Feigl Continues Dominance as Rebels Even Series

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Mike Bianco balked on declaring Brady Feigl's 6.1 inning, nine-strikeout outing on Saturday against Tennessee his best one, but that's mostly because there have been ample to choose from.

The junior right-hander has been consistently dominant sandwiched in the middle of a lethal weekend rotation. He improved to 5-0 on the season by stifling the Volunteers in a 7-1 Ole Miss win, scattering four hits over six-plus innings with his only blemish coming on a first-pitch fastball to Justin Ammons in the sixth.

"It's hard to say it is the best because he has been so, so sharp," Bianco said. "It's hard to be critical of what he just did, locating the fastball on both sides of the plate and to throw all three pitches. Even today he used the change up a bit. I am proud of him. I am proud of this effort."

Feigl fanned nine hitters and walked just one. He's struck out 34 and walked three batters this season, a remarkably consistent pace at this juncture in the season. As Bianco alluded to, he's been able to work his fastball on both sides of the plate and compliment it with a change up. But it has been the slider that has been the catalyst to all of those swings-and-misses.

"I have been able to funnel it in more," Feigl said. "It is playing up my other pitches. With Fortes or Cooper behind the plate, they make them look a lot better back there."

The pitch is one that's always been the wipeout call for Feigl, but also one in the past he has struggled to harness consistent command for. Before the season started he mentioned that pitch as being a large factor in his consistent success. He is in full control of it and is reaping the benefits of its bite.

"The slider is such a swing-and-miss pitch," Bianco said. "I thought at times last year he just couldn't get it in the zone enough. It doesn't make for a bad year. It just makes for him to sometimes to be on his heels. This year it is obviously in the zone a lot more. It has helped his other pitches. It has helped him be more free with his fastball and freedom to use his change up like he did today."

Ole Miss hasn't been punched in the mouth often this year, once in the series opener at Long Beach State and once on Friday night to open this SEC series, but each time Feigl has led the charge in issuing a responding blow. He's connected each time.

"That's why we do it," Feigl said. "That's why we go out there to Long Beach.. The biggest thing is to be able to punch back. It's swing day. It's the offense, the defense and the pitching. We did that today."

There wasn't much stress on his shoulders today due to his brilliance, but the made pitches to get off the field when trouble beckoned. A fastball inside in the sixth inning induced an inning-ending 4-6-3 double play to escape a bases loaded no outs jam. A similar situation to what Ole Miss found itself in in the seventh inning of Friday's game. Tennessee was able to get two hits and take control of the game. Today, the Rebels thwarted any momentum it could've gained.

"That's huge," Bianco said. "Those are game winners. You look back at those plays and wonder what a difference that would made. Last night they hit a double in the gap and today they would've been back in it. Those are huge plays."

Feigl jogged off the right side of the mound with a fist pump as demonstrative and precise as his arsenal of pitchers were on this Saturday afternoon.

"Feigl is terrific," Grae Kessinger said. "You know what you're going to get and it is just fun to watch him do his thing."

Kessinger had a three-hit day to bring his hit total to six on the weekend and helped Ole Miss ambush Tennessee starter Garrett Stallings by putting up two runs in the second, one in the third and three in the fourth. Jacob Adams roped two extra-base hits down the right field line in the second and fourth innings that produced 3 RBIs and gave Feigl a cushion. Kessinger had two RBIs himself and is now hitting .393 on the season. The Rebels evened the series at one apiece.

James McArthur will go tomorrow in the rubber game at noon.

Experienced Rebels Ready For SEC Play

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The 2017 SEC season brought with it some hard lessons and adverse situations for a young Ole Miss ball club. But this time around, a team that ran through its nonconference slate at 17-1 and has consistently shown signs of being a more mature team is ready for another crack at league play.

"That's one of the things you come to college dreaming of," sophomore left fielder Thomas Dillard said. "The Friday night lights in the SEC with 10,000 people at every game. It is good that it is here. We have had a good start to the season but in SEC play we have to keep ramping it up and coming to the field ready to play every day."

Dillard's hitting at a torrid .350 mark with four long balls and 15 RBI through the first 18 games and is one of the slew of Rebels from last year's core that has taken the next step forward at the plate. Dillard is getting more at-bats from the left side early on and is hitting much better from that side of the plate as a result. He isn't concerned with the imbalance. Last year, he hit .200 average points higher from the right side. Dillard just thinks it is a matter of sample size this year.

"A switch-hitter is two different hitters technically speaking because you are using two different sides of the brain," Dillard said with a grin. "Last year, I think I hit .200 points better right handed and this year I am hitting better from the left side. I am just trying to find a happy medium. I haven't gotten many right-handed at-bats but I know Tennessee is throwing lefty so I just need to go out and compete to help my team win."

He'll get opportunities from the right side when facing Volunteer lefty and Friday night starter Garrett Crochet.

"I think it is sample size," Dillard said. "I have hit a lot of hard balls right at somebody. I think it is sample size and a little unluckiness."

Dillard isn't the only one ready for another go around in the Southeastern Conference. Sophomore shortstop Grae Kessinger--who has compiled a team-leading 24 hits in the leadoff slot--is eager to get back into the heat of SEC competition.

"We've had a good first part of the season, but when this time of the year comes around the feeling in the air gets special," Kessinger said. "We are really ready to get back after it and prove this team is ready to go for SEC play."

Kessinger has benefitted from an aggressive approach in the leadoff slot, hunting for an early fastball to drive. It has proved to be fruitful and equated to him hitting .338 with seven extra-base hits.

"It has just been staying consistent with what I want to do," Kessinger said. "It doesn't matter how one game or one pitch goes, just sticking with my approach and staying true to who you are. I think that has really helped me."

One thing head coach Mike Bianco has been pleased with is his team's response to adverse situations. Its first loss came in the series opener at Long Beach State, and the team has proceeded to rattle off nine consecutive wins since. It escaped a slippery ninth inning on Tuesday at Georgia State, one in which Dallas Woolfolk worked out of a bases-loaded, no-out jam in a 5-3 game.

"We all want it easy," Bianco said. "We all want to win 10-0 or 16-2 as we did the next day, but it is not going to happen. You have to be able to be in those games and you learn a lot about yourself in those games. I am proud of the way we handled it."

Granted, Bianco noted the snafus that led to the tight spot were partially self-inflicted, but the toughness and maturity his team displayed to get out of it and seal a close game was telling to him. Tim Elko made a sharp play on a ground ball to third, and then the Rebels turned a nifty 3-2-3 double play to end the threat and the ballgame.

"We put a lot of pressure on ourselves but the good news is that we were able to handle it," Bianco said. "Dallas handled it on the mound and had two nice plays from Elko and Fortes to finish the game. It is good for you. Those are the things in which you find out what kind of club you are."

Ole Miss is 17-1 and playing good, clean baseball heading into the beginning of the most important portion of the season.

"You have to come ready to play every day," Kessinger said. "It doesn't matter how Friday, Saturday or Sunday goes. All of these teams can beat you on any given day. You have to be mature and take care of your business each day without looking forward or into the past."

Kermit Davis Poised to Lead Ole Miss Hoops

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Ole Miss officially announced the hiring of Kermit Davis to be the school's next head men's basketball coach. Davis arrives in Oxford after serving as the head coach of Middle Tennessee State for the last 16 seasons.

"I'm incredibly honored and excited to be the basketball coach at the University of Mississippi," said Davis. "We are extremely grateful to Chancellor Vitter and Ross for giving me the opportunity to lead such a prestigious program in the best basketball league in America. Coming back to my home state of Mississippi to build a national brand is absolutely a dream come true for us. I am Mississippi Made and cannot wait to join the rest of the Ole Miss family."

Davis is an eight-time coach of the year in three different conferences and guided the Blue Raiders to the NCAA Tournament in 2013, 2016 and 2017 with wins over two-seed Michigan State and five seed Minnesota in back-to-back seasons. Middle Tennessee won its conference seven of the last nine seasons with Davis at the helm.

Davis has helped a total of five programs win conference championships in his 34-year coaching career that has included stops at Idaho and Texas A&M. Davis currently has 403 career wins which ranks 34th among active head coaches.

"After assessing the entire landscape of college basketball and speaking to basketball experts across the country to determine the greatest fit for Ole Miss Basketball, the answer was clear - Kermit Davis is the best coach and best leader to take our program to the next level in the SEC and NCAA," Vice Chancellor for Collegiate Athletics Ross Bjork said in a statement. "Combining his brand of play and his proven ability to build a model basketball program, Coach Davis has established himself as a leader and winner in college basketball. Over the last several weeks, we consistently heard that other coaches `never want to play his team,' and his record confirms that. Coach Davis also possesses a great sense of purpose for his program and does it the right way off the court. During the process, Coach Davis' energy, drive, and vision for our program was unmatched, and we can't wait to welcome him and his family back to the great state of Mississippi and into the Ole Miss family."

Here is some reaction to Ole Miss' hiring of Davis, a Mississippi native returning to his home state.

Rebel Alums: Where are They Now

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In our third installment of Rebel Alums: Where are They Now, we take a look at two-time All-American Bram ten Berge.

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2009 was a banner year for Bram ten Berge capped by winning the Boyd McWhorter SEC Scholar-Athlete of the Year Award as the top male student-athlete in the entire league.

The two-time All-American ended the year ranked No. 3 in the nation in doubles and spent 14 weeks ranked No. 1 in the nation. The All-SEC first team selection and team captain helped the Rebels advance to the NCAA Elite Eight for the ninth time and earn a final national ranking of No. 4. Ten Berge also helped lead the Rebels to the SEC regular season championship with an undefeated league record, their second consecutive SEC Tournament Championship and their eighth straight SEC West title. In addition, he teamed with Jonas Berg to capture the ITA All-American Championship in doubles in the fall of 2008.

In 2008, ten Berge paired with Matthias Wellermann to reach the semifinals at the NCAA Doubles Championships, earning All-America honors. The duo just missed out on making it an all Ole Miss final and assuring the Rebels of the title.

Additional academic honors include an NCAA Postgraduate Scholarship in 2009 and induction into the prestigious Phi Beta Kappa Honor Society in 2008. Ten Berge was also a four-time ITA Scholar-Athlete and the 2006 SEC Scholar-Athlete of the Year for men's tennis.

Ten Berge graduated from the University of Mississippi in 2009 with a degree in Classics and in December of 2015 earned his PhD. in Classical Studies at the University of Michigan.

He is currently a living in Holland, Michigan and is a professor at Hope College.

Catching up with Bram ten Berge

How often do you play tennis? 

Once a week or so 

What's your best shot?


What do you do otherwise?

Hike/walk, travel 

Aspirations for the future?

To continue building my career and family, with as many adventures along the way as possible 

Do you still follow the Rebels?

Yes, go Rebs!

What do you miss the most from living in Oxford? 

The friendly people, being part of the team, and the lovely campus and town

Do you keep in touch with the team?

Yes, but it depends on where we live at any particular time (which has been many places in the past 5-6 years) 

Next Oxford visit? 

Hopefully soon!

Spring Practice Rolls On For Ole Miss

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Ole Miss is now knee deep into spring ball and endured its fifth practice on Wednesday afternoon. Head coach Matt Luke says he has been pleased with the development of some the younger players in the early stagesof spring ball.

"The energy has been good," Luke said. "A lot of young guys have gone out there and shown the willingness to take coaching. That is really what I am looking for is to see who will step up. Which one of the young guys is going going to step up and play for us. Who of the older guys are going to step up and lead us? These are the things I am looking for."

The coaching staff has gotten its first glimpse of four-star quarterback Matt Corral over the last week. Luke says he's shown flashes and the talent is definitely there. It is about the consistency that welcome as he gets more acclimated to college football.

"He's been good," Luke said. "Maybe a little inconsistent through four days, but he should be in high school right now, so for him to be out there running the offense with the number two's is great. He has gone out there and made some really good plays and really good throws. A lot of it is installing the offense and there is a learning process there."

Corral has made a couple of complex reads and identified coverages well, which has allowed him to show the strength of his arm.

"The arm is really good," Luke said. "He is really talented. He can make all of the throws and has really good arm strength. It is can he be consistent? He has done well so far."

Defensively, Luke said he has been pleased with the linebackers, arguably the most important position for the Rebels to develop in the spring and into the fall.

"They're eager to learn and I thin they know everyone is watching them and their development. I think they have a chip on their shoulder and I like that about the group right now. They are making process and trying to get each other better," Luke said.

Detric Bing-Dukes and Willie Hibbler have been running with the first team, but the competition has been heating up.

"We need some size in the box," Luke said. "We need to be physical there. There is a lot of competition. Sanogo has been coming on strong. I have been really pleased with him."

The biggest surprise to Luke so far? Running backs Isaiah Woullard and junior college transfer Scottie Phillips.

"To me they have really flashed in the first four days," Luke said. "Those guys have hit a couple creases and have been really impressive."

The team has had the luxury of continuity in the sense that the same coordinators are still here and the same systems are in place. Its made installing packages easier as guys have retained information easier and made things room more smoothly.

"There is a lot of retention," Luke said. "Your day one install is actually probably three days worth of install compared to last spring just because there has been so much carryover. That is a positive."

The Rebels will be off at the end of this week through next week and will return the week after for nine more practices leading into The Grove Bowl.

SIDEBAR: Rebel Bats Bury Governors

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Thomas Dillard demolished a pair of fastballs in the second and third innings of Ole Miss' 11-4 win over Austin Peay on Tuesday night and nearly singled handedly gave Houston Roth a 5-1 run lead by collecting those  four RBIs.

The first of the two shots was a solo job to the left-center gap that got out of the stadium quickly on a low trajectory. The second was a towering club over the railing and well into the student section in right field. He rebounded from an 0-12 weekend by doing damage to Governor Starter Kyle Wilson's line early. 

"It's always nice to bounce back," Dillard said. "You're going to have those weekend sometimes where everything isn't going right for you. You just have to try to focus on the next. Fame and the next pitch to try to help your team out as much as you can."

Dillard was more pleased with the former home run, the shorter one, because of what he tried to improve on in what was a productive offseason for the sophomore outfielder.

"I was a little more proud of the opposite field one because I have been working on that all year," Dillard said. "Hitting it out that way was cool."

Roth waded through the first four inning with relatively little trouble and entered the fifth with a 5-1 lead. Austin Peay strung together four connective two-out hits after a walk and chased Roth from the game after plating three runs. Will Stokes took the baseball from there, escaped a two-on, two-out jam by freezing Malcolm Tripler with a 1-2 breaking ball. He thwarted all Governor momentum and put up two more scoreless frames after that to preserve a one-run lead into the eighth inning.

"Stokes didn't pitch this weekend and I do not know the last time he did not pitch on a weekend," head coach Mike Bianco said. "I knew he could come in and come in early whenever there was a threat. He was as sharp as he has ever been. We needed that."

Ethridge put up another zero in the eighth, setting the table for the offense to blow the game open in the later innings as it seems like has happened quite often this year. Ole Miss hung six runs in the eighth inning to put away the Governors and it came in a variety of different ways. Cole Zabowski started it with an RBI base hit to center field that plated Will Golsan - who had a second consecutive multi-hit game. Chase Cockrell smoked a double down the left field line as part of a 3-3 evening with an RBI. Tyler Keenan then stepped in and launched the Rebels' second three-run homer of the game to open the floodgates. 

"Our pitching is always talked about, and rightfully so because I think we have the best pitching staff in the country," Dillard said. "But our hitting has just been awesome. One through 17 or 18 there is not let up. For us to show up every time through 12 games has been great and I think it is going to continue."

He had a two-hit night as well. Ole Miss' offense has come from all over through 12 games, and on this night hit a lot of balls hard as the wind gushed out to right-center.

"That's kind of been us," Bianco said. "I think that's why we have been so good offensively is that it has come from a lot of different sources. It isn't just one guy that is out of this world with six or seven home runs. It just seems like every night there is a different contributor offensively, and in a big way."

Ole Miss hits the second leg of a five-game homestand on Wednesday against Little Rock. First pitch is slated for 6:30 p.m.

Linton Adjusting to New Home in Offensive Backfield

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Armani Linton just wanted to help out any way he could. He wasn't getting as many reps in practice last fall at his natural position of safety and he wanted to do more.

"I was sitting around not doing much, so I told the coaches 'hey let me run scout team or do something to help us get better for the next opponent.' It just kind of took off from there," Linton recalled.

He began by imitating Alabama's Jalen Hurts on scout team offense and then would do the same for opposing running backs Ole Miss was game planning for each week. His speed and natural athleticism stood out so much it caught his coaches' attention.

"All the defensive coaches in the fall came to me bragging about how well he was portraying one of the opposing running backs for whatever defense we were playing," running backs coach Derrick Nix said. "All of a sudden it caught fire. He just wanted an opportunity to help this team more. He's already done a great job on special teams and if there is an opportunity for him to help us at running back then lets give him a shot and see what he can do."

After the season ended, the Nix and Linton discussed moving positions, something Linton was certainly open to. From there the transition began. He began doing drills to prepare to be a running back.

"I like it a lot," Linton said of the change I talked to Coach Nix about it in the fall and he thought I could help the team there. That's really what I'm trying to do is help this team any way I can and put myself into position to make more plays."

Linton played running back in high school out of predominantly an I-formation. It's enough experience for him to feel comfortable transitioning, but there is still a lot to learn from the playbook to the pace to blitz packages.

"It's a totally different offense," Linton said. "In high school I was in the I-formation and everything was under center. Just getting used to the steps and signals from the shotgun and different stuff like that, the progressions too. Other than that, it is just being physical and trying to do my assignment."

Nix is pleased with the swift strides Linton is making. Head Coach Matt Luke described Linton on Monday as a gifted athlete who the team "got on the bus" by getting him to campus, they just needed to put him in the right seat.
"He looks promising," Nix said. "He is athletic, fast, big and we are figuring out the little things like running with low pad level. He's picking up the offense well and working really hard at it."

Linton admits he has a lot to learn and has an entire offseason to do it. He's enjoying his new home and embracing the challenge.

"It's a new position so naturally it is going to be tough," Linton said. "Overall, I feel like I am grasping it pretty well. I try not to let my mind get too ahead of things. I am letting it come to me and not rushing anything. I am trying to be patient when I am back there. That is the main thing."

SIDEBAR: Rebels Grind Out Win Over Murray State

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Thomas Dillard turned to Nick Fortes in the dugout in the early innings of Tuesday's game against Murray State with the Rebels trailing 4-0 and had a message for the junior catcher.

"I told him we were going to win this game," Dillard recalled. "It's going to be late and we are going to have to really fight, but we have to win them all. Coach Bianco tells us we have to win games of all kinds."

Dillard certainly did his part, as did his teammates after the Racers put up a four-run first inning with the help of a Davis Sims three-run shot over the left field fence off Houston Roth. It was the first time this team had been in a hole all season, but it settled in. Roth put up three quick zeroes over the next three games as the Rebels felt out Murray State starter Luke Brown.

"He hung in there," head coach Mike Bianco said. "I think he retired 13 of the next 14 or something like that. He showed why he was a freshman All-American. That may have won the game right there."

A Cole Zabowski two-out RBI base knock in the fourth got Ole Miss on the board. An inning later, Dillard dug in with the bases loaded and one out. Chance Carner relived Brown. He took a change up over the plate and Dillard demolished it down the right field line for a bases clearing, three-RBI double that changed tied the game at four and seemingly put some life into the Rebel offense.

"He was throwing a little harder than the other guy," Dillard said. "I took the first pitch and then he threw me a change up and I was able to get my head out and hit it down the line."

Nick Fortes hustled around third base and ran through a stop sign, but beat the tag and capped a momentum-swinging play in the ball game.

"He was being held up and should've stopped," Bianco with a wry grin. "So I am just thankful he made it."

The Rebels plated four in the inning and took a 5-4 lead. Murray State answered with a run in the seventh to tied it a five and another in the eighth to take a 6-5 lead as rain began to fall. But Ole Miss continued to find ways to answer. Grae Kessinger drew a two-out walk in the eighth, stole second base and scored on a Ryan Olenek base hit. The Rebels have had a knack for making things happen with two outs through eight games.

"You need games like this," Dillard said. "It teaches you how to win. They aren't all going to be cake walks. You need to be challenged."

The team loaded the bases in the ninth with the game tied at six. Tyler Anderson threw a wild one to the backstop and Dillard - who was standing on third after starting the inning with a leadoff base hit - raced home and beat the tag on a close, game-deciding play at the plate.

"I knew I was safe," Dillard said. "It was a close play and Coach Clement was telling me to be ready for anything and I was able to get in there."

Dillard sparked Ole Miss each time it needed on on the night. He was 3-4 with 3 RBIs

"The whole game it seemed like everything started and finished offensively with Thomas," Bianco said. "Stealing bases, scoring at the end, three hits. He did it all tonight."

It was admittedly not Ole Miss' cleanest game as Bianco said, but the team found a way to win a wild midweek game to get out to its best start since 2008 at 8-0. It will hit the road this weekend for its toughest test yet at Long Beach State.

"It was just one of those game, a crazy games you see in the midweek," Bianco said. "I am just proud of our guys for hanging in there."

First pitch on Friday in Long Beach is at 8 p.m.

Luke Discusses 2018 Team as Spring Practice Arrives

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The focus will be on players and not plays, Ole Miss head football coach Matt Luke proclaimed at his Tuesday press conference opening spring football, referring to how valuable the 15 practices the Rebels get are to developing younger players and building depth heading into the fall.

"We have a nice mix of experience yet are also focusing on some young guys and new guys getting quality reps and building depth," Luke said. "We really want to get these young guys reps to see what they can do."

While Luke noted the staff will expand on new schemes implemented last year on each side of the football, the continuity of having the same coordinators still in place will put them further along and leave more time for developing young talent.

"Since we kept the same systems we are going to be much further ahead from a schematic standpoint so we want to get these young guys who either redshirted or were on scout team last year some reps and work on building our depth," Luke said.

Luke went over who of the returning players will and will not participate in spring practice based on various offseason surgeries and injuries. Below is a list of where the players stand:

Out: Dawson Knox, D.K. Buford. D'Vaughn Pennamon
Limited: Alex Givens, Demarcus Gregory (knee), Scottie Phillips, Sean Rawlings.

Out: Austrian Robinson, Benito Jones, Qaadir Sheppard
Limited: Ken Webster (groin), C.J. Miller

"They have minor injuries from training the last month and will be limited to start. It is nothing serious," Luke said of the limited participants. He also noted that he does not fear anyone missing time in the fall despite being held out for the spring.

This spring season will give the coaching staff a glimpse at a couple of players at new positions, like Armani Linton, who will transition from safety to running back in an effort to build depth with the departure of leading rusher Jordan Wilkins.

"He's just a big, talented athlete," Luke said. "When you have guys like that on the bus you just want to find the right seat for them. He is a very big athlete and is very intelligent. I think he can help us somewhere. He really came on last year on special teams. I think he needs to play somewhere and we are just trying to find the right spot."

Linton could move back to safety depending on how the transition goes, but Luke is optimistic this will be a good fit.

Brenden Williams moved from linebacker to defensive end and newcomer Vernon Dasher will move from linebacker to star, a hybrid linebacker with more coverage responsibilities.

Along with Linton, newcomer Scottie Phillips, who will be limited at the beginning of spring ball, is expected to immediately compete for playing time at running back. Phillips comes in as the number one rated junior college tailback in the country and will be thrust into a mix consisting of D'Vaughn Pennamon, Eric Swinney and D.K. Buford.

"Anytime you take a junior college player you are expecting him to compete for playing time," Luke said. "That's what we want to see. He is the number one junior college running back in the country. There is going to be a really good competition at running back."

Defensively, the number one priority will be developing linebackers, a spot in which Ole Miss lost leading tackler DeMarquis Gates and a position the Rebels were slightly thin at last season. Luke feels confident about veterans Detric Bing-Dukes and Willie Hibbler at this position, but after the addition of a recruiting class that brought in a slew of new linebackers he is excited to see what some of the younger guys have to offer at this position.

"Detric and Willie will start there, but really Mohamed Sanogo, Josh Clarke and Zikerrion Baker are the guys we want to see what they can do. It is going to be a huge spring for them," Luke said. "We have more guys coming from high school but they are not here yet. We really want to see what these young guys can do. I am cautiously optimistic about those guys because they have waited their turn. They have gotten stronger and have been in the system. I am excited to see them out there making calls and flying around."

Aside from that, Luke would like to put his stamp on this football team, something that was difficult to do in 2017 without an offseason to prepare. He wants to build on the momentum the end of the season brought and take full advantage of the 15 practices allotted to the team.

Mike Smith's Rebels Shaped by Coach's Military Background

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Mike Smith sits at his desk and stares intently at his computer screen in his office one afternoon in early February. A 2018 season with lofty expectations attached to it is set to begin in Gulf Shores, Alabama in a couple days and Smith is meticulously charting film before practice.

On the wall behind him hang three paintings, one of his son, Tyler, jumping on his back after Ole Miss won a regional it hosted last May, one of his team hoisting its 2017 SEC Tournament Championship Trophy and one of the SEC Championship ring itself.

Naturally, Smith is faced the other way staring at film in preparation for what is next, with those memories hanging in the background.

"We're no longer the hunters," Smith said. "We are the hunted. We have to bring our best every time we play."

His desk and the rest of his office look like something out of a magazine. Not a pen or sheet of paper is out of place or straying from its intended position. It's a microcosm for how Smith operates, a meticulous and detailed oriented coach with constant tunnel vision towards his next challenge.

"I always take the philosophy that someone is doing more than me," Smith said. "I am an early riser. I go to bed a little earlier than most, but I still try to stay late as much as possible. I feel like I never get enough done during the day."

A native of San Diego, California, Smith is the son of a military man. His father, Robert, served in the Navy and later became a systems analyst at North Island Naval Base in San Diego where he worked closely with Navy seals. Mike sometimes would accompany his father to work. A lot of his teachers and youth sports coaches were active or retired military members.

"Being able to be around Navy Seals and watching what they go through on a daily basis makes you appreciate everything that you do and the details that go into things," Smith said.

Smith learned from observing his father as well and often thought of following in his footsteps. He played baseball in college and was hours away from enlisting in the Navy after his phone didn't ring during the MLB draft.

"I was literally hours away from going to the recruiting office for the Navy and signing up. Something told me 'no, don't go yet,'" Smith recalled.

He ended up signing with the St. Louis Cardinals, which gradually led him into a career in coaching baseball and eventually softball.

The structure and discipline that is ingrained into Smith's military background and up bringing are also at the core of his coaching philosophy. As Ole Miss Softball continues on its meteoric rise, it has become more evident that traces of Smith's military roots can be found all over a program he's built from the ground up.

"It was just watching my dad on a daily basis. You tucked your shirt in and your belt buckle was fastened a certain way," Smith said. "That is just how I was taught. I try to instill that in our players today. Sometimes they are like 'Coach why is that a big deal?' It is a big deal to me because that is part of that structure and discipline and doing things the right way. If you do those things right you don't have to worry about what you are doing on the field in a game. That will take care of itself."

Smith's no stranger to a bare cupboard. His first coaching job came at Biola University, where he inherited a club team that was transitioning to varsity and boasted an all-time record of 17-121. In Smith's first season they went 22-23. A few short years later, he won a national title.

"I knew I could coach," Smith said. "I knew what I wanted and what I could get out of my athletes. If they can walk and talk, I can at least train them up to compete. They may have been the most talented kids in the world, but they understood what we were trying to do and worked really hard."

When Smith took over a floundering program in Oxford with no tangible evidence of success to point to, he asked his players to buy into his philosophy knowing it was not for everyone. He asked them to go all in and "function as one unit," as former player Miranda Strother recalled.

"There is some head butting sometimes with players because that is not what they grew up with in their own families," Smith said. "My own kids sometimes have issues with that too because their friends aren't parented like that. But I said that is the way we are going to run this family and they respect that."

It wasn't a seamless transition by any means and Smith knew it wouldn't be easy on the players, but the repeated struggles of the program's past made it all the more necessary.

"He came in and wanted to completely transform the culture," former catcher Courtney Syrett said. "Obviously, anyone who changes the norm, people aren't going to like that. It didn't separate us as a team but rather showed light on the people that were all in."

Syrett and Strother were seniors on the 2017 team's historic run to the first super regional in program history. They were also around before Smith came and had a front row seat to the program's evolution.

Smith's practices utilize every second allotted to him on the field. He creates an environment of "controlled chaos" with the philosophy being that if his players can perform in the adverse practice situations, the games should come as second nature. He sends his players the practice itinerary each day so they can prepare accordingly.

"We know what we are wearing a month in advance and know exactly what we are going to do," Strother said. "He sends us a practice schedule each morning so you are ready to go and completely prepared once you get there. That is nice because you can get your mind right for that type of defense or this hitting session. It is nice knowing what we are doing. We didn't have that structure before and he plans down to a tee."

Smith's first season in 2015 saw just about every major offensive school-record get broken. His second saw the team win its first postseason game in program history in a regional at Oklahoma.

"When we made that first regional at Oklahoma that is when I knew we could compete with anyone," Syrett said. "That helped us so much going into last year."

There was finally something tangible to point towards the method to his madness.

"He told us 'I have seen this work.,'" Strother recalled. "This is how we are going to do it. You are going to have to trust me.' It was a trust thing."

Those two seasons parlayed into 2017, the most successful season in program-history. In three short years, Smith took a program that had never scored a run in the SEC Tournament to an SEC Championship and a regional in Oxford.

For as much as Smith leans on structure, discipline and accountability, he knows there has to be a balance. He lets his players play freely, chanting in the dugout, letting their emotions come out in a controlled and productive manner. As hard as the practices were, this team had an aura about them that reached people across the country.

"I think the best part of this summer was the constant communication with people telling us how much fun we were to watch," Smith said. "I even had fans of teams that we played say they were rooting for us after the fact because they wanted to see a Cinderella story."

When the Rebels jetted across the country to Los Angeles to play UCLA in a pair of nationally televised super regional games on ESPN, the moment wasn't too large for a team that had never been in that kind of spotlight.

"He left room for us to be who we are," Strother said. "He had us in the place where we were all level headed. Practice like a champion, play like an underdog. You go into the game with the mentality. We had nothing to lose."

Strother and Syrett graduated after the 2017 season and sometimes find themselves a little surprised of how far they came from a woeful freshman season.

"If you asked me during my freshman year if I saw us not only playing in a regional but hosting and having that many people packing the stands, lines of people outside your game, I would have never imagined that," Strother said. "I knew there would be a culture change and things would be different, but it far exceeded my expectations."

It didn't come as a surprise to Smith, however. It was merely a part of the plan, one that is still unfolding and isn't nearly complete.

"Coach Smith is a visionary," Strother said. "I think he expected this. He's thinks this is great and all but he wants more. He thinks we have more to show."

Smith's father passed away in August, two months after the most successful season of his son's career. Ole Miss playing in Los Angeles allowed him to make it to a game and be a witness to it. He fell ill in between game one and game two and was hospitalized with Mike's mother at his side.

"My dad had an enormous influence on me," Smith said. "It was pretty special for him to be able to see that."

Robert retired as an honorary Navy Seal. He's buried in Rosecrans Military Cemetery, the final resting place of over 20 medal of honor recipients. Fencing and trees line most of the cemetery's borders but Robert's plot is near the end of a row where the trees dip down below fence level creating roughly a 10x10 gap that overlooks downtown San Diego and North Island Naval Base. Here Mike can visit and peacefully gaze at all of the things that made him the coach he is today.

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Recent Comments

    Tiffany J. Moore said:

    This is amazing with what he have done so far! Hope that he'll achieve more in the future!

    in post Evan Engram Hauls in Midseason Accolades

    Fiftyyears fan said:

    How can you have five straight top 25 recruiting classes and look as bad as Ole Miss has this year. Easy lack of coaching fundamentals. Look at Mason at Vandy, nothing but 2 and 3 star recruits out of high school and he developers players that want to win. Hugh freeze has 3, 4 & 5 recruits and he expects them to win because of what they were in High School. Mr. Freeze you have not been teaching the fundamentals of football or winning in life. Mr. Freeze you have quit on your players because you have some false expectations of what they are instead of what you can develop in them. Either do your job or quit. Oh yea, please quit running your smoke and mirrors offense, everyone has figured it out. Run a physical offense that can open up holes for your running backs and then your pass attack want require 12 are 14 four and five star receivers. Mr. Freeze you have problems and you need to know that you are not smarter than the rest of the coaches in the SEC.

    in post Rebels Unable to Send Senior Class Out on a High Note

    Karen Holden said:

    Not every pass can be caught. Too low, too short whatever. Not every Kelly pass is perfect. Records were broken by receivers also. But they sre not going to catch every ball thrown. The loss to Auburn was not one players fault. You win or lose as a team.

    in post Late Mistake Spoils Chad Kelly's Historic Performance

    Trent browning said:

    Hey I was just wandering if these are the only 2 olemiss players signing. If there are more signing please respond to me ASAP. Also wondering if neil everett will sign any autographs. Thank you very much

    in post Heisman House Tour Heads to Oxford for Ole Miss-Georgia

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    in post Madden 17 Ratings for Former Rebels

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    in post Fast Runner From Down Under