Ole Miss Athletics Week in Review
April 14-20, 2015
- Ole Miss downed No. 22 Vanderbilt 4-1 to advance to the SEC Tournament semifinals for the 16th time in program history.
- The Rebels rallied to take the doubles point and then got straight set wins from Stefan Lindmark, Gustav Hansson and the clincher from William Kallberg.
- Lindmark won his seventh in a row and ninth SEC match of the year in the Vanderbilt win.
- The Rebels lost a tight 4-1 decision to No. 5 Georgia in the semifinals. The Bulldogs clinched the win at No. 5 singles winning a three-setter. When play was stopped, the Rebels were up in both remaining matches at three and six.
- Junior Stefan Lindmark was named to the SEC All-Tournament Team. He won both his singles and doubles matches on Friday to help the Rebels advance to the semifinals.
- Ole Miss shut out No. 20 Kentucky 4-0 in the second round of the SEC Championship to advance to the quarterfinals.
- The win over Kentucky avenged an earlier 4-3 loss to the Wildcats in the regular season.
- In the quarterfinals, the Rebels lost to No. 3 Florida 4-0 and are now 15-10 overall on the season.
- Senior Julia Jones won her 28th match in the win over Kentucky and needs just two more to become the 10th player in school history to post 30 wins in a season.
- Ole Miss finished 9th at the SEC Championship, its best finish at the event since 2012
- Junior Forrest Gamble finished tied for 11th, his best finish of the season
- The Rebels await a potential NCAA Championships bid, which would be the program's first since 2011
- Madi Osias was named SEC Pitcher of the Week after going 3-0 with an 0.82 ERA last week in an undefeated week for the Rebels.
- Ole Miss has set new program marks for home runs (38), triples (12) and stolen bases (80) with the performance of the past week.
- The Rebels have hit 26 wins on the year, marking the third most wins in a season in program history - four shy of the school record.
Track & Field
- Five school records and two meet records highlighted the Ole Miss Rebels' best weekend of the 2015 outdoor season to date at the Virginia Challenge in Charlottesville.
- Ole Miss athletes produced a total of 19 new marks that rank among the top 10 in school history, including several of those that place Rebel athletes among the top 20 or 25 in the nation this year. Ole Miss won two events and placed runners-up in four more on the weekend.
- The two men's school records were Craig Engels in the 1500m (3:40.28) and Dempsey McGuigan in the hammer throw (215-1).
- The three women's school records were Brooke Feldmeier in the 800m (2:05.29), the 4x100m relay squad of Nicole Henderson, Shannon Ray, Khadijah Suleman and Jhorden hunter (44.11) and Fabia McDonald in the heptathlon (5,736).
- Branden Greene set a meet record in his men's high jump victory (7-1), while the women's 4x100m relay also established a meet record in its triumph.
- The Rebels finished the week with a 2-2 mark to remain a .500 overall record for the season (20-20) as well as 8-10 in SEC play. To begin the week, sophomore Colby Bortles hit two home runs, including a grand slam, and senior Sikes Orvis added another as Ole Miss soared past UT Martin on Wednesday afternoon.
- With his grand slam and solo home run, Bortles became the first Rebel to record a multi-homer game since his teammate Orvis accomplished the feat against Missouri, March 22, 2014. The Oviedo, Fla. native hit his second grand slam over a three-game stretch, increasing his season home run total to six.
- Orvis completed the back-to-back homers with his eighth of the season. The senior first baseman reached base four times on the afternoon by also drawing three walks at the dish.
- Senior Sam Smith earned the victory on the mound, going six innings and allowing just one run on four hits. The start was Smith's 50th of his career, tying Kenny Carlyle for second in Ole Miss history.
- After waiting out a two-hour rain delay, the Rebels dropped a 3-1 decision to Auburn in the first game of the weekend series Friday night.
- Closing out the series, the Rebels split a Saturday afternoon doubleheader with Auburn. Ole Miss got three hits apiece from sophomores J.B. Woodman and Errol Robinson, while senior Austin Knight knocked in a career-high four runs in a 7-2 victory in game one.
- The Rebel sluggers smacked 13 hits, and the Ole Miss arms limited Auburn to just two runs, leaving 13 Tigers stranded on the base path. Bortles and Golsan added multi-hit games, combining for three RBI. Bortles increased his hitting streak to eight games, while also reaching base for the 17th-straight contest.
- The reigning SEC Co-Pitcher of the Week, senior Scott Weathersby (2-1) tossed 2.1 innings of relief and gave up one run while striking out three Tigers to earn his second win in as many appearances. The one run given up ended the Ole Miss bullpen's scoreless streak at 25.1 innings.
- Sophomore Wyatt Short pitched the final 2.2 innings to shut the door on Auburn and earn his team-leading sixth save of the season. Short has now allowed just one run in his last 12 appearances, spanning 21.2 innings. The southpaw has an impressive 0.67 ERA this season.
- The Ole Miss golf team closed out the 2014-15 campaign at the SEC Championship. Ole Miss closed the weather-plagued tournament in 14th place with a three-day score of 925.
- Freshman Sofia Idoyaga (Buenos Aires, Argentina) led the Rebels throughout the weekend finishing tied for 33rd place with a score of 225 (74-76-74), which is a new 54-hole low for the freshman.
- The SEC Championship marked the final collegiate tournaments for seniors Taelor Rubin and Stani Schiavone.
- Highlights from the 2014-15 season include winning the Memphis and Samford Intercollegiates, two top-5 finishes and two top-10 finishes.
With a split of road matches at South Carolina and No. 8 Georgia, the Ole Miss men's tennis team moved up one spot to No. 13 in the nation entering the Southeastern Conference Men's Tennis Championship this week in College Station, Texas.
The Rebels finished tied for fourth place in the SEC standings, but by virtue of a tiebreaker, they claimed the No. 4 seed and a double-bye to Friday's quarterfinal round, having defeated both No. 22 ranked Vanderbilt and No. 17 ranked Florida during the regular season.
The fourth-seeded Rebels will play the fifth-seeded Commodores in quarterfinal action Friday. Vanderbilt defeated Auburn 4-2 in second-round action Thursday. In their regular-season meeting, Ole Miss shut out Vanderbilt 4-0 in Oxford.
"We have had some ups and downs," head coach Toby Hansson said. "It hasn't been a smooth ride all the way, but we learned something from that as well. We have taken the losses we have had and learned from them and moved on. We're excited to earn the No. 4 seed and head to Texas A&M."
Ole Miss is led by senior Nik Scholtz, the reigning SEC Player of the Year, and junior Stefan Lindmark, tied for the best record in SEC play with a perfect 8-0 record. Schultz, ranked No. 19 in the nation, looks to play his way back into the top 16 that would make him a four-time All-American and earn a seed in the NCAA Individual Championships.
As a team, the Rebels head to College Station making a push to host the NCAA First and Second Rounds for the 12th time and for the first time since the 2013 season. A win over Auburn or Vanderbilt would likely solidify their spot in the top 16 of the national rankings.
Last year, each of the top 16 teams earned one of the 16 national seeds, and only No. 16 seed Columbia did not host first and second round matches.
"We don't really talk about that too much," Hansson said. "We try to stay where we are. We have a tough assignment in the first round. That's what we're focused on. Needless to say, the guys are aware of the situation.
"A win would solidify a spot in the top 16, you would think. But we're going there to win the tournament. We're not happy to get by the first round. We're looking ahead. We want to go all the way, but the first match comes first, and we're going to treat that one the same way we have treated every match this season."
Ole Miss Athletics Week in Review
April 7-13, 2015
- Ole Miss finished the week with a 2-2 mark to remain a .500 overall record for the season (18-18) as well as 7-8 in SEC play. After dropping a midweek game to Southern Miss in Pearl, Miss., the Rebels bounced back to claim a SEC road series over No. 1 Vanderbilt. Ole Miss dropped the first game before taking the final two games from the top-ranked Commodores.
- Against Southern Miss, Connor Cloyd batted in the leadoff spot for the first time in his Ole Miss career, going 3-for-5 with two runs for a new career high in hits. Sophomore Colby Bortles added a pair of hits and two RBI, while senior Sikes Orvis drove in his team-leading 28th and 29th runs of the season with his eighth double of the 2015 campaign.
- Bortles continued his hot hitting into the weekend. With Ole Miss trailing by four in the top of the ninth on Friday night, Bortles tied the game by belting the second grand slam of his career. The third baseman was also the last Rebel to hit a grand slam before tonight, going deep against Arkansas State, May 13, 2014.
- After Ole Miss tied the game in the ninth, a two-out double by Henri Lartigue in the top of the 16th brought in the game-winning run.
- The bullpen trio of Jacob Waguespack, Wyatt Short and Scott Weathersby combined to pitch 11 shutout innings. Add in starter Brady Bramlett, and the Ole Miss pitching staff kept the No. 1 team in the country off the scoreboard for 14 of the 16 innings.
- Waguespack pitched three scoreless innings before Short added a pair of shutdown innings.
- Weathersby was named SEC Co-Pitcher of the Week, the conference office announced Monday. Weathersby finished the game by lasting a career-long six innings and striking out a career-high 10 hitters. Weathersby retired 18 of the 21 batters he faced, including getting out of a bases-loaded jam with nobody out in the bottom of the 11th.
- The 16-inning game was the second extra-inning game of the year for Ole Miss. The Rebels defeated then-No. 1 LSU in 14 innings earlier this season, rallying to tie the game in the ninth inning of that contest as well. The two games mark the first time in Ole Miss history that the Diamond Rebels have played two 14-plus inning games in one season. The 16-inning game also was the third-longest in program history.
- One night after rallying behind four runs in the ninth and coming back to win a 16-inning thriller, the Ole Miss baseball team maintained the momentum by taking down No. 1 Vanderbilt for the second-straight game, 5-4, to claim a big SEC series on the road. With a victory over the Commodores, the Rebels improved to an impressive 5-4 against No. 1 teams in 2015.
- Sophomore Errol Robinson provided the game-winning hit, a 2-RBI bases-loaded single in the top of the seventh, and the Ole Miss bullpen kept the Commodores off the board for the second-consecutive contest.
- Senior Sam Smith came out of the bullpen to pitch two scoreless innings of relief, and Waguespack closed out the ninth to earn his first career save. For the entire series, the Rebels' bullpen did not allow a run to score in 15.2 innings of work.
- Nine different Rebels recorded base hits throughout the afternoon as the team tallied 10 of them. Senior Austin Knight went 2-for-3 and added a walk to reach base three times. Holt Perdzock had a RBI double in his only plate appearance, and Cameron Dishon knocked in a run as well.
- In his fourth career start, facing a No. 1 team for the second time in his career, freshman Will Stokes put together a career outing. The right-hander went a career-long six innings, surrendering four runs on seven hits to earn the first victory of his young Ole Miss career.
- Ole Miss has won two-of-three series against No. 1 teams this season (Florida, Vanderbilt).
- In front of a crowd of approximately 15,000 fans, Ole Miss closed out spring practice with the annual Regions Bank Grove Bowl on Saturday. The Blue team defeated the Red team 17-7, behind a pair of long touchdown passes, one by junior quarterback Chad Kelly and another by senior running back Jaylen Walton on a halfback pass.
- Kelly finished 9-of-19 for 104 yards with a touchdown and an interception. DeVante Kincade was 9-of-18 for 93 yards and also led the Blue team with 50 rushing yards on 10 carries, while Ryan Buchanan was 5-of-16 for 49 yards with an interception.
- Jordan Wilkins led all players with 62 rushing yards on six carries, while Eugene Brazley rushed for 44 yards on 10 carries with a touchdown.
- Damore'ea Stringfellow led all receivers with three catches for 98 yards and a TD, while Derrick Jones was the Red team's top receiver with three catches for 35 yards.
- Defensively, Fadol Brown, Issac Gross and Channing Ward led all players with 2.0 tackles for loss apiece, while both of Gross' TFLs were sacks. Cornerback Kendarius Webster finished with three pass break-ups, and linebackers DeMarquis Gates and Terry Caldwell totaled five tackles each.
- No. 25 Ole Miss won twice this past week, shutting out Arkansas-Pine Bluff 6-0 and then rallying to top Mississippi State 4-3. The Rebels earned the No. 9 seed in the SEC Championship and will face the No. 8 seed, Kentucky, in the second round Friday at 9 a.m. CT.
- The Rebels have now won 26 straight against Mississippi State.
- Sophomore Zalina Khairudinova clinched the win, rallying from an 0-3 deficit in the final set. It marked the SEC match for her to clinch this year, as she also clinched the 4-3 win over Auburn.
- Senior Julia Jones became the seventh member of the 100-club, winning her 100th match against Arkansas-Pine Bluff. At 27-7 this year, she needs three wins to become the 10th player to record 30 in a season.
- The Rebels finished the regular season 8-3 at home.
- No. 14 Ole Miss split its last regular season matches, defeating South Carolina 4-2 in Columbia, before falling to No. 8 Georgia 4-0 in Athens. The Rebels earned the No. 4 seed in the SEC Championship and will face the winner of the No. 5 Vanderbilt vs. No. 12 Auburn/No. 13 Arkansas winner in the quarterfinals Friday at 4 p.m.
- This marks the 17th time for the Rebels to finish in the top third of the SEC and receive a first round bye in the tournament.
- The Rebels defeated South Carolina for the second time this season after dropping the doubles point. It marked the second SEC opponent the Rebels have beaten twice this year, including Florida.
- Junior Stefan Lindmark became the fifth player in program history to go undefeated in the SEC at 8-0. He owns a 12-3 record at No. 2 singles and has won six in a row. His win at South Carolina was also his 20th of the year.
- Senior Nik Scholtz clinched the win over South Carolina, his fourth clinch in the SEC and second on the road.
- In the latest ITA Attendance Race Standings, the Rebels are ranked fourth in average attendance (290) for the season. They finished the month of March third in total attendance and second in average attendance (336).
Track & Field
- Ole Miss had a very productive Friday in Starkville at the 2015 Border Clash, as Rebel athletes claimed four event titles, produced 11 new marks that rank top 10 in school history, and had six results that moved them into the top 40 nationally this season.
- The Border Clash, which pitted four schools from Mississippi against four schools from Alabama, saw the Mississippi men prevail 98-93 and the Alabama women win 108-61.
- For the men, Jalen Miller won the 100m (10.34), Robert Semien won the 110m hurdles (13.98) and Dempsey McGuigan claimed the hammer throw title (210-1).
- Craig Engels and Holland Sherrer went 2-3 in the 800m with times of 1:48.27 and 1:48.63 that rank them top six in school history and top 30 in the nation this year.
- The women were led once again by the quartet of Nicole Henderson, Shannon Ray, Khadijah Suleman and Jhorden Hunter, who won the 4x100m relay in 44.55 that ranks them third in school history and No. 8 in the NCAA this year.
- Racquel Moses was runner-up in the 400m hurdles (59.55) and Britt Ummels was runner-up in the 1500m (4:28.61).
- Ole Miss men who rank top 50 in the NCAA are Phillip Young in the triple jump (12th, 52-2.75), Miller in the 100m (17th, 10.34), McGuigan in the hammer (17th, 212-7), Engels in the 800m (19th, 1:48.27), Sherrer in the 800m (26th, 1:48.63), Semien in the 110m hurdles (28th, 13.98), Trevor Gilley in the 1500m (41st, 3:56.60), Adam Aguirre in the high jump (45th, 6-10.75), Branden Greene in the high jump (45th, 6-10.75) and Nathan Loe in the hammer (46th, 202-3).
- Ole Miss women who rank top 50 in the NCAA are Ray in the 100m (8th, 11.41), the 4x100m relay (8th, 44.55), Kierra White in the long jump (30th, 20-1), Hunter in the 100m (36th, 11.58), Moses in the 400m hurdles (37th, 59.55) and Fabia McDonald in the long jump (47th, 19-8.25).
- The Rebels continue to show improvement in the first year under the direction of head coach Mike Smith, improving in the win column and in statistical categories upon recent previous seasons.
- The Rebels have 35 home runs on the season after hitting only 31 home runs a year ago. Freshman 1B Alex Schneider leads the Rebels with eight home runs on the year, while 10 different players have home runs - including eight with multiple home runs.
- Ole Miss has also successfully stolen 76 bases on the year after only attempting 60 steals in 2014.
- The Rebels hit the 23-win mark last week, defeating Samford in a midweek contest to pass the win total from a year ago and with five wins in SEC play surpassed the win total from last season as well. It also is one win away from totaling the number of SEC wins over the previous two seasons combined by the Rebels.
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 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.
Junior cornerback Tee Shepard's story has been well-documented.
Shepard is hearing impaired, but since he has arrived at Ole Miss, he has been the beneficiary of new hearing technology that has allowed him to hear sounds, such as a coach's whistle.
"The new technology hearing aid I have is phenomenal," Shepard said. "When I got it last fall, I heard my first whistle ever. It's crazy because I'm hearing sounds I haven't heard before, and I'm starting to pick it up."
Shepard is thankful for Ole Miss and the resources they have been able to provide him, specifically someone who understands his impairment in Shannon Singletary, the senior associate athletics director for health and sports performance.
"This is the first place that finally understood how bad my hearing was," Shepard said. "Shannon has a hearing loss himself, so we have that connection, and he's helped out me out big time."
That same fall, when he heard his first whistle, he appeared on the verge of emerging as a starter, or at least a regular contributor, in the Rebels' defensive backfield.
However, his promising fall camp was cut short after tearing a tendon in his toe that required surgery and a long rehabilitation.
"It was a freak accident," Shepard said. "I had never heard of a torn ligament in your toe. Everything happens for a reason. God has made me better this year. I was disappointed, but at the same, it got me ready and prepared for this season."
His toe, Shepard said, is probably about 85 percent, but he trusts it now. He said he also added about 10 pounds that has helped him be even more physical this spring.
"I have always been a physical corner," Shepard said. "You have to be physical because these big wide receivers are physical, like Laquon Treadwell. If we're not physical with them, they're going to outwork you."
Nearing the end of his first spring practice, Shepard has once again emerged as a likely starter at cornerback for the Rebels, perhaps opposite fellow junior Tony Bridges, a junior college transfer.
"We have to be physical, lockdown corners because we can't run our defense the way we want to without us being on an island by ourselves," Shepard said. "I have been looking forward to this moment. It's been a long journey for me. I'm excited. I'm ready to go."
Players Ready to Take on Bigger Roles in Year Two
They did not have the fanfare of the class that came in the year before them, but last year's freshmen made valuable contributions in their own way. Among those then-freshmen are sophomore defensive end Marquis Haynes and sophomore offensive guard Rod Taylor.
Haynes, a Freshman All-America and SEC All-Freshman selection, set an Ole Miss freshman record for sacks with a team-leading 7.5 last season. Coaches and his teammates have noted how Haynes has gotten stronger to play better against the run, which has been a point of emphasis for him going into and through spring practice.
"I didn't trust my power like I should have my freshman year," Haynes said. "This year, I want to try to do better on that. I have been getting stronger. Playing the run against Alabama, I saw what I was doing. This year, I should have a big improvement."
Taylor was a regular in the offensive line rotation and started two games, including the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl against TCU, getting thrown into the fire due to injuries. It has been a similar case for him this spring, running with the first-team offense and getting a lot of reps, also due to injuries.
"It's been good to get increase reps in practice," Taylor said. "I feel like with me getting a lot of reps at my position, I'm getting better at what I'm supposed to do and I feel like I'm getting better every day. I had to get better with my technique and my stance and putting my hands in the right place. Those are the things I'm getting better at."
The coaches have also raved about second-year players C.J. Hampton, who's emerged at free safety, DeMarquis Gates, who might can play both Mike or Stinger linebacker, and Kendarius Webster, who like Tee Shepard, is in the mix at the cornerback position.
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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
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 in post Vote Freeze For Coach Of The Year
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
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 in post New Football Uniforms Unveiled
Ole Miss '68
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