. After racking up 87 tackles in the Pac-12, Mageo could be a monster in defensive coordinator Dave Wommack’s defense.
Out of all the teams in the western division, the Aggies are the most unpredictable heading into the 2016 season. There are several unknowns, but what we DO know makes Texas A&M a formidable team to face off against this year. Head coach Kevin Sumlin better hope the unknowns dissipate quickly in order to cool the hot seat on which he’s currently sitting. In 2015, the locker room controversy over whether to start Kyle Allen or Kyler Murray at quarterback appeared to spill over onto the field. The Aggies finished the season with an 8-5 record, including a 27-21 loss to Louisville in the Music City Bowl with
backup quarterback Jake Hubenak at the helm. For Sumlin to save his job he’ll need his team to score more in 2016 than the Aggies’ 2015 average of 27 points per game and finish better than sixth in the SEC in total offense. Offense:
In order to get back to the Aggies’ winning ways of 2012, the only double-digit winning record in the last five years for A&M, Kevin Sumlin has reeled in his fourth different starter in four years at quarterback— former Oklahoma quarterback Trevor Knight. Along with Knight, Sumlin brought in new offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone, the former OC at UCLA, to turn things around offensively. Last season, UCLA’s offense ranked 28th nationally in total offense. They ranked sixth in total offense in the PAC-12 in 2015, fourth in passing yards. Mazzone had the league’s leading rusher three times in the last four years. With the talent on the roster surrounding Trevor Knight, Mazzone has plenty of weapons at his disposal. Knight may have been beaten out by Baker Mayfield at Oklahoma; however, at A&M Knight will be the top dog as a true dual-threat quarterback in Sumlin’s system. Where A&M’s roster gives Knight a leg up on the competition this season is in the proven playmakers already on campus. Running back Keith Ford made the leap from Oklahoma to A&M, as well, and could add some big plays that have been missing from A&M’s run game in recent years. Perhaps the biggest benefit for Knight will be the experience at the wide receiver position. Ricky SealsJones, Christian Kirk and Josh Reynolds highlight a receiving corps that caught over 3,300 yards in receptions in 2015, minus a couple of hundred yards by the running backs. Those three would be more than enough for any other team in the country, but when the offense likes to stretch the field five wide, there has to be depth. Look for Speedy Noil to finally emerge from his shell. If he does not, he’ll get passed up by several newcomers like four-star wide receivers Quartney Davis and Clyde Chriss.
Defensively, the Aggies have backed themselves in a corner with defensive coordinator John “Chief ” Davis’ guaranteeing his defense would be better in 2016. He was specifically addressing the rush defense. No offense to Chief, but it honestly couldn’t get any worse. The Aggies have given up the most amount of rushing yards in the SEC for the last three years: 2013 – 2,890 yards; 2014 – 2,808 yards; 2015 – 2,778 yards. That said, the Aggies have one of the more dominant rush ends in the game in Myles Garrett. The 2016 defensive front of A&M is one that could be pretty scary with Daeshon Hall, who tallied 7 sacks in 2015, on the opposite side of Garrett, with Daylon Mack and Kingsley Keke in the interior. Where A&M has several questions of concern, however, is with the linebacker position. Otaro Alaka returns after a nice showing as a true freshman. Alaka, who earned MVP honors at the 2014 Liberty Bowl, missed the majority of the 2015 season due to multiple injuries to his shoulder and labrum. The secondary under Chavis will look to continue its successful run from 2015, where it improved from the No. 13 pass defense in the SEC in 2014 to the second best passing defense in the SEC in 2015. Leading the way is safety Armani Watts, who finished No. 2 in the SEC in tackles in 2015 with 126. Watts will be joined by Justin Evans who finished the 2015 season with 78 tackles. Watch for former four-star recruit (and UCLA transfer) Priest Willis to have an impact this season at the cornerback position under Chavis. In order to get back to relevancy in 2016, the Aggies will have to depend on more than the formula Sumlin has used over the course of his tenure in College Station.
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PHOTO CREDIT: AMANDA SWAIN, THE REBEL WALK
OLE MISS GROUND GAME GAINING TRACTION By John Luke McCord Contributing Writer
Ole Miss returns perhaps the most feared offensive unit in the Southeastern Conference, mostly because of senior quarterback Chad Kelly and a group of pass catchers talented enough to have the Rebels in the conversation to be “Wide Receiver U.”
JORDAN WILKINS HURDLES A DEFENDER IN THE REBELS WIN OVER MISSISSIPPI STATE IN THE 2015 EGG BOWL. (PHOTO CREDIT: CAMERON BROOKS)
However, with a proven rusher returning as well as some new faces joining the backfield this fall, look for balance to make the Rebel offense even more formidable in 2016. The Rebels will be without junior running back Jordan Wilkins who during fall camp was declared academically ineligible for 2016 due to an administrative error on the part of the university. Ole Miss loses a lot without Wilkins and will depend not only on Judd but also a number of younger play-
ers. Akeem Judd, who dished out plenty of punishment in the Egg Bowl last November, will look to pick up where he left off. Jaylen Walton
Walton, the face of the rushing attack for the last few season, is gone and so are his 730 rushing yards and five rushing touchdowns from a season ago. Walton averaged 5.1 yards per carry and 60.8 yards per game in 2015-16. He provided the po-tential for a score each time he touched the ball, especially catch-ing
passes out of the backfield, but he struggled at times to find yards in the middle of the field. So much so, Kelly was the most effective ball-carrier at times a season ago. In fact, Kelly was the primary option, not named Robert Nkemdiche or Jeremy Liggins, in goal line situations, an area in which Dan Werner and Matt Luke’s group has had a bit of trouble in recent years. Last season, Kelly’s 10 rushing touchdowns led the team and were just two behind the total of Walton, Wilkins and Judd com-bined. Though, the rugged and durable signal-caller was able to carry the load, he did take some vicious hits along the way. Keep-ing Kelly upright will be priority number one in 2016 and that starts with the running backs doing their job. With more carries it is expected Judd will improve on his 421 rushing yards from last year. Although he toted it for more than five yards a pop, he will have more responsibility this season. One key ingredient for the Rebels in the rough and tumble SEC West is depth—so Ole Miss will need the backs behind Judd to step up and help fill the void left by Wilkins’ absence. After nip-ping at the heels of the veterans this Spring, redshirt freshman Eric Swinney is in line for carries this season and is expected to do big things with said opportunities. Additionally, redshirt junior Eugene Brazley should be the scat-back of the group, providing that home run play ability that Wal-ton produced. OL and TE depth will help RBs
Replacing both the left and right tackle along the offensive line is a concern when it comes to the passing game, but as it pertains to the running backs, the offensive line could prove to be a strength this season—
mostly because guards Javon Patterson and Jordan Sims will be the anchors of the big men up front. With strength and athleticism in front of Judd and Swinney, there should be plenty of holes to hit. It is important to note there is depth along the offensive line for the Rebels, which should help the backs as they try to deliver punishment and close games out in the fourth quarter. Whether it be sealing a victory or making the difference in winning the battle of possession, the Rebels’ running backs will be fresh and so will their blockers. Beyond the offensive line, depth at the tight end position will be key for the Rebels’ running game, too. It was talked about fre-quently this offseason, but with a greater number of serviceable and versatile tight ends now loaded up on the roster, Hugh Freeze is likely to implement more double tight-end sets. That was a formation he found great success with in his time at Arkan-sas State. Not only would it give running backs more blockers to run behind in power run situations, but if the passing game is ef-fective from the formation, it could open up holes for bigtime runs when the timing is right.
Judd and Swinney must make plays
With many factors coming into play, the main ingredient will un-questionably be the ability of Judd and Swinney. They must make the plays, and that is something each of them has shown the tal-ent to be able to do. Last season Judd seemed to be able to make something of each of his carries, and the running game felt different when he carried the rock. Swinney, a Sandy Creek, Georgia, native, appears set on making his presence felt this fall. Stardom is almost certainly in his fu-ture as he possesses a combination of power, speed and explosion that is a perfect match for Freeze’s offensive scheme. Those skills and that fit are what made him such a coveted prospect at the po-sition for Freeze and running backs coach Derrick Nix.
Tennessee, whose father, Chico, played for Ole Miss from 1998-2002. The loss of Jordan Wilkins—through no fault of his own—is a blow to the Rebels. He continues to practice with the team and help in every way he can. Fortunately, the Rebels have Judd re-turning, as well as Swinney and others who are ready and willing to contribute. For Ole Miss fans, there is excitement for what the offense can look like with an effective running game. However, with the tal-ent that is on the roster and the caliber of prospects making their way to the backfield in Oxford, Rebel fans might not have to set-tle for merely effective. The running attack is trending upward at Ole Miss, just the latest area to be doing so under the leadership of Freeze.
If last year’s momentum for Judd carries into this fall, and if Swinney is as good as Ole Miss coaches indicate, look out, be-cause the Rebels’ offense will not only be known for its receivers, it could have a two-headed running attack that would make any SEC team envious. Recruiting the nation’s top prospects
Freeze and Nix are back at it just as hard in the 2017 class, put-ting in the work to assure the Rebels of having a top-notch ground game in the years to come. Mississippi’s top prospect, Cam Akers, could land in Oxford. He is not only one of the best running back recruits in his class, but one of the best to come out of Mississippi in a long while. That’s not all, though, as the Rebels are also in hot pursuit of leg-acy target Ty Chandler of Nashville,
CAN THE LANDSHARK DEFENSE MATCH THE 2014 VERSION? By John Luke McCord Contributing Writer
n 2014 Ole Miss defensive coordinator Dave Wommack cultivated perhaps the nation’s top defensive unit. Never has the affectionate nickname of the Rebel defense, the Landsharks, come into focus so much. In the category of scoring defense, Wommack’s unit was the nation’s best in 2014, as they led the FBS by allowing just 16 points per game. Additionally, the Landsharks were responsible for 28 sacks and 22 interceptions, while only allowing 12 passing touchdowns and nine rushing scores. Many Ole Miss fans recall the important faces of that group that helped bring the Landsharks to prominence: Cody Prewitt, Trae Elston, Senquez Golson, Tony Conner, Deterrian Shackelford, C.J. Johnson, Robert Nkemdiche, Issac Gross, Marquis Haynes and others. A few of those faces are still around in 2016, and they are seeking to lead a group that would like to recreate the success of 2014. Though Johnson, Prewitt, Elston, Golson and Nkemdiche, aren’t coming back this season, Conner, Gross, Haynes and other playmakers will be around. They are looking to prove they are more than capable.
MARQUIS HAYNES SACKS ALABAMA QB JAKE COKER AT BRYANT-DENNY STADIUM. (PHOTO CREDIT: BENTLEY BRELAND, THE REBEL WALK)
Here’s a comparison of the two units, broken down by position. Defensive Back
well-timed blitzes and even leadership. Conner will be in the All-SEC discussion at season’s end and draft conversation on night one of the 2017 NFL draft next spring.
Trae Elston and Cody Prewitt were a very solid tandem in the 2014 season. More times than not they delivered and even set the tone for the entire defense. Though the safety position in 2016 does not doesn’t possess the same savvy and experience as it did with those guys manning the back end, there is plenty of talent. C.J. Hampton is cut from the same cloth as Prewitt and Elston, but he still must prove that on the field. His chance will never be better than it is this season. Hampton will be tasked with leading a group of young and talented safeties around him.
Zedrick Woods will play alongside Hampton, and he brings many of the same qualities that will be left with the graduation of Mike Hilton. Though Armani Linton is just a redshirt freshman this fall, his body will remind Ole Miss fans of Prewitt. He possesses many of those same outfielder-like qualities, as well.
DeMarquis Gates played for the unit in 2014, but in 2016 he is viewed as the leader of the group and a potential breakout star in the SEC. Fortunately, Hugh Freeze and staff were able to snag Oregon State graduate transfer linebacker Rommel Mageo. He led the Beavers in tackles last season and will pair nicely beside Gates this fall. Additionally Detric BingDukes, originally a Georgia signee out of high school, also picked the Rebels as his transfer spot, as well. He comes from junior college with four years to play three. Redshirt freshman Willie Hibbler, who was signed as a tight end, has also transferred, if you will, to the linebacker spot. He has shown promise and could provide help this season.
The cornerback position is one that could equal that of the 2014 group. Ken Webster was on that unit in 2014, but flash forward to this fall and he is a different player. Webster, alongside Tony Bridges, with Kailo Moore, Cam Ordway and Carlos Davis, backing them up, makes the corner spots one of the strongest on paper heading into the 2016 season. Tying the corners and safeties corners together, though, will be Conner. In fact, he can even provide a boost to the linebacker group. That’s why he’s such a perfect fit in the husky role for Wommack’s unit. Similar to former Pittsburgh Steeler and USC Trojan, Troy Polamalu, Conner is one of those guys who is simply all over the field and does whatever he has to do prevent the offense from moving forward. He will impact the Rebel defense in many ways in 2016, including making plays against the pass and the run,
There was depth and experience at linebacker in 2014. Serderius Bryant, Deterrian Shackelford, Keith Lewis and Denzel Nkemdiche were stalwarts. Maybe the unit wasn’t as athletic as it is now, but each of those four guys had games and SEC experience aplenty. Now, though, the position is more athletic, which is better suited for the 4-2-5 scheme that Wommack likes to use. However, there aren’t as many bodies at the position now.
Chris Kiffin’s group is certainly where most eyes are focusing due to the loss of Robert Nkemdiche. He is the biggest name to depart from the unit from a season ago and was a first round NFL draft selection. As it would turn out, though, the defensive trenches could also provide the biggest and brightest breakout players on the unit this season.
OLE MISS’ DEFENSE DROPS AGGIE WIDE RECEIVER JOSH REYNOLDS IN THE REBELS’ WIN OVER A&M. (PHOTO CREDIT: AMANDA SWAIN, THE REBEL WALK)
Breeland Speaks will only be a redshirt sophomore this fall, but he could turn out to be one of the best at his position in the conference. With more snaps this season, D.J. Jones is also likely to reach leaguewide stardom. Behind those two will be longtime master of disruption Issac Gross. His experience will benefit the whole defensive unit, and he will be able to be used situationally to accentuate his strengths. True freshman and five-star early enrollee Benito Jones went through the spring and might just be ready to make some plays this fall, as well. On the edge, the Rushmen are even better, due in large part to the return of pass rusher extraordinaire Marquis Haynes and the ever-steady Fadol Brown. Brown is likely to play inside and outside this fall, and we believe he is a guy who can rise into first round discussion for the 2017 NFL Draft. He has elite size and strength. John Youngblood, who will don the Number 38 jersey as the recipient of the 2016 Chucky Mullins
Courage award, will provide necessary leadership and skill at the position. Victor Evans is a candidate to break out and newcomer Charles Wiley, if he is not redshirted, could make an early splash as he is a physical freak. Recap
Two cornerbacks who can play on an island, check. Experience and athleticism at linebacker, check. Capable pass rush and wealth of talented interior defensive linemen, check. Size and speed at safety, check. What’s not to like about the 2016 defense on paper?
If they can stay healthy at linebacker, step up at safety and meet or exceed expectations at corner and defensive line, they just may match the success of the 2014 Landsharks.
ENGRAM EMBRACES Ole Miss tight end Evan Engram could have departed Oxford at the end of his junior year and tested the waters of the NFL Draft, but he decided to return in 2016 for his senior season. At Southeastern Conference Football Media Days in Hoover, Engram indicated there are two items remaining on his bucket list of things he hopes to accomplish before his career at Ole Miss is complete: help his Rebels reach Atlanta for the SEC Championship game and win the John Mackey Award, presented to the most outstanding collegiate tight end. Engram currently holds school records for receptions (97) and receiving yards (1,394) by a tight end. He set a Rebel record with 662 receiving yards in 2014 and is also a three-time All-SEC pick and a two-time All-America selection. Any other tight end at a Division I program carrying this type of resume might have left school for a shot at the NFL, but not Engram, who’s also on the Wuerffel Trophy watch list. In his heart and mind, Engram believes he still has more to give to an Ole Miss Football program that has made back-to-back trips to New Year’s Six Day bowls. “I want to win the SEC Championship, and I really want to compete and be in consideration for the (John) Mackey Award,” Engram said. “That’s such a prestigious award for a tight end, considering it factors in on-the-field play, as well as off the field factors such as community service.
“So to win that award, it would take a full young man and that’s a huge honor I would love to receive at the end of the season.” In order for Engram to be a finalist for the Mackey Award, he needs to remain a key target for Chad Kelly
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By Courtney A. Smith Contributing Writer
EVAN ENGRAM MAKES A CRITICAL RECEPTION IN THE REBELS’ 2015 EGG BOWL VICTORY. (PHOTO CREDIT: CAMERON BROOKS)
“I want to win the SEC Championship, and I really want to compete and be in consideration for the (John) Mackey Award.” Evan Engram
and the Ole Miss offense. In 2015, Engram’s receiving numbers took a slight hit due to his steady ability to block upfront for the offense on running plays. Last season, Engram had 38 catches for 464 yards and two touchdowns. This season he hopes to get back to what made him a household name in the SEC—and that is to use his soft hands and quick feet to fly all over the field with the football in his hands. Before making a decision to come back for his senior season, Engram had a talk with the Rebels’ coaching staff on how he would fit into the 2016 offense.
ENGRAM HURDLES TWO AGGIE TACKLERS. (PHOTO CREDIT: AMANDA SWAIN, THE REBEL WALK)
“Right now, we’re just building chemistry and work-
10 wins as a first-year starter at Ole Miss were also
ing on basics and attacking our workouts together,”
the most since Jake Gibbs in 1959.
Engram said. “We’re getting the team ready and the team chemistry levels up as an offense, defense, and
With a smile on his face, Engram agreed that having
as a team, overall.”
Kelly is a distinct advantage for the Rebels, who were picked to finish third in the SEC Western
Engram may not have any difficulties getting touch-
Division at SEC Football Media Days.
es because of the quarterback who will be leading the offense. Kelly, who made three preseason watch
“It’s a huge advantage,” Engram said. “You have an
lists (Maxwell, Davey O’Brien and Walter Camp)
experienced quarterback, even though last year was
over the offseason, has been putting in extra time
Chad’s first year, you couldn’t tell by the way he was
with the offense to ensure everyone is on the same
playing. Having him come back off that strong year
has built his confidence.
Ole Miss is one of a few teams in the SEC with a re-
“He has become more of a leader, more comfortable
turning starting quarterback heading into fall camp.
in this conference and in our team’s offense. It’s
Engram and the entire Ole Miss football program
huge for us. I mean you can lose a lot of talent, but
should breathe a sigh of relief Kelly that will be
if you have a strong and proven quarterback coming
back, you’re in good shape to build around that.”
Last season, the Buffalo, New York native became the first signal caller to lead the Rebels to wins over Alabama, Auburn and LSU in the same season. His
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THE PRIDE OF THE SOUTH ALWAYS WINS HALFTIME. (PHOTO CREDIT: AMANDA SWAIN, THE REBEL WALK)
CUTLINE: SAWN RAWLINGS (50) AND JORDAN SIMS (70) ARE READY TO PROVE THE OLE MISS OFFENSIVE LINE HAS WHAT IT TAKES. (PHOTO CREDIT: BENTLEY BRELAND, THE REBEL WALK)
OLE MISS OFFENSIVE LINE READY TO PROVE DOUBTERS WRONG By Courtney A. Smith Contributing Writer
As an offensive line, we are going to play with a chip on our shoulders. Everybody is giving us the question mark and we are taking that to heart. So, we are going to go out there and prove everybody wrong. That’s our biggest goal. Sean Rawlings, Ole Miss OL
OXFORD, MS – Sean Rawlings hears naysayers discuss whether or not this year’s Ole Miss offensive line can get the job done, and with Florida State up first, the 6-foot-five, 282 pound offensive lineman feels it’s a must for the unit to get off to a strong start. Rawlings, a Madison, Miss. native, calls the matchup against the Seminoles a “statement game” and believes a strong performance from the big men up front will offer an opportunity for fans of the Rebels to rally behind the revamped offensive line. Rawlings is confident about how the offensive line’s
chemistry has come together since the spring. Both he and fellow sophomore OL Jordan Sims have been impressed with freshman left tackle Greg Little, who Sims feels will be “a great player in the future.” There’s also no concern from Rawlings on whether the offensive line will be able to open up holes for the running attack or give senior quarterback Chad Kelly enough time to throw the football. Rawlings noted that senior running back Akeem Judd mentioned at last week’s Media Day how the line “looked great” before the team went into full pads.
But despite the progression of the Ole Miss o-line, the doubters remain. However, they may have overlooked one piece of the puzzle that is very important: experience. Most of the potential starters in the group – outside of Little, redshirt freshman Alex Givens, and versatile athlete Jeremy Liggins – played significant minutes at some point last season. Consider the following from 2015: • Sophomore Rawlings played in 10 games with seven starts at right tackle. • Sophomore Sims played in every game with four starts at right guard. • Junior offensive lineman Rod Taylor played in 10 games with two starts at right guard. • Senior offensive lineman Robert Conyers played in six games with five starts at center, before tearing his ACL at Memphis. Entering the 2016 season, Conyers has played in 24 career games. • Sophomore Javon Patterson played as a true freshman, starting six of 12 games (four at left guard, two at right guard).
SEAN RAWLINGS LEAVES THE FIELD AFTER OLE MISS DEFEATED ALABAMA IN TUSCALOOSA. (PHOTO CREDIT: BENTLEY BRELAND, THE REBEL WALK)
“These guys have been working their tails off. We got a lot of experience last year,” said Rawlings, who also pointed out how Conyers’ experience and leadership will help everyone else. “We are trying to remove that question mark that this offensive line isn’t experienced enough.” Still, many recall the success of last year’s offensive line–a group that included players such as Laremy Tunsil, Fahn Cooper, Ben Still, Aaron Morris and Justin Bell— and are somewhat hesitant to have complete faith in what this year’s offensive line can do. Rawlings and his fellow linemen have something to say about that. They worked hard all spring, summer and in fall camp, and they are ready to show what they’re made of.
All you hear is ‘Laremy Tunsil, Justin Bell, Aaron Morris, Ben Still, Fahn Cooper are gone.’ Whenever people see those people who left, they feel the offensive line is going to be garbage. And it’s not. We are going to go prove these people wrong. Sean Rawlings, Ole Miss OL
P H O T O S
THE OLE MISS CROWD CHEERS AS THE REBELS PICK UP ANOTHER WIN. (PHOTO CREDIT: BENTLEY BRELAND, THE REBEL WALK)
OLE MISS SOFTBALL RISES IN RUGGED SEC By John Luke McCord, Contributing Writer
SOFTBALL TEAM PHOTO (PHOTO CREDIT: JOSHUA MCCOY, OLE MISS ATHLETICS)
There were a lot of “firsts” for Ole Miss Softball in 2016. In just two seasons at the helm, head coach Mike Smith has steered the program in an upward direction that just a few years ago might not have seemed possible. Though many will judge Smith’s tenure by his on-field success, alone, the overall program character and vibe he has created is perhaps his most impressive accomplishment. Prior to 2015, the Lady Rebels had tallied an 83-133 record in the previous four seasons, including a 16-86 conference record. Fast forward to 2016, a quick turnaround later, and there is reason for major optimism going forward. So much so that Ross Bjork and Smith agreed on a contract extension that will continue the program’s upward momentum. “We’re excited to announce our renewed commitment and that he’s our coach for a long time to come,” Bjork
said last month. “We look forward to the great future of Ole Miss Softball under his guidance. The best is yet to come.” After tying the then school record of 30 wins in his first season, Smith led this year’s squad to another record with 41 wins. It marks the first time in program history the Lady Rebels have achieved back-to-back winning seasons. The 20-3 start to the season all but sealed the deal for that feat to happen, but for good measure the team notched five wins against top-20 RPI opponents in the final month. Additionally, they recorded a school-record 12-game winning streak and 11 wins against top-50 RPI foes, with many of those victories coming on the road. Three players, who were each named to the NFCA all-region team, led the charge for Ole Miss this
season. Senior pitcher Madi Osias put the team on her back going 23-10, with 13 complete games, and a mere 2.97 earned run average. Freshman Hailey Lunderman led the Lady Rebels with 76 hits and a .371 batting average, earning freshman All-SEC honors and finishing in the top 10 for National Freshman of the Year. Sophomore outfielder Elantra Cox finished second on the team with 61 hits and a .357 average at the dish, while also finishing runner up on the team with 20 stolen bases.
HEAD COACH MIKE SMITH WORKS ON HIS LINEUP FOR AN OLE MISS SOFTBALL GAME.
In addition to Lunderman and Cox, 16 other Lady Rebels return in 2017, and a recent addition could help ease the pain of the loss of Osias. The Oklahoma Sooners just wrapped up their second national championship since 2013, after ending Ole Miss’ season in the Norman Regional. However, Sooners’ pitcher Brittany Finney has decided to transfer to Oxford to continue her career, which she will be able to do in 2017, with three years of eligibility remaining. Last year for the Sooners, Finney allowed only three earned runs and held the opponents to a .175 batting average in 18.2 innings of work over nine appearances—good enough for a 1.12 ERA. She will be a welcome addition to a young Rebels’ program looking to take the next step in the spring of 2017. “We are excited to add Brittany to our team for next year,” Coach Smith said. “She will be able to make an immediate impact in our pitching staff. Adding Brittany adds another piece to our puzzle and helps us take one step closer to fulfilling our overall goal to win a national championship. She knows first-hand what it takes to attain one of those, and she will be a huge asset to our pitching staff and the rest of the team with her experience and work ethic to be the best in the country,” he explained of the addition. As exceptional as the ladies were on the field this year, their academic success was just as impressive. Three Lady Rebels achieved recognition as members of the Chancellor’s Honor Roll with a 3.75 GPA or higher.
(PHOTO CREDIT: JOSHUA MCCOY, OLE MISS ATHLETICS)
THE OLE MISS SOFTBALL TEAM CELEBRATES A WIN IN THE 2015 POSTSEASON. (PHOTO CREDIT: JOSHUA MCCOY, OLE MISS ATHLETICS)
Another 21 players, in either the Fall or Spring semester, tallied a 3.0 or higher GPA, good enough to total a 3.14 team GPA for the year. Coach Smith is truly building a program built around character, values and hard work. The team rallied Rebel nation around the sport like never before in the history of the program. That excitement can still be felt and will most certainly carry into next season, where the program has a chance take that next step. “I’m so proud of the foundation that has been laid and my softball staff that has been part of the entire transformation. Ole Miss Softball is in a great place and so am I,” Smith stated. *all quotes from OleMissSports.com
KEYS TO THE COURT By John Luke McCord Contributing Writer
The Rebel Walk was honored to have an opportunity to pick Keys’ brain a bit about topics relating to Ole Miss basketball.
Kory Keys: That it’s the norm. I’ve harped pretty regularly on transfer rates and this whole narrative that there’s a transfer “epidemic” in college basketball.
Rebel Walk: Can you recall a situation, conversation or maybe something you heard that stood out from the opening night of The Pavilion at Ole Miss?
An article by the Charleston (S.C.) Post and Courier cited statistics that said 18.5% of college basketball players transferred last season; whereas, 33% of regular college students transfer at least once during their collegiate experience. So, no, it’s not an epidemic, and anyone saying otherwise is being intellectually dishonest.
Kory Keys: I’m not sure I remember a specific quote or anything, but I can remember driving to the Pavilion prior to the opener and seeing lines wrapped around the building and scalpers standing outside selling tickets, which blew my mind. The whole thing was a spectacle, and we are so luckily we were able to grab a win in that first game. Rebel Walk: With the transfers who have impacted the program already, and transfers figuring even more prominently into the success of the program in the next few years, what should OM fans understand about trans-fer recruiting?
Athletes are the only subset of people on college campuses that we demonize for transferring schools. Regular students, of all majors and focuses, transfer all the time for various reasons, so why can’t athletes? Rebel Walk: What can Rebel fans expect from a backcourt that will feature Dre Burnett and Cullen Neal? Kory Keys: Versatility, I would think. I haven’t seen Cullen live yet (he reports in July) so it’s hard for me
to say definitively, but I have seen him on film a good bit. Deandre is a player. Recently, people have gone to the old “Who’s the next Marshall?” or “Who’s the next Moody?” The interesting thing is how different those guys are as players. Moody was completely different from Marshall, and Deandre is completely different from both of them. He’s a guy that averaged 7.0 points in 17 minutes per game in the ACC, so he’s experienced major college basketball. Marshall was a high-volume shooter, and Moody was a freak athlete; I’d say Deandre is just a savvy bucketgetter. He knows how to use his body and can create for himself at all three levels on the floor. Rebel Walk: Besides Neal and Burnett, which newcomer will make the greatest impact? And which newcomer is being overlooked the most? Kory Keys: That’s hard to say. The only newcomer we have working out right now is Justas Furmanavicius, so I’ll know more about this answer towards the end of the summer. Justas is a legit 6’7” and can play both the 4 and 3 positions. He’s an active, athletic, dirty work guy. He’s been here about three weeks so I’m sure I’ll know more about his game as time goes on, but he’s certainly a guy that stands to see minutes next season. Rebel Walk: What is the best player comparison for Marcanvis Hymon (doesn’t have to be former Rebel)? Why? Kory Keys: The first guy that came to mind was Murphy Holloway. Both are relatively undersized, in terms of height, for their position. The thing both have in common, though, is they’re both long, strong and extremely athletic. The part that gets forgotten is KG (Hymon) didn’t play as a freshman, so last season served as his first season at the college level. For a guy that had never seen major minutes prior to last sea-son, he turned in just over six points and
Kory Keys is a graduate of Ole Miss and has worked around Division I basketball programs for going on five seasons. If you follow his Twitter account (@KoryKeys), you know he has an incredible wealth of knowledge about the sport.
five rebounds per game in 17 minutes. The sky is the limit for him. When he reported to Ole Miss as a freshman, he weighed just over 180 pounds and, as of a couple weeks ago, he’s up to 220. He has bought in in every respect to transforming his body, so that he can hopefully be the type of player that Murphy was, here. Rebel Walk: In what all ways has the presence of Todd Abernathy, a former Rebel who played for AK, impacted the program? Kory Keys: Todd definitely brings a different perspective. He’s a guy that played for AK’s first team at Ole Miss, so there’s a bond there between the two.
That’s the cool thing about our staff is that every guy brings a different perspective and skillset. Todd works with the guards and is a strong workout guy, but he also has a network of connections in Europe from his pro career on the continent that is definitely something we use to our advantage.
Basketball is now an event at Ole Miss and we couldn’t be happier about it.
Rebel Walk: Being someone who came to OM from out-of-state, you’re familiar with the perception of OM then, as well as now. In what ways has it changed? And with the Pavilion, in what ways can it change in the future?
Kory Keys: If you listen to enough people on the outside, you’d think the only place SEC basketball can go is up. What I can tell you is that ADs and people within the SEC are taking active steps to do as much as they can to better our sport.
Kory Keys: I hadn’t really thought about it in those terms lately, but since you mention it, the place is almost night and day from when I enrolled in August, 2006. I came to Ole Miss not knowing much about the place or the culture. I had a cousin that went here in the 90s and my dad lived in both Belmont and Tupelo for a stretch growing up, but I had never been to Ole Miss prior to when I visited as a high school senior.
You don’t get to be a head coach at this level without being able to coach. The league has as many good coaches, top to bottom, as I can remem-ber. At the same time, there were a handful of programs that hired new coaches during transition periods, so those programs are allowed time to get their feet underneath them.
The growth on campus is incredible. For people that haven’t been to campus in a while, you’d be amazed at how many new buildings and in-frastructure that is here now. And it’s funny, so many new things keep popping up on campus and in Oxford, yet it’s still Ole Miss. Nothing changes that vibe, and I’m not sure anything ever will. In terms of the Pavilion, I’d say it’s a symbol for us. That building serves as a symbol of Ole Miss’ commitment to basketball, both men’s and wom-en’s. And that’s a huge deal, make no mistake. People like Ross Bjork, Stephen Ponder, and the tons of other people that helped get that done and transform our culture, deserve nothing but the highest praise. The Pavilion itself won’t win us any games or make a kid want to play here, but it gives our fans a first-class experience. After this coming season, I will have been to all 14 SEC basketball arenas, and I’d be hardpressed to find many others that match ours.
Rebel Walk: Based on coaches, scheduling, recruiting, etc., which direc-tion is the SEC trending as a basketball conference? Why?
I’ve always thought a good bit of the anti-SEC basketball narrative stemmed from some football fatigue. The SEC has been the premier con-ference for college football for a decade or more and the rest of the na-tion knows that. So what happens the moment its basketball product hits a perceived downturn? People jump on it. Of course, we at Ole Miss have been fortunate to have 10-consecutive winning seasons (longest streak in program history) and own the second-highest average SEC finish since the conference expanded. Scheduling has been a buzzword as it relates to NCAA Tournament bids and the rest of the league has responded by beefing up non-conference schedules. I’ve always felt it’s more simple than that. You still have to win games. Schedule to your roster, win games and the rest takes care of itself.
By Courtney A. Smith Contributing Writer
FORMER WOMEN’S BASKETBALL PLAYER ARMINTIE PRICE HERRINGTON HAS BEEN NAMED COORDINATOR OF PLAYER ENGAGEMENT. (PHOTO CREDIT: OLE MISS ATHLETICS)
Armintie Price Herrington is recognized as a legend
When asked how it feels to be called a legend, Her-
in women’s basketball. She is also the newest member
rington replied: “That’s a big word, big shoes to fill.”
of the staff for the Rebels after being named Coordinator of Player Engagement in June by head coach
She laughed at the thought of being considered a
legend while she’s still in the prime years of her life— she’s only 31 years old. But when you have the drive
Armintie, who is married to Reginald Herrington,
and determination to be great—as Herrington still
brings her unique expertise to several key areas for the
does—anything is possible.
Rebels. She will help with the day-to-day running of the program and will mentor student athletes, as well
A record-breaking career
as serve as an academic and alumni liaison. She will
For those discussing the history of Ole Miss women’s
also be in charge of student-athlete development and
basketball, the name Armintie Price comes up imme-
diately. It is easy to remember someone who played
such a pivotal role in leading the Rebels to the Elite Eight round of the NCAA Tournament in her senior season. In that same season, she averaged a team-high 19.1 points, 8.8 rebounds, 4.7 assists, and 3.7 steals. Her 3.7 steals also led the NCAA. She finished with 15 double-doubles on the season, bringing her career total to a school-record 57, and also recorded the second triple-double in Ole Miss history with 34 points, 15 rebounds and 12 steals versus Illinois. Following her career in Oxford, Herrington was the third overall pick in the 2007 WNBA Draft by the Chicago Sky. She finished the season third among rookies in both scoring (7.9) and assists (2.9) per game and was named WNBA Rookie of the Year. Following in the footsteps of the Gilloms
Herrington said she always wanted to be the best athlete on the floor and win games like her former
ARMINITIE PRICE HERRINGTON DURING HER PLAYING DAYS AT OLE MISS. (PHOTO CREDIT: OLE MISS ATHLETICS)
assistant head coach, Peggie Gillom-Granderson, who finished her own four-year career as a Rebel with 2,486 points and 1,271 rebounds, which are both still school records. Gillom-Granderson’s younger sister, Jennifer “Grand-
know if I’m there yet. I think it takes a lot of work,
mama” Gillom” finished second in scoring (2,186).
but I’m just glad people think and believe that, and I want to live up to that. I don’t want to let anybody
“When I came to Ole Miss and I saw that Gillom
Center, I wanted to be like Coach Gillom,” said Herrington, who was honored by the league as Ole
For 20 years, the Gillom sisters were the only two
Miss’ representative for the Southeastern Conference
Rebels to reach the 2,000-point milestone until
2015 Class of Women’s Legends. “I wanted to break
Herrington, a 5-foot-9 point guard out of Myrtle,
every record that she ever had and that was just the
Mississippi, decided to take her talents to Oxford.
competitor in me. Once she hit the hardwood for the Rebels, Her“I wanted everything she had. I wanted to have that
rington made her mark on the program. Ultimately,
same passion. So to be considered a legend, I don’t
she became the third women’s basketball player at
Ole Miss to finish her career with 2,000 career points
as Coordinator of Player Engagement. “It’s such a
(2,165) and joined Cheryl Miller as the only two
blessing! To not only be on a college women’s basket-
players in NCAA history to amass 2,000 points,
ball staff in the SEC— but also where I was blessed
1,000 rebounds, 400 assists and 400 steals.
to play, it’s amazing,” she replied joyfully.
Herrington still ranks first in steals (403) and second
It is obvious being back at Ole Miss means the world
in rebounds (1,198) for the Rebels.
to Herrington. “I am so happy! I think this is every former athlete’s dream,” she explained. “This is like
Success as a coach
home to me. I’m just glad Coach Matt (Insell) wants
After playing two-and-a-half seasons for the Chicago
me around, and I feel so glad I can come back to my
Sky, Herrington returned to Oxford to become an
school. I want to help Ole Miss players be even more
assistant coach for the Rebels from 2009-2012. In her
successful than I was.”
first season, she helped Ole Miss guard Bianca Thomas earn All-SEC first-team honors for the second
If you’re Herrington - who has also worked as a
consecutive season. Another guard, Kayla Melson,
television analyst for the SEC Network and Ole Miss
flourished under Herrington, finishing the 2009-10
Women’s Basketball team - how would you sum up
season first in the SEC and 10th in the NCAA with
5.9 assists per game. “Unbelievable, exciting and just blessed,” she replied Trust and relationship with staff helped
with a smile. “So blessed to have been able to reach
lead Herrington to Oxford
certain moments and to be drafted and to have worn
So what made Herrington choose to attend Ole Miss?
that Ole Miss jersey.”
She wasn’t recruited to a grand, new arena like The Pavilion at Ole Miss that seats 9,500 people. Instead, trust in the staff and comfort with the program led her to the decision to suit up in red and blue. “The coaching staff and the people are who will carry you throughout a lifetime,” Herrington said. “Me and my coach, Carol Ross, we still talk to this day. We still have a relationship. It wasn’t just important for those four years, but for the rest of my life.” Back home at Ole Miss
In spite of all her success at the next level, and regardless of where her talents took her, Price-Herrington’s heart and soul remained in Oxford. Needless to say, she is beyond thrilled to be back at her alma mater. We asked her what it means to step into her new role
BRIGHT FUTURE AHEAD FOR THE DIAMOND REBELS By Chris Muller Contributing Writer PHOTO CREDIT: AMANDA SWAIN, THE REBEL WALK
As the 2016 baseball season came to a close, Ole Miss
be in Oxford soon. Robison is an elite left-handed
fans quickly looked ahead to the 2017 campaign, and
pitcher who throws in the 90’s.
from all appearances the Diamond Rebels could have a very exciting season in store.
Carmel Catholic High School (Illinois) catcher Cooper Johnson, who earned a spot on the Team USA
Early in June, Ole Miss was swept out of the Oxford
18U National Team last summer, later indicated he,
Regional, dropping game one to PAC-12 Champion
too, will be joining the other members of the Rebels’
Utah, 6-5, in 10 innings. The Rebels followed that
up with a Saturday loss to Tulane by an identical 6-5
Soon, 6-foot-5, right-handed pitcher Will Ethridge
score. Rebel fans and players, alike, were crushed by
also confirmed, via Twitter, his plans to attend Ole
the team’s elimination from the tournament.
However, fortune soon smiled upon Ole Miss Base-
Rebels chosen in the draft
ball. Following the conclusion of day two of Major
There is no doubt that these incoming recruits will
League Baseball’s first-year player draft, it quickly be-
have big shoes to fill. Quite a few stars from the 2016
came apparent to Rebels’ fans that the highly-touted
Ole Miss team were drafted: J.B. Woodman, Errol
2016 recruiting class would stay together and make
Robinson, Henri Lartigue, Chad Smith, Brady Bram-
its way to Oxford.
lett, Wyatt Short.
Pre-draft, the class was ranked in the top seven by Perfect Game. With post-draft signings, the class
The Toronto Blue Jays selected J.B. Woodman with
rose to number two in the nation in Perfect Game’s
the 16th pick in the 2nd Round. Given the outstand-
ranking, second only to North Carolina. The Reb-
ing year he had both at the plate and defensively,
els’ 2016 class is highlighted by four members of
Woodman’s selection was no surprise to the Rebel
the back-to-back State Champion Oxford (Miss.)
Chargers, four high school baseball All-Americans, and five of the top 100 players as ranked by Perfect
Shortshop Errol Robinson was chosen in the 6th
round, 191st overall, by the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Philadelphia Phillies selected catcher Henri Lar-
Thomas Dillard and Grae Kessinger, two of the
tigue in the 7th round.
top players in the nation (both from Oxford High School), got the ball rolling, with announcements on
Pitchers Chad Smith, Brady Bramlett and Wyatt
Twitter of their intent to play collegiate ball.
Short were drafted in the 11th – 14th rounds, with Smith being drafted by the Marlins, Bramlett by the
Baseball Factory ranked Dillard and Kessinger as the
Red Sox and Short by the Cubs.
Nos. 59 and 72 high schoolers, respectively, available in the draft. Additionally, Dillard was named to the
Woodman, Robinson, Lartigue, Smith and Short
USA Today 1st Team All-American squad.
all signed with their clubs. The Rebels’ Friday night starter, Brady Bramlett, thanked Ole Miss fans via
The Dillard and Kessinger tweets were soon followed
twitter and announced he was “hanging up the
by Ryan Rolison’s announcement that he, too, would
cleats.” Bramlett chose to return to Ole Miss to
pursue his Master’s Degree and continue his work as
all graduating, 44% - 52% of the Ole Miss offense
Co-Chair of the Division I National Student Athlete
in the statistically significant categories of runs, hits,
doubles, home runs and runs batted in must be replaced by head coach Mike Bianco and hitting coach
In what was a surprise to many Rebel fans who close-
Mike Clement. Also lost are the 11 saves recorded by
ly follow baseball, Ole Miss third baseman Colby
2016 Ole Miss closer Wyatt Short and the 8-3 record
Bortles was not selected in the MLB Draft. The ju-
by Friday night starter Brady Bramlett.
nior’s original plan was to take the summer off from baseball and spend time with his brother Blake in
However, Rebels’ fans still have much reason for
California. Those plans took a slight detour through
optimism! Given a 2016 recruiting class that cur-
Omaha, where Bortles represented Ole Miss in the
rently ranks as one of the all-time best—if not the
College Home Run Derby which was held at T.D.
very best—in Ole Miss history, combined with a very
Ameritrade Park and broadcast nationally on ESPN2.
solid group of players coming back, the future looks
Bortles cranked ten home runs in the competition.
as bright for Ole Miss Baseball as it has in a long
Ole Miss assistant coach Mike Clement served as
time. Hotty Toddy!
Colby’s pitcher for the competition. So What’s Next?
Many of the 2016 signing class reported to campus Tuesday, July 5th for summer workouts. Second baseman Tate Blackman, 2016 Saturday starter David Parkinson, relief pitchers Connor Green, James McArthur and Andrew Pagnozzi, and left fielder Ryan Olenek all chose to remain in Oxford for the summer. Ten Rebels took their bats, arms and gloves to various collegiate baseball summer leagues across the country, including Freshman All-American Brady Feigl who pitched for the Asheboro Copperheads. Other summer league Rebels included: Parker Caracci (Elmira Pioneers), Nick Fortes (Baltimore Redbirds), Will Golsan (Orleans Firebirds), Carson Klepzig (Albany Dutchmen), Andrew Lowe (Conejo Oaks), D.J. Miller (Baltimore Redbirds), Will Stokes (Orleans Firebirds), Kyle Watson (Anchorage Glacier Pilots), and Dallas Woolfolk (Baltimore Redbirds). With Woodman, Robinson and Lartigue drafted and Holt Perdzock, Cameron Dishon, and Connor Cloyd
CORY PETERSON AND HIS WIFE GEORGETTE (PHOTO COURTESY OF CORY PETERSON)
MR. CLUTCH: REBEL WIDE RECEIVER CORY PETERSON RECALLS HIS DAYS AS A REBEL RECEIVER The 2016 Ole Miss Rebels possess the league’s best quarterback as well as a hungry Landshark defense ready to wreak havoc on the gridiron. It is no wonder head coach Hugh Freeze’s team has the Rebel faithful filled with enthusiasm. But fans are not the only ones anticipating this season. Former Rebel wide receiver Cory Peterson is looking forward to it as much as any supporter. Peterson is one of the most prolific receivers in Ole Miss history, finishing his career with 1,843 receiving yards. His totals put the Germantown, TN native in elite company—joining the top receivers of all time
at Ole Miss–with Rebel legends Shay Hodge, Chris Collins, Willie Green, Grant Heard, Mike Wallace and, more recently, Laquon Treadwell. Peterson’s thoughts on 2016 wide receivers
In a recent interview, Peterson spoke of his playing days at Ole Miss and what he expects to see this season from the Rebels. “I’m really excited about the group of veteran wide receivers we have coming back,” he said. “Not to mention the young wide receivers to plug in the line-
up as well,” he added. Though the Rebels lost star receivers Laquon Treadwell and Cody Core to the NFL Draft, Peterson is confident wide receivers coach Grant Heard will simply reload at the position. “You would think that losing a first round wide receiver (Treadwell) and a sixth round wide receiver (Core) that the position would be a big concern going into the 2016 season, but Coach Heard has done an incredible job developing guys like Adeboyejo, Stringfellow, Pack, Lodge, etc.,” Peterson said. Peterson also commented on the star incoming freshman wide receivers who could soon see action on the field for the Rebels. “You mix in these top recruits like D.K. Metcalf, A.J. Brown, and Tre Nixon, and I don’t think we will miss a beat in terms of production and big time play making,” he said. “This year’s mix of Veteran and young players may be even better than last year’s group,” Peterson continued. “I can only imagine how excited Chad Kelly feels to have this kind of talent around him. It’s going to be another exciting year to watch the Rebels funN-gun offense! Mental toughness
When asked to describe what type of receiver he was, Peterson called himself, “simply a move-the-chains type of receiver, as opposed to a flashy, big-play guy.” However, Rebel fans who remember his thrilling catches will surely disagree with Peterson’s understated assessment of himself. Anyone who watched him play knows how valuable the hardworking, unselfish receiver was to his team. When we asked Peterson to explain how he always managed to come up with a critical catch under
PHOTO CREDIT: OLE MISS ARCHIVES
extreme pressure, the star receiver said, “I have always had the ability to focus and block out the atmosphere of a big stadium.” That may be the understatement of all time. Peterson’s fierce mental toughness was a big part of his game, and it led the coaches to add the sure-handed Rebel to special teams. “I was dependable as a punt returner,” he said. “I was not going to make mental mistakes and turn over the ball.” It is this mindset that vaulted Peterson to the top of the Rebel record books and sealed his position as one of the school’s most memorable players. Here are just a few of Peterson’s magical moments as an Ole Miss Rebel. Egg Bowl, 1997
It would be hard to forget the 1997 Egg Bowl. Down 7-14 with 25 seconds left in the game, Ole Miss scored a touchdown to cut State’s lead to 13-14. Boldly, Coach Tuberville decided to go for the twopoint conversion rather than kick the extra point that would tie the game.
In an epic end to the rivalry game, it was Peterson who caught the go-ahead conversion that gave the Rebels a 15-14 win. This win proved critical, as it not only vaulted Ole Miss to a berth in the Motor City Bowl, but, just as importantly, kept State at home in Starkville. Punt return against SMU, 1998
In September, 1988 against SMU, Peterson, again, came up huge for the Rebels. Ole Miss trailed the Mustangs 41-19 half-way through the fourth quarter. Joe Gunn scored on a three-yard run with 7:22 left, and the Rebels’ two-point conversion cut the SMU lead to 41-27. The Rebels had cut the lead, but time was growing short. However, a mere 87 seconds later, it was Peterson who made an electrifying play to get the Rebels right back in the game. SMU punted to the Rebel star, who promptly ran it back 92 yards for a touchdown. This marked Ole Miss’ first punt return for a touchdown since 1996, and the fifth-longest in school history. On Ole Miss’ next possession, QB Romaro Miller hit Grant Heard for a 44-yard TD pass to send the game into OT, tied 41-41. Deuce McAllister scored on a four-yard run during the first possession of OT, and the Rebel defense held SMU on its ensuing possession to secure the 48-41 win. Miller completed 32-of-57 passes on the day for 351 yards, with one TD and an interception. Heard and Peterson combined for 16 catches and 181 yards, but it was Peterson’s punt return that helped turn the game around and enabled the Rebels to leave Dallas with a victory. LSU on Halloween Night, 1998
When looking back at Peterson’s career, it is astounding to see the number of times the sure-handed receiver came up with a critical catch. LSU in 1998 is just another example.
CORY PETERSON SCORES THE WINNING TD AGAINST LSU. (PHOTO CREDIT: OLE MISS ATHLETICS)
Cory recalled that game played on Halloween at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. “We jumped out to a 31-10 lead on the Tigers heading into the fourth quarter,” he said. But it wasn’t to be that easy, as LSU scored 21 unanswered points in the 4th to tie the game at 31. Many Ole Miss fans felt their hearts pounding and a sickening feeling growing in their stomachs as they headed into overtime, but Cory Peterson and the Rebels were not going to be denied that day in Oxford. Ole Miss had the ball on the 25-yard line when quarterback Romaro Miller threw a 20 yard completion to Peterson. Peterson described what happened next. “I caught the ball, turned up-field and saw nothing but daylight. Unfortunately, the daylight closed fast, and as I crossed the goal line I was hit by two LSU defenders. The ball popped out.” As Peterson fell to the turf, entangled with an LSU defender, he and all of Vaught-Hemingway watched as the ball floated downwards—with the fate of the Rebels hanging in the balance. Fortunately, as was often the case, Peterson came
up big for the Rebels. “I just held my arms up and caught it,” he said. Touchdown, Ole Miss!
“The thing is,” Peterson went on to explain, “this was before instant replay, so there’s no telling, had I not recovered the ball, how the ref would have ruled the play. He could have determined that I had possession when I crossed the goal line, thereby making it a touchdown. Or, he could have just as easily ruled it a turnover in the endzone.” If the Rebels had indeed turned the ball over in overtime, all LSU would have had to do was promptly kick a field goal to win the game. But Peterson made the catch and all was well, right? Wrong. The Rebs missed the ensuing extra point, putting them up by a precarious six. If LSU scored a TD on its next possession and successfully kicked the extra point, the Tigers would win. Fortunately, the Rebel defense held strong and stopped the Tigers on 4th down, giving Ole Miss a 37-31 victory. Rebel fans had no doubt Peterson’s miraculous catch in overtime was the difference in the game. However, Peterson, as self-deprecating of a player as you will find, was quick to give his teammates credit for the win. “We were in control of the game, but LSU came back on us,” he said. “They had more depth than we did, but every single one of our players contributed and we pulled out the victory.”
“I’m really excited about the group of veteran wide receivers we have coming back. Not to mention the young wide receivers to plug in the lineup as well.” Cory Peterson
the pain and betrayal from Coach Tuberville’s abrupt departure from Ole Miss the year before when he left to coach the Tigers. In the highly-charged, emotional game, it should come as no surprise it was Peterson who came up with the game-winning reception in overtime, a 23yard TD from QB Romaro Miller. As Coach David Cutcliffe recalled, “It was an option read by Miller and he read it well. He saw that Cory was covered, but he was one-on-one with the defensive back. Romaro just threw it up to him.”
Auburn, 1999: “Biggest win of my life”
Of course Peterson reeled in the catch to seal the game. This gave the Rebels the win—but more importantly, a win over their former coach. Following the game, Peterson was quoted as saying, “This is the biggest win of my life.”
In September, 1999, the Rebels traveled to Auburn to play the Tigers, but it was far from your typical road game. There was much more at stake than an SEC West victory, as many Rebel fans and players still felt
We asked Peterson why he felt the Auburn victory was his all-time biggest, as he had so many huge victories to his credit. He reflected and said, “That
Even though this win over LSU was huge, it is not the one Peterson considers the biggest of his career.
game was so meaningful for all of Ole Miss. When Coach Tuberville left Ole Miss to take the Auburn job, a lot of people were hurt. Players were hurt; the town was hurt. That game meant just as much to our fans as it did to us. Getting that win meant the world to us all.” Bowl Game successes
Peterson went to three bowl games during his tenure at Ole Miss: The Motor City Bowl in December, 1997, and two Independence Bowls in ’98 and ’99; all three were victories for the Rebels. He reflected on how special it was to the team to win the ’98 Independence Bowl following Tuberville’s unexpected departure. “It was tough on us when Coach Tuberville left,” he said. “We had just lost to State in the Egg Bowl and didn’t think we were even going to a bowl game.” After the Egg Bowl loss, the Rebels hired Coach David Cutcliffe who was faced with the daunting task of preparing his new team for a bowl game in just a few weeks. “In came Coach Cutcliffe and an entirely new staff,” Peterson said. “Coach Tuberville had taken all our coaches with him, so there was really no one left at Ole Miss who even knew who we were. When Coach Cutcliffe came in to get us ready for the bowl game, he literally had us put tape across our helmets with our names on them so he and the staff would know who we were.” No one outside of Rebel Nation gave the team a chance against Tech. “Because none of our coaches stayed, Cutcliffe had to figure out our system in a short amount of time,” Peterson said. “We were huge underdogs to Tech, but ended up winning the game 35-18.”
“Character in Action”
At the end of our interview, we asked Peterson how he hoped to be remembered, and he replied with just one word: “Clutch.” The great Vince Lombardi once said, “Mental toughness is many things and rather difficult to explain. Its qualities are sacrifice and self-denial. Most importantly, it is combined with a perfectly disciplined will that refuses to give in. It’s a state of mind – you could call it ‘character in action.’” There is no doubt Lombardi, himself, would agree the clutch Cory Peterson was the epitome of “character in action” for the Ole Miss Rebels.
P H O T O S
PHOTO CREDIT: AMANDA SWAIN, THE REBEL WALK
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