Ole Miss: Search Results

Results tagged “Hugh Freeze”

Only 50 days until The Grove is full, the constant shouts of "Hotty Toddy" are in the air, and football kicks off 100 years in Vaught-Hemingway Stadium! Looking forward to this upcoming college football season, seven Rebels were named to five different award watch lists last week. The honors continued this week with four national watch lists released to the public that featured Rebels making the cut.

Junior DB Tony Conner kicked off the week by being selected to the Jim Thorpe Award Watch List, an honor given to the best defensive back in college football. Starting in the Ole Miss secondary during his first two seasons as a Rebel, Conner recorded 135 tackles, 14 TFLs, two sacks and two interceptions. Along with his second team All-SEC accolades last year, the Batesville, Mississippi native has high expectations heading into 2015; he will be one of the leaders in the secondary after the unit lost Senquez Golson and Cody Prewitt to graduation.

Ole Miss had Rebels on both sides of the ball named to the Lombardi Award Watch List on Tuesday. Juniors Robert Nkemdiche (DT) and Laremy Tunsil (OT), a pair of two-year starters, found themselves on the watch list. Already named preseason All-America by various media outlets along with being added to multiple watch lists, there is no doubt both Rebels will apply pressure on opposing linemen this season. Nkemdiche is on five watch lists to lead all Rebels.

He may be somewhat new to the position, but that didn't stop senior linebacker C.J. Johnson to being named to the Butkus Award Watch List for the nation's top linebacker. Johnson isn't entirely new to playing linebacker, taking snaps there as a freshman in 2011; however, he has spent the rest of his Ole Miss career at defensive end. Overall, the senior Rebel has 137 career tackles, including 24.0 for loss and 11.5 sacks, to be an anchor for the Landshark defense.

Closing out the watch lists, junior wide receiver Laquon Treadwell was selected to the Walter Camp Player of the Year Watch List today. Treadwell has received numerous preseason honors this summer, including the Maxwell Award watch list and All-America first team accolades from Athlon and Lindy's. After missing the final four games of the season due to injury, Treadwell has made progress throughout the spring and summer in hopes of returning to top form. Head Coach Hugh Freeze even spoke at SEC Media Days about Treadwell being ready to go for the fall, noting that he "feels more explosive."

Also with SEC Media Days finishing yesterday, six Rebels were named Preseason All-SEC by the media earlier today. Nkemdiche, Treadwell, Tunsil and tight end Evan Engram all made the first team. Conner was named to the second team, and sophomore Marquis Haynes was chosen on the third team. The entire release can be found here.

Below, you can find all of the Rebels that are featured on watch lists heading into the 2015 season.

Rebels on Watch Lists
- Tony Conner - Bronko Nagurski Trophy, Jim Thorpe Award
- Evan Engram - John Mackey Award
- Hugh Freeze - Dodd Trophy
- Will Gleeson - Ray Guy Award
- C.J. Johnson - Butkus Award
- Robert Nkemdiche - Outland Trophy, Bronko Nagurski Trophy, Rotary Lombardi Award, Chuck Bednarik Award, Lott IMPACT Trophy
- Laquon Treadwell - Maxwell Award
- Laremy Tunsil - Outland Trophy, Rotary Lombardi Award
- Jaylen Walton - Paul Hornung Award

The Ole Miss football team also collected an ESPY this week, winning the Best Upset category at the annual sports awards show for the victory over Alabama last season. Senquez Golson and Bo Wallace were in attendance to accept the award on behalf of the Rebels. 

ESPY.jpg




Along with head coach Hugh Freeze, three Rebels will represent Ole Miss at the annual SEC Football Media Days next week. Junior Evan Engram, just named to the John Mackey Award Watch List for college football's most outstanding tight end, will join seniors Mike Hilton and C.J. Johnson on the final day of the conference event Thursday, July 16.

The 2015 SEC Football Media Days will take place July 13-16 at the Hyatt Regency Birmingham - The Wynfrey Hotel in Hoover, Alabama. Ole Miss is paired with LSU and Georgia on the final day.

Engram, Hilton and Johnson are three Rebels that have been leaders of the football program; their leadership gave them the opportunity to represent Ole Miss in front of the national media.

In his career, Engram ranks top four in Ole Miss history in receptions (59), receiving yards (930) and receiving touchdowns (5) by a tight end. Aside from the Mackey Award Watch List, other preseason honors for him this summer include All-America first team (Phil Steele, Lindy's, The Kickoff, CFB Matrix) and second team (Sporting News, Athlon), as well as All-SEC first team (Phil Steele, CFB Matrix, Lindy's).

Hilton, who will wear the No. 38 jersey this season as the 2015 Chucky Mullins Courage Award recipient, has started at least one game at every defensive backfield position throughout his Rebel career. Last season, he led Ole Miss with 71 tackles and also tied for 10th in the SEC with three interceptions.

Johnson, one of the anchors of the Landshark D that led the nation in scoring defense, was a game captain for all 13 games during the 2014 campaign. He moved from defensive end to linebacker in the spring, but could still see reps at both positions this fall.

SEC Network will cover the event live throughout the week, and ESPN will be on site as well. Complete coverage can be found here.

For the entire SEC Football Media Days schedule, click here.

071714_SEC Media Days_1264.JPG



Ole Miss added to its already strong NFL presence with the selection of All-America cornerback Senquez Golson, who was drafted in the second round (56th overall selection) by the Pittsburgh Steelers on Friday night.

He became the second player drafted under head coach Hugh Freeze and the highest Ole Miss draft pick since Dexter McCluster was drafted in the second round (36th overall) by the Kansas City Chiefs in 2010.

Golson, the Rebels' first consensus and unanimous All-American since 2008, led the SEC and finished second nationally with a school record-tying 10 interceptions. ESPN NFL Draft Analyst Mel Kiper called it one of the best picks of the first and second rounds. 

"That's one of the best picks of the second round," Kiper said. "Senquez Golson is an interception supreme. He had 16 career picks. He's a kid who's pound for pound one of the best football players in this draft. He has wide receiver hands. 

"This kid is a heck of a football player. He's spunky, he will hit you, and when there's an opportunity to get a turnover, he's not going to drop the football. He's going to come away with the interception and get you the turnover and get you possession of the football."

Kiper's colleague's, fellow ESPN NFL Draft Analyst Todd McShay, shared high praise for Golson.

"For a smaller corner, he will support the run," McShay said. "He's tough, he's physical, he's aggressive, he's everything you look for. You wish he was bigger and longer, but he plays to his potential and ability, and he's not afraid to mix it up."

Steelers defensive backs coach Carnell Lake noted his "unusual ball skills" and toughness, among attributes that met the criteria to become a second-round pick.

"He is a ball-hawking type of corner," Lake said. "He has very good quickness, very good anticipation and awareness, and we are looking forward to having him in the building."

Looking ahead to tomorrow, fellow All-America defensive back Cody Prewitt, a projected third or fourth-round pick by NFL.com before the draft, is the fourth-best safety available, according to McShay, and the 10th-best safety available, according to Kiper.

Here's more on Golson:

Here's more draft analysis from NFL Media draft expert Mike Mayock, who rated Golson as the No. 8 cornerback and No. 62 overall prospect in the draft:

"Golson is a corner who is only 5-foot-8 and 176 pounds, but what separates him is his ball skills. He played minor league baseball. The question is, how much does size matter? Golson is one of the best pure zone corners I've seen." 

Here's what ESPN had to say about Golson on their draft tracker:

What he brings: He's a much better run defender than you'd expect given his small stature, and is fearless in attacking ball carriers. His cover skills are excellent, with his explosiveness and quickness, but he can get exposed by bigger receivers at times.

How he fits: The Steelers fill another big need on defense with Golson. After notching just 11 interceptions last season, they needed to find a playmaker in the back end. Golson, who has excellent anticipation skills and production (9 INTs in 2014), will help upgrade them in that department.

VIDEO: Steelers.com's highlight reel of Golson

VIDEO: ESPN's Path to the Draft with some of the top plays by Golson


Freeze Wins Long Drive Competition

Ole Miss head football coach Hugh Freeze took home the long drive title at the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl Challenge charity golf tournament Monday. 

He won the competition with a 287-yard drive, besting Arizona head football coach Rich Rodriguez, who finished in second place with a drive of 273.3 yards. With the win, Freeze received $5,000 to benefit the Blair E. Batson Hospital for Children in Jackson.

Freeze will team with Sean Tuohy and compete in the tournament round Tuesday. The duo and the 12 other university teams will play for a share of $500,000 in scholarships and charity, including a $125,000 first-place prize.

The tournament will be broadcast on ESPNU in August and December. Specific air dates will be announced this summer.

Check out the official release and photos, both courtesy the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl:

Freeze.jpgFreeze2.jpgFreeze3.jpg

Hugh Freeze and Ross Bjork embarked on the Rebel Road Trip, the baseball team claimed their weekend series over Alabama that featured the largest crowd of the season and the football program's NFL presence is expected to grow with the NFL Draft next weekend. Here are some thoughts and opinions on the week that was:

- Headlined by Ole Miss football head coach Hugh Freeze and athletics director Ross Bjork headlined the fourth annual BancorpSouth Rebel Road Trip that featured 13 fan meetings over six days. Both Freeze and Bjork noted the same energy but a different belief and optimism than their first Rebel Road Trip together in 2012.

- Here's what Freeze had to say about his fourth Rebel Road Trip, speaking to reporters after the event: "I enjoy the meetings and seeing the Rebel people," Freeze said. "We ask them to come to our campus so much that the least we can do is to get out and be with them. The most difficult part for me is just being so out of touch with our players with exam time coming up and academic issues. It's just a long week, but it's so much fun being with the Rebel people and the passion that they have."

- And here's Bjork: "It's hard to believe, but it's still the same energy. What's been cool is that just about every place has been packed, really with the exception of one place, and the energy that's out there as far as away as Baton Rouge. Everybody's fired up about Ole Miss. That's what makes this worthwhile to do it. People get excited to see you. Winning makes people believe and gives them confidence and puts what we've been talking about into perspective that we can do it."

- Bjork, who recently agreed in principle to a contract extension that will keep him at Ole Miss through 2019, spoke about many of the same talking points on the tour in a question and answer earlier this month. In case you missed it, here's the State of the Program from April 14.

- The Ole Miss baseball team completed a 3-2 week, highlighted by a Saturday doubleheader sweep and home series win over Alabama, to improve to 23-22 overall and 10-11 in SEC play entering the final 11 games of the regular season, including weekend series at Missouri and then home series against Mississippi State and Texas A&M.

- Barring any rainouts, Ole Miss needs to go 6-5 over the final 11 games to finish two games over .500 and head to the SEC Tournament with a cushion. Ole Miss is currently tied with Auburn for eighth place in the SEC standings, 3.0 games ahead of Tennessee/Mississippi State, both at 7-14, for the 12th and final place in the SEC Tournament.

"You keep everything in perspective, and obviously today was disappointing," said Austin Knight after their loss Sunday. "But getting two of three and playing as well as we did Saturday was a good sign for us."

- On the mound, Brady Bramlett and Scott Weathersby combined for the Rebels' first shutout of the season, while Christian Trent also turned in a brilliant start to lift Ole Miss to a doubleheader sweep on Saturday. On the other side, head coach Mike Bianco said they will weigh other options for the third spot in the weekend rotation going forward.

- Interesting stat: In the Rebels' 4-0 shutout win over Alabama on Saturday night, Bramlett and Weatherby combined for 11 strikeouts compared to zero walks.

- As a team, Ole Miss swung it better this week, breaking double digits for runs in two of the five games and hitting at a .368 clip for the week, raising the team batting average 15 points to .262 for the season. Connor Cloyd tallied a multi-hit game in each of the five games, hitting .565 (13-for-23) with six runs scored and six RBI.

- Interesting stat II: After not hitting a home run in his first 183 career at-bats, Austin Knight hit home runs in back-to-back at-bats, the last at-bat of Saturday night's game and the first at-bat of Sunday afternoon's game.

- The Ole Miss men's and women's tennis teams will learn their NCAA Tournament destinations when the women's field is announced on Tuesday at 4 p.m., followed by the men's field at 4:30 p.m. 

- The men, ranked No. 13 in the nation, are in good position to host the NCAA first and second rounds. The women, ranked No. 20 in the nation, are likely on the road for the NCAA first and second rounds, but perhaps because of their higher ranking, they will avoid one of the higher national seeds in the field.

- Senior Nik Scholtz, already the first Rebel to be named SEC Freshman and Player of the Year in a career, made some more history this past week. He was named to the All-SEC first team, becoming the first Rebel to be named to the All-SEC first team all four years.

- With three wins, two over Alcorn State and another over South Carolina, the Ole Miss softball team is one win shy of the most in school history, set during the 2005 season. The Rebels have four regular season games remaining, a midweek game at Mississippi Valley State and then a three-game series at Texas A&M, before starting play in the Southeastern Conference.

- Looking ahead to the 2015 football season, Freeze also spoke to reporters about the offseason strength and conditioning program for his team, headed by head football strength and conditioning coach Paul Jackson: "He'll have them ready. I have great trust in Paul and his staff, and he knows what he has to done for them to get into fall camp ready to roll."

- Also, in case you missed it, check out the Ole Miss football season tickets promo. Great work from Ole Miss Sports Productions.

- The Ole Miss football program is expected to add to its NFL presence with the 2015 NFL Draft next weekend, held Thursday through Saturday in Chicago and televised on ESPN and NFL Network. Cody Prewitt (No. 4 free safety, No. 124 overall player) and Senquez Golson (No. 16 cornerback, No. 129 overall players) are both projected fourth-round picks according to CBS Sports' latest NFL Draft prospect rankings

- Prewitt and Golson would become the second and third players drafted during the Hugh Freeze era, joining Donte Moncrief, who was drafted by the Indianapolis Colts in the third round of last year's NFL Draft.

Ole Miss-2.jpg

Ole Miss head football coach Hugh Freeze will team with former All-SEC basketball player Sean Tuohy to represent the Rebels for the fourth straight year and compete for a share of the $520,000 total purse in the ninth annual Chick-fil-A Bowl Challenge charity golf tournament April 26-28.

The nation's premier head coach and celebrity golf event will be held April 26-28 at the Reynolds Plantation resort on Lake Oconee outside Atlanta. Over the past eight years, the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl Challenge has provided $4.7 million in scholarship and charitable contributions.

Freeze and Tuohy finished 7-under par for fifth place last year, their best finish in three years of competition at the event. In their three years of competition, Freeze and Tuohy have combined to earn $85,000 in scholarship funds for Ole Miss. Team Ole Miss has appeared in the Chick-fil-A Bowl Challenge charity golf tournament every year since 2009, earning a cumulative $147,500 in scholarship funds for the Rebels. 

The Chick-fil-A Bowl Challenge main event features pairings that include a university head coach and a celebrity or former athlete from the same school competing in a two-man scramble over 18 hotels. The tournament will be broadcast on ESPNU in August and December. Specific air dates will be announced this summer.

The 13 university teams will be vying for the $125,000 first-place prize, with all teams receiving a portion of the $520,000 scholarship purse. Freeze and Tuohy are paired with the N.C. State team of Dave Doeren and Terry Harvey in Group Five.

The field of competitors for the featured event is scheduled to include: 

Alabama: Nick Saban, Mark Ingram

Arizona: Rich Rodriguez, Kenny Lofton

Auburn: Gus Malzahn, Bo Jackson 

Cincinnati: Tommy Tuberville, Kevin Huber

Clemson: Dabo Swinney, Steve Fuller

Georgia Tech: Paul Johnson, Jon Barry (2011, 2012, 2014 winners)

Maryland: Randy Edsall, Scott McBrien

Mississippi State: Dan Mullen, Fred McCrary 

North Carolina: Larry Fedora, Roy Williams 

NC State: Dave Doeren, Terry Harvey

Ohio State: Urban Meyer, Jeff Logan

Ole Miss: Hugh Freeze, Sean Tuohy 

South Carolina: Steve Spurrier, Sterling Sharpe (2008, 2009 winners)

For a full list of pairings and more information on the event, visit Chick-fil-APeachBowlChallenge.com.

The baseball team claimed claimed their second series of the second over the nation's top-ranked team in dramatic fashion. The football team wrapped up spring practice. And the men's and women's tennis teams closed out their respective regular seasons and will compete in their respective SEC Tournaments this week. Here are some thoughts and opinions on the week that was:

- For the baseball team, the weekend turned on one swing of a bat, a grand slam off the bat of Colby Bortles to tie Vanderbilt 5-5 in the top of the ninth Friday night. The Rebels later won the game in the 16th inning and carried the momentum and claimed the series with a 5-4 win in the series finale Saturday.

"Over the years, we have played really well against the No. 1 team, and we have come out on the right side of a lot of those games," said head coach Mike Bianco. "But I don't know if I have ever been more proud of a team to come on the road against the No. 1 team, after losing a midweek game, and face a team this talented; we just played great all weekend long."

- In case you missed it, check out the highlights of the Rebels' 6-5 win Friday night, including the game-tying grand slam by Bortles and the go-ahead RBI double by Henri Lartigue in the top of the 16th.

- It was the Rebels' second series win over a No. 1 team, improving to 5-4 against the nation's top ranked team with a 2-1 mark against Florida and Vanderbilt and a 1-2 mark against LSU. And as Chase Parham of Rebel Grove/Rivals.com noted, it was the first time Ole Miss back-ended an SEC series win since 2011 against South Carolina. The Rebels also back-ended a series win over Louisiana-Lafayette in the Super Regionals last year.

- Tip of the hat to the Ole Miss bullpen, which threw 15.2 scoreless innings this weekend, highlighted by senior Scott Weathersby, who went a career-long 6.0 innings and allowed just two hits with one walk and a career-high 10 strikeouts. He came into the game with the bases loaded and nobody out in the 11th inning and struck out the first two batters he faced and then got the third batter to fly out to end the threat.

- Freshman Will Stokes, making his fourth career start, put together a career outing and earned his first career win. He went a career-long six innings, giving four runs and scattering seven hits with a walk and four strikeouts.

- With the series win, Ole Miss back to .500 overall (18-18) with a 7-8 mark in league play at the halfway mark of the Southeastern Conference series. The Rebels have 20 regular season games remaining, including SEC home series against Alabama, Mississippi State and Texas A&M and SEC road series at Auburn and Missouri.

- Aaron Fitt of D1Baseball puts the Rebels "in solid at-large position despite their .500," due in part to their No. 1 strength of schedule in the nation entering Saturday and two marquee series wins over top-ranked foes.

- The football team wrapped up spring practice with the Grove Bowl on Saturday. The Blue team, quarterbacked by Chad Kelly, got the better of the Red team, quarterback by Ryan Buchanan, by a score of 17-7. The game featured big plays for both teams, including a 66-yard touchdown pass from running back Jaylen Walton to wide receiver Damore'ea Stringfellow on a halfback pass. Check out the recap, final stats and more here.

- Head coach Hugh Freeze said he would have given Buchanan a slight lead at quarterback going into the Grove Bowl, adding that even if he says that he had the lead, it was so minute and so small and so far from being over, and he may feel differently after watching the film from Saturday. Freeze also entertained the possibility that the competition might continue a couple of games into the season.

- Other than Freeze saying that Buchanan held a small lead entering the Grove Bowl, the most interesting thing to come out of the post-Grove Bowl media opportunity was co-offensive Dan Werner, who said they tweaked a few things in the running game, specifically that they got some ideas from some other teams that run similar offenses. The running game, based on what coaches have said and what we have seen in open scrimmages, appears to have taken a step forward.

- Someone asked me who would be my MVP of the Grove Bowl. I would say probably either Jordan Wilkins, who finished with 62 yards rushing on just six carries, including a 28-yard run, or Stringfellow, who hauled in three receptions for 98 yards, including that 66-yard touchdown reception. 

- Perhaps the play of the Grove Bowl was cornerback Tony Bridges, who appeared to have gotten beat by the receiver, then recovered and broke up a deep pass down the sideline. Both him and fellow cornerback Tee Shepard impressed throughout the spring.

- The men's tennis team earned a split on the final weekend of Southeastern Conference play, including a key 4-2 win on the road at South Carolina that helped the Rebels earn the No. 4 seed and a double-bye in the SEC Tournament this week. Ranked No. 14 in the nation, Ole Miss can likely play their way into hosting for the NCAA first and second rounds.

- Junior Stefan Lindmark finished the season undefeated in the SEC (8-0), becoming the fifth player in school history and the first since 2009 to go undefeated.

- The women's tennis team won both its matches this past week, sweeping Arkansas-Pine Bluff 7-0 and defeating Mississippi State 4-3. With a win over UAPB, senior Julia Jones became the seventh player in program history to win 100 singles matches. With the win over Mississippi State, the Rebels have now won 26 straight against the Lady Bulldogs.

- Check out Josh McCoy's photo galleries from this past week. He was all over Grove Bowl week, from the Chucky Mullins Courage Award ceremony, to the Grove Bowl, to the other activities on campus.

- Check out Ole Miss Sports Productions' season recap videos for your Ole Miss men's basketball and women's basketball teams. Great work as always by their talented team.

- The major league baseball season began this past Sunday, and six former Ole Miss players began the season on opening-day rosters. That number has now grown to seven with the recent call-up of Matt Tracy, giving the program an SEC-best seven former players on major league baseball rosters.

- I sat down with Director of Athletics Ross Bjork to discuss the state of Ole Miss Athletics. Look for the full question and answer with him on the official website early this week . We discussed a wide range of topics that will be of interest for fans.

At one point, co-offensive coordinator Dan Werner said, all three quarterbacks had completed around 66 percent of their passes, a testament to how close the competition has been this spring. Going into the Grove Bowl, Freeze said one had a slight lead, but even that might have changed after the game itself Saturday.

"After one drill I'd like that one, after the next drill I'd like that one," Freeze said. "So, I go back and forth. In the totality of spring, going back before today, I would say that Ryan Buchanan had a lead in my mind. That certainly doesn't mean that he is going to be the starter. After today I will go back and watch the film and put it with our cumulative stats and everything else that we are judging on them. We will see where it is after today. 

"Again, even if we say that he has the lead, it is so minute and so small and so far from being over. That is everything being transparent and that is how I felt today. I might feel differently come Monday. I will watch the film this weekend and we will see." 

Junior quarterback Chad Kelly had the best statistical day of the group, completing 9-of-19 passes for 104 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Sophomore quarterback DeVante Kincade was 9-of-18 for 93 yards and also rushed for 50 yards on 10 carries, while fellow sophomore quarterback Ryan Buchanan was 5-of-16 for 49 yards with an interception.

"I feel like I really improved since the start of camp," Buchanan said. "Like I have said from the beginning, being behind Bo, you don't get as many of the first-team reps and don't go against the first-team defense. This spring, we had a chance to do that, and gradually I feel like I improved with my decision-making.

"I feel like I have made improvements, but I know for a fact that I can do way better," Kincade said.

Earlier this spring, Freeze said he expected the competition to continue into the middle of fall camp, but if it stays as close as it appears to be right now, it might continue into the season itself.

"If they are as close as they are now, I could see us going a couple games making sure we have done due diligence in naming a starter," Freeze said. "But, I do not want to do it beyond that or even if that. It wouldn't shock me to go into week one planning to give them all reps to look at how they do when the lights come on. We won't go too long like that. I don't mind playing a couple, but you need to have a guy that is your guy when the time comes." 

Revamped Running Game

Ole Miss returns its two leading rushers from last season in senior running back Jaylen Walton (106 carries, 586 yards, five touchdowns) and sophomore running back Jordan Wilkins (52 carries, 361 yards, one touchdown), but the Rebels appear to have made some changes in the ground game.

"We tweaked a few things," Werner said. "We got some ideas from some other teams that run similar offenses and it's been really good for us."

Despite just 10 healthy offensive linemen by the end of the spring, one of the areas where Freeze was most pleased this spring was the running game, and it showed in the Grove Bowl. 

Wilkins led the way with six carries for 62 yards, highlighted by a 28-yard run, but sophomore Eugene Brazley and redshirt freshman Akeem Judd had their moments as well. Walton even threw a 66-yard touchdown pass to sophomore wide receiver Damore'ea Stringfellow on a halfback pass.

"We have a bunch of good backs," Werner said. "They're in a situation where they have so many guys who are really good players that they have to compete. When you get a chance to run the ball, you better make a good run."

Jones, Hampton Among Spring Surprises

Freeze has said they are searching for more consistency at the wide receiver position, but when asked earlier this week who has been the biggest surprise of spring practice, the first name that came to his mind was junior wide receiver Derrick Jones.

Jones credited another year in the program and the confidence of playing on just one of the ball for his breakout spring. In the Grove Bowl, he led the Red team with three catches for 35 yards.

"It gives me a lot of confidence, knowing that I'm going to be in this spot and keep working at one position, and not wondering if I'm going to be a cornerback or a receiver," Jones said.

Sophomore defensive back C.J. Hampton was another name that Freeze mentioned as players who have impressed this spring. After a year learning behind All-American safety Cody Prewitt, Hampton is now competing for playing time at free safety, and he was named the most improved defensive player of the spring.

"Cody was on hard me last year," Hampton said. "He wanted me to learn. He always said I was good enough and that I had to learn it fast. I learned it, and I'm rolling with it now. I still talk to Cody a lot now."

Former Ole Miss head coach Billy Brewer almost did not sign Chucky Mullins, whose memory has been honored with the Chucky Mullins Courage Award.

Nate Wayne, a four-year letterman for the Rebels and the 1997 recipient of the award, who was a special guest at this year's ceremony, shared a similar story of how his high school coach convinced Coach Brewer to offer him a scholarship.

Fittingly, this year's winner, senior defensive back Mike Hilton, followed a similar path to Ole Miss.

Then a 5-foot-9, 175-pound athlete from Sandy Creek High School in Fayetteville, Georgia, Hilton was not the highest-profile football prospect. 

Hilton was a 247Sports composite three-star prospect, the No. 71 ranked player in Georgia by Rivals.com and the No. 78 running back in the nation by Scout.com. But something about him grabbed the attention of one coach, which made all the difference.

"I almost did not sign him," head coach Hugh Freeze said. "I almost messed it up. He had some academic issues at first and he was undersized. I had three weeks to recruit him and I was not sure that he was going to make it. Matt Luke went to one of their practices. They had five Division I players on that team, and he said there was no question who the alpha dog was on the field and that we had better take this kid."

Since stepping on campus in the fall of 2012, Hilton has been a key contributor on Ole Miss defense, playing in 36 games with 28 starts, including a start at every position in the defensive backfield. He led the Rebels with 71 tackles last season, to go along with 4.0 tackles for loss, three interceptions and seven pass break-ups.

Hilton started the spring at Rover safety, before suffering a broken thumb that ended his spring practice. But come the fall, Hilton will be one of the leaders on the Ole Miss defense, wearing Mullins' No. 38 jersey, whether it's at that Rover safety position, or one of the other starting spots in the defensive backfield.

"I have always been undersized, so I knew I had to put forth that extra effort," Hilton said. "You have to have the mentality to do what you have to do on and off the field, and I have been able to do that. I'm thankful for the coaches to give me an opportunity to come out here and do what I do and also show what I can do off the field."

Speaking about Mullins, Freeze said the one thing he keeps coming back to is something that Tea Southerland, the 1992 winner of the award, said. Southerland said it was one of the highest honors he'd ever received, which Freeze said is a great statement, but the statement that followed really grabbed him. He said, "I wonder if Chucky would say they got the right guy."

Freeze said the one thing he knows that the right kind of people have is the ability to finish. That doesn't mean you don't stub your toe or you fall down, but they finish. Hilton, Freeze said, is the one guy they kept coming back to represent the spirit of Mullins.

"We have made our kids understand that if you get award this award, it's a big deal," Freeze said. "It's the highest award that our program gives, and it comes with a lot of responsibility. This year, out staff had a difficult selecting it, not because we couldn't the one, but because we had five who were all deserving. That's a good sign for our program."

"When I put that 38 on, nothing else mattered, said Wayne, who also enjoyed an eight-year professional career in the NFL. "It wasn't just about me. It was about my wife, my daughter, my family, my Ole Miss family and Chucky. At that point, I realized that every decision I made didn't just affect me. It affected everyone involved with me. If it wasn't for that mentality, who knows where I would be today."

Three and Out: Grove Bowl Edition

Three areas to watch as Ole Miss splits into two teams for the annual Regions Bank Grove Bowl on Saturday.

Can Someone Emerge in the Quarterback Battle?

By all indications, sophomores Ryan Buchanan and DeVante Kincade and junior college transfer Chad Kelly have split reps evenly this spring. 

The coaches have charted every throw and every drill, but there does not appear to be any true separation, and head coach Hugh Freeze has said he expects the competition to continue into the middle of fall camp.

Freeze and co-offensive coordinator Dan Werner were both generally pleased with the play of all three quarterbacks in their last scrimmage, but Freeze did say that Buchanan graded out the best of the three.

What does their last opportunity to impress the coaches before summer workouts and fall camp hold? 

As with previous observations of the quarterbacks, there's a caveat: The offense is not yet at full strength, particularly along the offensive line, where the Rebels have just 10 healthy players.

Physical Play on the Outside

More than any other matchup on the field, I found myself watching the wide receivers and tight ends working against the defensive backs. The play is physical, and the players appear to take each play personally.

Perhaps the most physical on the offensive side of the ball, Laquon Treadwell, will not be participating in the Grove Bowl, but Quincy Adeboyejo, Cody Core and Markell Pack have all returned from their respective injuries. Derrick Jones has also been one of the biggest surprises of spring practice and he's another player to watch.

On the defensive side of the ball, Tony Bridges and Tee Shepard are long, athletic and physical, and they pride themselves on being able to play on an island by themselves. Kendarius Webster is another long, athletic and physical corner. Like Derrick Jones, C.J. Hampton has been another surprise of spring practice.

It should be fun to watch on Saturday.

Battle in the Trenches

The Ole Miss defensive line was one of the most talented units in the nation last year. This year, the group may be even better with a year of maturity and experience for returnees and the addition of a trio of redshirt freshmen in Victor Evans, Garrald McDowell and Breeland Speaks and junior college transfer D.J Jones.

That being said, one of the areas where Freeze has been most pleased this spring has been in the running game, a credit to an offensive line that continues to deal with injuries and a group of running backs that may have found their stride this spring. Akeem Judd is one name that has popped up a lot this spring.

Junior Jeremy Liggins, who has transitioned to offensive tackle, and redshirt freshman Jordan Sims and freshman Javon Patterson, who have both come a long way this spring, are three players to watch along the offensive line.

By splitting into two teams, with five healthy offensive linemen each, it may be hard to tell if there's any improvement in the running game on Saturday, but it's something to watch nevertheless. And it will certainly be something to watch when the Rebels will likely have a full complement of healthy players come fall camp.

Through the first seven spring practices, or three weeks since the start of spring practice on March 3, there does not appear to be any separation between sophomores Ryan Buchanan and DeVante Kincade and junior college transfer Chad Kelly. 

Whether you talk to head coach Hugh Freeze, or one of the quarterback competitors, they all have one overarching goal for the position: consistency.

"We're charting every single throw, and it's really close between all three," Freeze said. "It really depends on the day. Ryan has had his great days, Kincade has done well at times, and so has Chad. We're compile it all after this week and look at it again, but it's really close."

"All of them look great," sophomore wide receiver Laquon Treadwell said. "It's still a learning process for them. They don't have a lot of experience going live against the first-team defense and doing all the things we do every day, but they all look good and they're all making plays."

Every snap and every series, Buchanan and Kincade said, it's a challenge to stay consistent and do the little things right to separate themselves in the quarterback competition.

"I feel like I have gotten progressively better each camp from fall to spring the last couple of years," Buchanan said. "The biggest thing is you have to do it life. I can sit in meetings and know exactly where everything is supposed to be, but you have to make on-the-second decisions when you're out there."

"Every day, you have to bring it, no matter where you are," Kincade said. "Anywhere you go, it's going to be a competition. You have to bring your 'A' game every time you're on the field."

Every practice, they face a defense that boasts seven returning starters from the nation's No. 1 scoring defense. 

They're also short-handed on the offensive side of the ball with only eight healthy offensive linemen as well as injuries to sophomore wide receiver Markell Pack and senior wide receiver Cody Core, joining Treadwell and senior wide receiver Collins Moore, who were already being held out.

"We can force our defense to be in some vanilla looks and we look a lot better then," Freeze said. "When they're who they want to be, it's been quite challenging to have successful plays for sure."

Injuries and Opportunities Along the Offensive Line

The Rebels were already without a trio of offensive linemen at the start of spring practice and the injury list has only grown longer three weeks into it.

"We're struggling to just stay healthy," Freeze said. "We're losing kids to some freak injuries that have certainly made reps more difficult. That's part of the game. 

"On the offensive line, we're down to about eight guys. It's a struggle. There are a lot of good looking ones standing on the sideline. At receiver, Markell (Pack) and Cody (Core) are hurt. Laquon (Treadwell) and Collins (Moore) are already out. We're facing some adversity right now offensively."

By name, according to Freeze, junior Laremy Tunsil, senior Aaron Mooris, sophomore Daronte Bouldin, junior Robert Conyers, sophomore Christian Morris, junior Talbot Buys, sophomore Davion Johnson and redshirt freshman Sean Rawling are offensive lineman that have been ruled out for spring practice.

The eight healthy offensive lineman, Freeze also said by name, are senior Justin Bell, freshman Javon Patterson, senior Ben Still, junior Jeremy Liggins, senior Fahn Cooper, redshirt freshman Jordan Sims, sophomore Rod Taylor, junior Jacob Feeley, and redshirt freshman Tyler Putman.

"We have who we have for spring," Freeze said. "Hopefully, Markell and Cody are not out significantly long. On the offensive line, it doesn't look like we will get any of them back for spring."

Freeze praised the effort of the younger and less-experienced players, stepping up and having to go a lot of reps with the first-team and second-team offenses. Of the injured offensive linemen, Freeze said he is hopeful they will be ready for summer workouts.

Those injuries along the offensive line have also presented an opportunity for younger players, such as Patterson, an early enrollee, and Liggins, who has moved to offensive tackle.

"He's getting all the reps he wants," said Freeze of Patterson. "He's having to go with the one's some and the two's some. He's getting all the reps he wants. All of them are. I'm really pleased with him. He's going to be a really good player. I'm really excited about him."

"It's going really well," said Freeze of Liggins. "He has really good feet. He's picked it up as well as I would have hoped. There are times, just like with any offensive lineman, where you get these strange looks that you really didn't work on in individual work that may be moving a little fast for him. That's not just him. That's all of them. I really think he's a talented kid there."

QUOTABLE

Freeze, on the defense: "Defensively, I'm really, really pleased. I think we have a chance to be really good on that side of the ball. Certainly, it's going to make us better going forward having to practice against the speed and length that our defense plays with."

Freeze, on Saturday's scrimmage: "It's been a very physical spring thus far. I'm hoping that Saturday, when we get there, we will have enough healthy guys to have a quality scrimmage to see if we have made some significant improvements because we have spent an enormous amount of time on technique and individual work."

Freeze, on quarterback Chad Kelly: "I'm really pleased with everything he's done to this point. It's a process. I'm very aware that any of these young men can make a decision that's wrong. He's got very little rope to do that with, but i'm really with him to this point. He studies film. He's a competitor. He's a team guy. That's been my experience with him thus far."

Freeze, on cornerback Tony Bridges: "He's a long, athletic corner and he's physical. Him and Tee Shepard, they're both playing really well at corner right now. They're a little too aggressive sometimes, particularly when they're on an island. They're very aggressive and long."

Freeze, on wide receiver Laquon Treadwell: "We're probably going to hold him out. He goes through all the one-on-ones and routes versus air, but we haven't put him in any team situation yet."

Freeze, on linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche: "Denzel is having a really good spring. Really solid. He's fine. He's 100 percent."

Treadwell, on Kelly: "Chad is competing. He's learning and he's making plays. Every day, he's competing and that's going to help the team a lot."

Buchanan on the quarterback competition: "They're tracking each throw and each decision, and I know I have to make the most out of every single snap and every single series I go in and do the best I can."

Buchanan, on Kelly: "He has a great arm. He can spin the ball really well. He's getting used to the playbook and getting used to having to make decisions against our defense, but he's good. He's a good quarterback."

Kincade, on the quarterback room: "It's fun competing. I love competing. If he makes something good happen, I tell him. If I make something good happen, he tells me, and we tell Ryan the same. We all share with each other."

Ole Miss began spring practice Tuesday, and for the first time under head coach Hugh Freeze, the Rebels will have a starting quarterback not named Bo Wallace. With the graduation of Wallace, sophomores Ryan Buchanan and DeVante Kincade, as well as junior college transfer Chad Kelly, will split equal reps this spring.

"We're going to be very thorough in our evaluations by charting every single drill that they do," Freeze said. "We'll look at stats from those. It's going to a very competition three-man deal. They will be in a constant rotation, and everyone will get equal reps with the 1's and the 2's. The main thing you want to see is who can handle hard coaching and who can understand what we're trying to get accomplished with what we have called and then being able to execute and take care of the ball, which is always a priority."

It's the first true quarterback competition in Oxford since the 2012 season, when Wallace beat out Barry Brunetti for the starting job. In that case, Freeze did not name Wallace his starting quarterback until two days before the Rebels' season opener against Central Arkansas, and it may a similar case this season between Buchanan, Kelly and Kincade.

"It would probably have to be so clear-cut for me to do that this spring, knowing the personalities of who I'm dealing with and the time between now and fall," said Freeze of naming a starting quarterback in the spring. "A lot of dynamics play into that. It's probably not going to be a clear-cut decision at the end of spring and will continue through summer workouts. It's time for that room to be the leaders of this team. With that, comes some responsibility, and we have them to understand that throughout summer workouts."

Changes on Defense

Freeze had already announced one position change during his National Signing Day press conference. That change was moving Jeremy Liggins to offensive tackle, although he will likely continue to play some tight end and "Wildcat" quarterback. But there are also changes on the other side of the ball.

The changes on the defensive side are familiar, but they are notable. Freeze announced that senior Mike Hilton, who has started a game at every defensive backfield position, will start the spring at one of the safety positions, as they try to find the best rotation in the defensive backfield.

"We think we he have a lot options (in the secondary)," Freeze said. "We're going to start Tony (Bridges) and Tee (Shepard) at cornerback and start Mike Hilton at one of the safety positions, knowing that he's played them all and can do that. If we think there's a better rotation, we won't hesitate to move them around"

Freeze also said that senior C.J. Johnson will get a look at Mike linebacker, a position that Freeze called their biggest question mark right now. Johnson was originally recruited as a linebacker and began his Ole Miss career at the position, and he will join senior Christian Russell and junior Temario Strong in looking to replace Deterrian Shackelford and Keith Lewis.

"We are going to see this spring," said Freeze of Johnson playing Mike linebacker. "I don't know (how he will perform), it is hard to say. I know he can run and tackle. I know he is smart and really understands the defense. It is a different role, playing there. But that's where we are going to put him and see how it goes this spring. We can always move him back down to the defensive line. We are going to see how he performs this spring."

D. Nkemdiche, Treadwell Return from Injury

The Rebels will be without a trio of offensive linemen in junior Laremy Tunsil and senior Aaron Morris, two returning starters, as well as sophomore Daronte Bouldin, but the Rebels will welcome back a talented trio of players in junior wide receiver Laquon Treadwell, senior linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche and junior cornerback Tee Shepard.

"I expect Denzel and Quon, both, to be back," Freeze said. "Denzel, right away. Quon, after spring break. He will do some things but not a lot this week. Robert Conyers will go after spring break also. The others, Daronte (Bouldin), Aaron (Morris), and Laremy, will not participate in spring practice. Tee will be full-go. Carlos Davis, we'll see where is after spring break."

With the injuries along the offensive line, it is a great opportunity for freshman offensive lineman Javon Patterson, an early enrollee, who was rated a five-star prospect and listed as the No. 1 offensive guard in the nation by 247Sports.com.

"I told him yesterday that we he will get all the reps he wants, and then some," Freeze said. "It's going be good for him. He's going to get plenty of reps. i'm really excited about him. He's exactly the type of student-athlete you want. He's a great kid, first, and he's going to be an outstanding player. Getting him enrolled early and getting an extra spring with him will be big for him. He will get plenty of reps to get looked at this spring."

The Southeastern Conference announced today Kickoff '15, its annual football media days, will be held July 13-16, remaining at the Hyatt Regency Birmingham - Wynfrey Hotel in Hoover, Ala. The event will continue to be four days in 2015.

The 2014 edition featured an additional fourth day to the event, and it will remain the same for the 2015 edition. Hugh Freeze and the Ole Miss contingency will be in the Magic City on the final day, Thursday, July 16, and grouped with Georgia and LSU.

ESPN will once again bring SEC Media Days to a national audience, with the SEC Network making its debut at the event to close out a historic first year for the newly launched network. The network will have live coverage all four days.

A more detailed daily schedule with full television information, rotational breakdown and student-athletes attending will be available later this summer.

The previous four SEC Football Media Days have drawn over 1,000 attendees, including over 1,200 attendees each of the last two years.

2015 SEC FOOTBALL MEDIA DAYS SCHEDULE

MONDAY, July 13

SEC Commissioner

Auburn - Gus Malzahn

Florida - Jim McElwain

Vanderbilt - Derek Mason

TUESDAY, July 14

SEC Coordinator of Officials - Steve Shaw

South Carolina - Steve Spurrier

Texas A&M - Kevin Sumlin

Miss. State - Dan Mullen

Tennessee - Butch Jones

WEDNESDAY, July 15

Alabama - Nick Saban

Kentucky - Mark Stoops

Arkansas - Bret Bielema

Missouri - Gary Pinkel

THURSDAY, July 16

LSU - Les Miles

Georgia - Mark Richt

Ole Miss - Hugh Freeze

VIDEO: The Flagship Football Promo

National Signing Day has come and gone, the Mike Smith Era began in earnest, and the men's basketball team has run its winning streak to five games, its longest win streak since the 2012-13, when the Rebels won the SEC Tournament Championship and advanced to the NCAA Tournament. Here are some thoughts and opinions on the week that was:

- Head coach Hugh Freeze and his staff won some and lost some on National Signing Day, as they put together a 22-member class, ranked as high as No. 15 in the nation (247Sports.com), and as low as No. 21 in the nation (RIvals.com). The class included 18 players rated a four-star prospect or higher by at least one recruiting service, the most in program history, including offensive lineman Javon Patterson and wide receiver DaMarkus Lodge, the seventh and eighth five-star prospect signed under Freeze

"You lose some battles when you are battling for some of the nation's best," Freeze said. "Every school does. We had a few of those, but we also won many, many battles for kids who really wanted to be at Ole Miss and this program representing this great university. I'm excited to get to work with them."

- Among the battles won were the last three players signed in Lodge, who announced his college decision live on ESPNU, choosing the Rebels over Texas and Texas A&M, defensive lineman Austrian Robinson, who chose them over Maryland, and wide receiver Van Jefferson, the son of 13-year NFL veteran Shawn Jefferson, who chose them over Georgia, Michigan and Oklahoma, as well as linebacker Shawn Curtis, who flipped his commitment from Pittsburgh.

- Speaking to some of the recruiting battles lost, Freeze said he and his staff will revisit the entire recruiting process, including allowing commitments to take other visits, gong through every kid on their board and talking about the outcome, the good and the bad, why it did not their way in the end, and could they have done anything different. On a related note, looking ahead to 2016, Freeze said of addressing needs on the offensive line, defensive line and linebacker with mid-year signees, whether it's JUCO or high school players.

- One of the more underrated aspects of the 2015 signing class are the five mid-year enrollees, a group that includes the top junior college quarterback (Chad Kelly), defensive lineman (D.J. Jones) and cornerback (Tony Bridges). All three players, as well as junior college linebacker Terry Caldwell and early enrollee Javon Patterson are expected to feature prominently in spring practice and push for playing time come the fall.

- In case you missed it, here's a National Signing Day link roundup of videos and stories related to the signing class as a whole and videos and stories related to individual signees.

- The men's basketball team extended its winning streak to five games, defeating Texas A&M 69-59 Wednesday night, its third top-50 RPI win of the season, and then going on the road and defeating Auburn 86-79, moving to 3-2 in SEC road games this season. With the wins, the Rebels remain in a three-way tie for second place in the SEC standings and moved up to No. 37 in the latest RPI rankings released by the NCAA.

- The story against Texas A&M was a locked-in defensive effort, holding the Aggies' two leading scorers, Jalen Jones and Danuel House, to a combined 14 points on 5-of-19 shooting, and two key 3-point plays by LaDarius White and M.J. Rhett to push the lead to 59-50 with 6:26 left.

- LaDarius White led the way with 20 points, making big play after big play, but it was a team effort throughout the lineup, as five Rebels finished in double figures in the win over Auburn. The nation's top free-throw shooting team, the Rebels closed out the game from the line, going 10-of-12 in the final 1:28 to finish 28-of-38 for the game.

"Ole Miss is really comfortable with their nine players," Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl said. "That's what makes them a really good and a contender is that they don't drop off at all when they go to their bench."

- Watching the Ole Miss-Auburn game on television, you could sense the energy in Auburn Arena, whether it was the memories of the Marshall Henderson jersey-pop, or the culture change under first-year head coach Bruce Pearl. The Pavilion at Ole Miss, set to open next season, will have a similar design and capacity, so fans watching the game got a taste of what the game day atmosphere might be like next season.

- Looking ahead, the Rebels have their first of two Thursday-Saturday swings, traveling to Florida on Thursday and playing host to Arkansas on Saturday. The Gators are ranked No. 67 in the latest RPI rankings and No. 35 in the latest KenPom.com ratings, while the Razorbacks are ranked No. 25 in the RPI and No. 31 in KenPom.

- The women's basketball team, looking for its first win at Vanderbilt since Jan. 8, 1987, led for 27:00, leading by as many as 16 early in the second half, but the Rebels were unable to overcome 42 second-half points from the Commodores in a 58-54 loss on Thursday night.

- Ole Miss, now 14-9 overall and 4-6 in SEC play, has six regular season remaining, starting with a home game against No. 6 Tennessee on Thursday. Head coach Matt Insell has said his team likely needs to get to at least eight SEC wins to garner NCAA Tournament consideration, so the Rebels likely need at least a split of the final six regular season games.

- The Ole Miss softball team kicked off the Mike Smith Era with six games in four days at the Kajikawa Classic in Tempe, Arizona, going 3-3 with wins over San Jose State, Fresno State and Western Michigan. The Rebels are on the road for five games in three days next weekend, before returning home for the Red and Blue Classic (Feb. 20-22), playing host to UT-Martin, Nebraska-Omaha, Southern Illinois and Middle Tennessee State.

- The Ole Miss baseball team opens the 2015 season next weekend with a three-game home series against William & Mary, starting with the series opener Friday at 4 p.m. The Ole Miss baseball preseason press conference is set for Monday, so stay tuned for more coverage leading up to the season opener.

- The No. 24 ranked Ole Miss women's tennis picked up a pair of road wins, defeating No. 29 Texas Tech and No. 32 Rice. The Rebels return home for each of their next three matches, starting with Tulane on Friday (2 p.m.), before opening SEC play on Friday, Feb. 27 with a road match at Kentucky.

- The No. 19 ranked Ole Miss men's tennis team was off this past weekend, returning to action Monday for its home opener against Troy, before traveling to Chicago for the ITA National Team Indoor (Feb. 13-16).

Head coach Hugh Freeze and his staff landed a top-15 class for an unprecedented third straight year Wednesday. Including mid-year enrollees, the 22-member class boasts 18 players rated a four-star prospect or higher by at least one recruiting service, the most in program history, including the seventh and eighth five-star prospects signed under Freeze.

As of Thursday morning, the major recruiting service rankings currently list Ole Miss at No. 15 (247Sports.com), No. 16 (Scout.com), No. 17 (247 Composite), No. 19 (ESPN) and No. 21 (Rivals.com).

Here are some National Signing Day links related to the signing class as a whole:

VIDEO: Hugh Freeze on Ole Miss' 2015 recruiting class via CBSSports.com

VIDEO: Mississippi Teams Capitalize on Success via SEC Network

VIDEO: Hugh Freeze on troubled QB Chad Kelly: Players deserve second, third chance via FoxSports.com

VIDEO: Ole Miss' Chris Kiffin talks D-Line, defensive backfield depth in 2015 via Courtney Cronin from the Clarion-Ledger

Rebels weather hectic final few days of recruiting, writes Hugh Kellenberger from the Clarion-Ledger

Roller coaster day for Rebels, writes Parrish Alford from the Daily Journal

Ole Miss: 2015 Signing Class, writes Hugh Kellenberger from the Clarion-Ledger

Ole Miss Rebels QB Chad Kelly can rewrite story, writes Greg Ostendorf from ESPN.com

Why troubled QB Chad Kelly is worth the risk to Hugh Freeze, writes Bruce Feldman from FonSports.com

Here are some related National Signing Day links to stories related to individual signees:

Doral Reagan's Shawn Curtis changes mind, signs with Ole Miss, writes Veronika Quispe from the Miami Herald

Former Pitt commit surprises by inking with Ole Miss, writes Riley Blevins from the Clarion-Ledger

South Aiken's Rasool Clemons signs with Ole Miss, writes Kyle Dawson from the Aiken Standard

Linton overcomes trials to become coveted recruit, writes Courtney Cronin from the Clarion-Ledger

VIDEO: Sandy Creek's Eric Swinney talks about heading to Ole Miss via WSB

Can Swinney help Ole Miss at running back? writes Hugh Kellenberger from the Clarion-Ledger

Riverside defensive end Joe Anderson signs with Ole Miss, writes Andrew Lopez from NOLA.com

Winter Garden West Orange slot receiver Jalen Julius picks Ole Miss over Notre Dame, writes Alicia DelGallo from the Orlando Sentinel

Ole Miss lands potential return specialist in Julius, writes Hugh Kellenberger from the Clarion-Ledger

VIDEO: DaMarkus Lodge commits to the University of Mississippi via WFAA

DaMarkus Lodge reveals why he picked Ole Miss in exclusive with Bleacher Report, writes Damon Sayles from Bleacher Report

DaMarkus Lodge give Ole Miss a big win on signing day, writes Hugh Kellenberger from the Clarion-Ledger

Rivals.com named Ole Miss and DaMarkus Lodge the best fit in their National Signing Day Award

Scout's Take: DaMarkus Lodge to Ole Miss Rebels, writes Gerry Hamilton and Tom Luginbill from ESPN Insider ($)

Ravenwood's Jefferson signs with Ole Miss, writes Sam Brown from the Tennessean


Observations from the Best Seat in the House is back, having taken a week off for the Christmas holidays and traveled to Atlanta for the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl. The football team finished the season in a "New Year's Six" bowl, the men's basketball team closed out non-conference play, the women's basketball team opened Southeastern Conference play and the spring sports draw nearer. Here are some thoughts and opinions on the week that was:

- The Ole Miss football team ran into a buzz saw in No. 6 TCU, a team playing like it was motivated by the College Football Playoff snub and should have been in the four-team playoff. The 42-3 loss to the Horned Frogs marked the first bowl loss under head coach Hugh Freeze and the worst bowl loss in program history.

"TCU is a very good team," Freeze said. "They deserved every mention they got this year to be in the hunt for one of the four.  They certainly, rightfully, deserve to be in it with the others.... To pick the four is a very difficult task.  They certainly could compete with any of those in it, no question in my mind."

- It's easy for fans to be disappointed by the end of the season, but credit is due to Freeze and the 2014 team, particularly the seniors, many of whom were freshman during a 2-10 season in 2011. They helped lead the program to three straight bowl games for the first time since 1998-2000 and their nine wins are its most in a season since 2009. History will be kind to this team, as the underclassmen on this year's team look to take the program to the next level in the years to come.

"I'm extremely proud of our kids and how they've turned this program, in three short years, to being relevant and competitive. I'm just sick that it wasn't that way for them today," Freeze said.

- Playing in his last collegiate game, senior cornerback Senquez Golson provided a bright spot in the game, as he tied the school record with his 10th interception of the season, the 16th of his career, which is tied for third place in Ole Miss. A projected second-day NFL draft pick, Golson remains undecided on his plans for the spring, whether it's playing baseball or preparing for the NFL Draft.

- He did not want to go out the way he did, saying as much to the media in the postgame press conference, but just as history will be kind to this year's team, it will likely be kind to senior quarterback Bo Wallace. He had his ups and downs, and he would probably be the first to admit that, but he finishes his Ole Miss career with school record for career total offensive yards (10,478), and with 24 wins as the team's stating quarterback, he is tied with Eli Manning as the winningest quarterback in modern Ole Miss history. Among those 24 wins: Three top-10 wins, including No. 1 Alabama, two Egg Bowl wins and two bowl wins.

- Much was made about the SEC's bowl performance and the SEC East's 5-0 record and the SEC West's 2-5 record, headlined by the 0-3 record by SEC West team in the "New Year's Six" bowl games. With that being said, a couple of things to consider: The SEC tied its own record the most conference bowl wins in college football history. When comparing the records of the two divisions, be sure to look at their bowl game opponents, which includes the nation's No. 4, No. 6, No. 12 and No. 18 teams for SEC West teams. Also, should one bowl game carry more weight than the 12-game or 13-game regular season when comparing divisions and conferences?

- Speaking of the "New Year's Six," the new format pulled in historic ratings. The first half of the "New Year's Six" delivered the most-viewed and highest-rated New Year's Eve triple header on an ESPN network on record, including an average of 5,013,000 views and a 3.4 US rating for No. 6 TCU and No. 9 Ole Miss in the Peach Bowl. The semifinals on New Year's Day then delivered the largest two audiences in cable television history and the highest overnight rating for a non-championship game on ESPN and ABC, with a 15.5 rating for No. 2 Oregon and No. 3 Florida State in the Rose Bowl and a 15.3 rating for No. 1 Alabama and No. 4 Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl. I look forward to seeing the numbers for the College Football Championship on Monday, Jan. 12.

- Looking ahead to next season, Ole Miss will have perhaps its two best offensive players in sophomore wide receiver Laquon Treadwell and sophomore offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil coming off season-ending injuries, as Tunsil suffered a broken fibula in the loss to TCU. David Chao, MD, a former NFL head team physician, said on Twitter that type of injury requires surgery, but Tunsil could make a recovery in four-to-six months. Freeze said Treadwell, now out of the boot, will recovered by about the start of spring practice, expecting him to participate in some of spring practice.

- But the biggest question heading into the offseason and the 2015 season? The quarterback position. The Rebels signed the nation's top junior college quarterback in Chad Kelly, and we'll know more about his future with the program in the coming days. And then there's redshirt freshmen Ryan Buchanan and DeVante Kincade, neither of whom has separated from the other through two seasons working behind Bo Wallace. It will be something to watch.

- Other questions heading into the offseason and 2015 season? Who does Freeze hire to replace linebackers coach Tom Allen on his coaching staff? After signing four on junior college national signing day, including the nation's top quarterback, defensive tackle and cornerback, how does Ole Miss finish up its recruiting class on National Signing Day (Feb. 4)? How do Treadwell, Tunsil, among others recover from season-ending injuries? That and more, we'll all have to sit back and watch.

- Speaking of looking ahead to 2015, here's Chase Parham's annual look at 10 dates that are significant for Ole Miss during the next calendar year. A must-read for all Rebel fans, if you haven't already checked it out.

- While in Atlanta for the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, I had the opportunity to visit and tour the College Football Hall of Fame. Wow. If you're a college football fan and haven't yet visited the museum in downtown Atlanta, you need to make plans to do so. 

When you walk in, you see a three-story-high wall of helmets representing the 768 teams that play college football at the FBS, FCS, Division II, Division III and NAIA level. When you walk upstairs, you walk through the history of college football, whether it's through exhibitions, many of which are interactive, or through films. And then there's some Ole Miss flavor, from a "Speed Limit 18" sign, to an Archie Manning 1970 magazine cover, to a game ball from the 2011 seven-overtime game against Arkansas, and then the helmet wall, films and interactivity of the exhibits will blow you away.

- As part of bowl week, I also had the opportunity to visit Children's Healthcare of Atlanta at Scottish Rite Hospital, shadowing three of team's 21 seniors in Cody Prewitt, Billy Busch and Charlie Scott. It was great to watch the players interact with the patients, sharing stories and brightening their day. It gave you perspective. 

Another senior, Lavon Hooks, said it best: "It was a great opportunity getting to hang out with kids that might not get the same opportunities as us. It brightened my day, just being able to give back. I think it brightened their day, too, getting to play and hang out with some people they may see on TV and look up to."

- The Ole Miss men's basketball team had an interesting non-conference, defeating Creighton, Cincinnati away from Oxford, while losing to Charleston Southern and Western Kentucky on their home floor. The Rebels closed out the non-conference slate with a 9-4 record, rolling past Austin Peay 92-63 on Saturday. Ole Miss shot a season-best 54.8 percent from the floor, but head coach Andy Kennedy was most pleased by 23 assists on 34 made field goals.

"There have been a lot of things I was not expecting," said Kennedy of non-conference play. "I felt like the continuity would be a little better because we had more experience. The reality is we are still integrating new guys into the way we do things. It took us a while to figure out who's best with whom. This team needs to share the ball. We have to help each other get shots."

- Preseason All-SEC first team selection Jarvis Summers has come on strong entering the start on SEC play. He has scored in double figures in each of his last three games, including a team-high 18 points in the win over Austin Peay.

"Tonight as we were making that push, he was the guy that was being the player we need him to be," said Kenned of Summers, the Rebels' second-leading scorer. "My hope is he's getting back into a rhythm. He understands the importance that he brings to this team."

- The Rebels open SEC play on Tuesday when they play on the road at No. 1 Kentucky in Rupp Arena. Kennedy and Summers both stressed the importance of making jump shots and keeping the Wildcats off the offensive glass to keep the game close and give themselves a chance at the upset.

- The Ole Miss women's basketball team opened SEC play, defending their home court in a 71-57 win over Arkansas and then playing No. 11 Kentucky to the wire in a 64-58 loss on the road in Lexington. The Rebels led for 25:59 of the game, before a 6-0 run over the final 2:22 sealed the win for the Wildcats. Despite the loss, head coach Matt Insell and his team proved they're going to be a tough out for opponents this season.

- With the turn of the calendar, the start of the spring sports draw nearer, and something is whether three-time All-American and reigning SEC Player of the Year Nik Scholtz elects to return for his senior season in men's tennis. The Caledon, South Africa, native played in various Futures tournament this past summer and fall. With Scholtz, the Rebels would return six of their top seven player from last season, in addition to talented newcomers Gustav Hansson of Sweden and Zvonimir Babic of Croatia. 

A couple of dates to watch, as far as a possible return for Scholtz, are Jan. 7, when Ole Miss opens the 2015 season in the Florida Gulf Coast Invitational, Jan. 21, when Ole Miss classes begins, and Jan. 24, when Ole Miss begins play in the ITA Kickoff Weekend.

Freeze, Patterson See Programs Rise

Head coach Hugh Freeze has spoken often about the journey, and he called the program's appearance in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, the first of the "New Year's Six" bowls, a validation of their success earlier this season and how far they have come over the last three seasons.

"To be here in year three of our journey, I think, is validation for us," Freeze said. "You guys again that follow me know that I'm a big-picture guy, and I don't make too much of one win or too much of one loss. I don't think I can afford to do that where we are. I just stay on the big picture.

"And again, for us, in three years to have gone to three consecutive bowl games, and this year being a New Year's Six Bowl, I think, is validation enough that we're on the right track and we were very, very competitive."

Freeze's counterpart, TCU head coach Gary Patterson, has been on a similar but longer journey.

Patterson has led the Horned Frogs to eight 10-win seasons during his 14-year tenure that has spanned three conference affiliations, most recently the Big 12 Conference, where they have competed since the 2012 season. 

"I have a little bit different philosophy than a lot of people, being at TCU and being outside the circle for many years," Patterson said. "For all the things that had to happen, to just get into a Rose Bowl, where it had to be written in the bylaws that the Pac-10 team had to play for the National Championship. You had to be the highest ranked team, you had to go undefeated, all the things you had to do to get yourself in that point.

"And still I was sitting in Albuquerque, New Mexico, the Friday night before playing the ball game, knowing if Boise State won, we were going to go undefeated, and we wouldn't play. We would be playing in the Las Vegas Bowl, which would have been fine. For us, we always take a standpoint of understanding. We're very appreciative of the way we get treated, what we're trying to get accomplished and the way our kids should play."

For Patterson and TCU, this is their third BCS-type bowl appearance, but their first as a member of the Big 12, having having appeared in the 2010 Fiesta Bowl and won the 2011 Rose Bowl as a BCS buster and member of the Mountain West Conference.

"This is where you want to be," Patterson said. "It gives you an opportunity to be greater access to get a chance to go play for a National Championship. And so to be honest with you, we probably had a couple teams back in '08 and '10 that probably were better than this team in some ways. They weren't thought of as such, and playing in this league would have probably made a difference."

Friends since they first talked in 2011, shortly after Freeze was named head coach at Arkansas State, their mutual admiration and respect was on display in the joint head coaches press conference, as they interjected and answer each other's questions, trading compliments for one another.

"Let me answer that for him, they're really good," interjected Patterson, referring to the Ole Miss defense. "He's just being nice to me. They played against a guy at Alabama who's really good. He's just being nice. They're really good."

"I should have answered his for him, that tempo offense, I don't know why I voted for tempo," replied Freeze, referring to the TCU offense. "I should have cried out against that stuff, man."

Patterson said both programs have an opportunity to use the matchup, one of only four matchups featuring two top-10 teams, as a springboard going forward to become the programs they want to become.

"I think as a university, as a program, I don't think we've touched the iceberg," Patterson said. "We've only recruited to the Big 12 for two years. So for us to be able to go forward and recruit and do things as we go forward, as we move down the road, I think, is going to be pivotal in how we do things. But I think we're going to just keep getting better players."

"I couldn't be more pleased," Freeze said. "I think I've said it this year. I think we're ahead of schedule and I think our kids will compete. But win or lose, I think validation has been made this year that we're on the right track."

The Ole Miss football team arrived in Atlanta on Christmas Day, holding their first team meeting and enjoying Christmas dinner together ahead of the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl on Dec. 31.  

"It's been fun," sophomore tight end Evan Engram said. "There were a lot of warm welcomes. It's a great staff here. We had a great dinner last night and I got to spend some time in the game room with my teammates."

Academically, the football team posted their highest GPA in recorded history, and everyone is eligible to play in the bowl game.

"From where we were when I got here, to where we are now, I could not be more pleased with the progress that has been made there," head coach Freeze said. "A lot of credit goes to Derek Cowherd and his staff. Everyone is eligible, so that's a good thing and we're progressing nicely there."

Other than the season-ending injuries, which include junior offensive guard Aaron Morris, who underwent surgery to repair his torn ACL, Freeze said they're healthy going into the bowl practices in Atlanta.

"As far as the ones we have here, we're healthy," Freeze said. "We have a couple of issues with flu-like symptoms, which is always the case this time of year. One of my prayer requests this morning was that we would stay away from the sickness stuff."

As part of their first day in Atlanta, the players also received their bowl gifts, which included an Apple TV, a Fossil watch, a $300 Visa gift card, a Chick-fil-A gift card and a Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl football they can get signed and keep for themselves.

The team will enjoy a joint team welcome party with the TCU football team at the College Football Hall of Fame and later tour the museum. Other team activities this week include a team party at Andretti Indoor Karting and Games and a hospital visit to Scottish Rite Hospital.

"Because of the off time, it's almost like you're starting over again," Freeze said. "You're never quite sure what that means for each individual on the team. Playing an opponent of the quality of TCU in one of the "New Year's Six" bowls helps hold their attention. We'll see how practices goes."

"The hardest part is staying focused on the task at hand, which is the football game," Engram said. "We have a lot of events planned out for us this week. We get to hang out and we have a decent amount of free time. That's the main part, staying focused on on the task at hand, which is getting a 'W' in the Georgia Dome next Wednesday."

Recapping Monday's Media Opportunities

Ole Miss Details Stadium Expansion Plans

Ole Miss unveiled the master plan for Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, which includes two phases of renovation and expansion. Scheduled for completion by the start of the 2016 season, the expansion will bring the seating capacity to 64,038, which will make Vaught-Hemingway Stadium the largest stadium in the state of Mississippi.

The first phase will be a renovation and expansion of the south end zone, with the addition of 30 luxury suites and 770 club level seats, for the start of the 2015 season. 

This phase will see a slight reduction in capacity, to around 59,000, which will be accommodated by reducing the visiting teams' allotments from 7,000 to 5,000.

The second phase will be a renovation and expansion of the north end zone that will include the completion of the stadium seating bowl, the installation of a new video board (104 feet wide by 49 feet tall) in the north end zone and the addition of 30-by-50 video boards in the north end zone.

Between the two phases, Ole Miss will be able to accommodate 5,500 more Rebels, once the stadium reaches full capacity. Bjork also announced the student section will increase from 8,200 seats to just over 10,000 seats and will move to the north end zone.

The master plan also includes flexibility for future expansion, whether that is a north end zone that mirrors the south end zone, or even a new press box box and upper deck on the west side. Speaking to that flexibility, Bjork said a possible future expansion on the west side could bring capacity to more than 70,000.

Two beneficial links from the Ole Miss Athletics Foundation: Changes (with seating charts for 2015 and 2016) and How does this affect me?

More on the Overall Master Plan

Including the renovation and expansion of Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, Ole Miss all have invested $175.75 million in total projects related to the Forward Together campaign, which has now reached $125 million in total cash and pledges.

As far as other notable projects, Athletics Director Ross Bjork the parking garage (not included in the $175.75 million) is scheduled to open in January, and the Pavilion at Ole Miss remains on schedule to open in December 2016.

Here's a breakdown with costs and timeline outlining the renovations included in the $175.75 million:

- Olivia & Archie Manning Athletics Performance Center

- Cost: $11.25 million

- Start date: March 2013

- Completion date: April 2014

- Pavilion at Ole Miss

- Cost: $95 million

- Start date: June 2014

- Completion date: December 2015

- Vaught-Hemingway Stadium West Skyboxes

- Cost: $4.8 million

- Start date: January 2015

- Completion date: August 2015

- Vaught-Hemingway Stadium South Endzone

- Cost: $15 million

- Start date: January 2015

- Completion date: August 2015

- Football Practice Field

- Cost: $2.5 million

- Start date: February 2015

- Completion date: September 2015

- Vaught-Hemingway Stadium North Endzone

- Cost: $33 million

- Start date: December 2015

- Completion date: August 2016

- FedEx Academic Support Center & Starnes Athletic Training Center

- Cost: $3 million

- Start date: December 2015

- Completion date: August 2016

- Vaught-Hemingway Stadium Lighting and Audio System

- Cost: $2.2 million

- Start date: December 2015

- Completion date: August 2016

- Track & Field Complex

- Cost: $4 million

- Start date: Summer 2015

- Completion date: Fall 2016

- Gillom Sports Center

- Cost: $5 million

- Start date: February 2016

- Completion date: December 2016

Morris to Miss Peach Bowl

Ole Miss junior offensive guard Aaron Morris re-tore his ACL and will not play in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, head coach Hugh Freeze announced Monday.

Morris suffered the same injury in the 2013 season opener against Vanderbilt and missed the remainder of the season. Freeze said Morris re-injured the ligament before the Mississippi State game, and he will have surgery Tuesday.

"He just wanted to finish and see how it went," Freeze said. "It wasn't a complete tear. There was just a little looseness in it and there was a partial tear. We made the decision with he and his mom to go ahead and get it fixed again."

Freeze said the anticipated recovery time is a bit longer with a second tear, but he's hopeful Morris will be back for the 2015 season.

"These things tend to be iffy," Freeze said. "It's kind of hard to say, but I sure hope so for his sake and for our team."

Without Morris, junior Justin Bell will move from right guard to left guard, and freshman Rod Taylor will get his second career start, at right guard.

"He improves every week," said Freeze of Taylor. "He loves to practice and loves to play. I'm really pleased with his practice. He's going to be a good one.

Allen to Take USF Defensive Coordinator Job

Linebackers coach Tom Allen has been hired as the defensive coordinator at South Florida, head coach Hugh Freeze confirmed Monday. Allen has been with Freeze since they were together at Lambuth in 2008. 

This is only the second coaching staff change under Freeze and the first since co-defensive coordinator and cornerbacks coach Wesley McGriff left for the New Orleans Saints after the 2012 season.

"You hate to lose people, but we rejoice with him that he's getting an opportunity to advance his career," Freeze said. "We're thrilled for him. (South Florida head coach) Willie (Taggart) is a friend of mine, and I'm happy those two will be joining together."

Freeze said he doesn't anticipate any other staff movements. As part of the new contract for Freeze, the salary pool for the Ole Miss football will increase by at least 25 percent, which will make Ole Miss in competitive in filling the position.

"That was the only thing I asked for," Freeze said. "Let's up that so we will remain competitive in this conference in that regard because I really like continuity. Unless a guy gets an opportunity, like a Tom Allen, where you get to run your own defense or offense. 

"You have to understand those moves. I took those chances, and I want others to get the same opportunity. I don't want to lose someone just because it's a lateral move and we're not competitive."

As far as timeline, Freeze said they will probably wait until after the first of the year, sometime leading up to the start of the next recruiting period on Jan. 15.

"There are great people out there," Freeze said. "There are great people in this building who have worked for me before. There will be no shortage of people wanting this job, so we'll have great candidates."

Strong Early Ticket Sales for Ole Miss

The Peach Bowl has sold out in 17 consecutive season, second only to the Rose Bowl in terms of consecutive sellouts, and Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl President and CEO Gary Stokan expects an 18th straight sellout for this year's game between Ole Miss and TCU.

Athletics Director Ross Bjork said the school has sold around 17,000 tickets for the game, and he expects to have many more Ole Miss fans in attendance. The school sold its initial allotment and addition tickets for each of the last two bowl games in the BBVA Compass Bowl in 2012 and the Music City Bowl in 2013.

2 3 4 5 6 7 8  

Subscribe and Share

Tags

Recent Comments

    Joe Snaidauf said:

    Rebs stay healthy, they can win it all!!!

    in post Eleven Rebels Garner Phil Steele Preseason Honors

    Jamie laverty said:

    Bulmer I love you and ole Miss

    in post Fast Runner From Down Under

    Rhonda said:

    Coach Freeze is a genuine coach and our players and fans adore him!!

    in post Vote Freeze For Coach Of The Year

    Gary Vaughn said:

    It's great to be a Rebel fan. Coach Freeze
    Has brought back the excitement
    Competitiveness we all so desire. The
    fan base and even our doubters are
    Paying attention. Even the whole country
    Sport tLk shows ect. Are taking notice.
    After we upset Alabama this weekend
    38-27 we will bolt to a top 12 or better
    Ranking. Go Rebels

    in post Vote Freeze For Coach Of The Year

    Tom said:

    I am not and never have been an Ole Miss fan. I am however a Coach Freeze fan. I like what he represents in today's world of big time sports and what he stands for in leading young men of today into a more responsible role. He is everything that Ole Miss has never had. I am on his band wagon winning or losing.

    in post Vote Freeze For Coach Of The Year

    Cory Wilson said:

    How can I get my hands on one of these?

    in post 2013 Fall Sports Player Posters

    Dave Darnell said:

    Gray pants with red and blue stripes on the legs have served Ole Miss football my entire life time. The blue on blue, red on red and white on white are hideous and UGLY! Leave the pants alone.

    Dave Darnell
    Ole Miss '68
    ddarn@aol.com

    in post New Football Uniforms Unveiled

    JT said:

    Tiger fan here (LSU) b we now have 3 in the SEC. You guys looked great last year. You looked coached, and the players were up for every game. Good to see you back in the hunt.

    in post Looking Ahead to 2013 On Gridiron