By Joey Jones
Ole Miss Athletics Media Relations
The Walk of Champions winds through Ole Miss’ legendary Grove in the heart of its beautiful Oxford campus. At the head of the dignified brick pathway is the “Walk of Champions” arch that was given to the University by the 1962 Rebel football team that finished a perfect 10-0 en route to Southeastern Conference and national titles.
Since 1983, it has been the tradition for Rebel football players and coaches to parade through the Grove and be greeted by thousands of Red-and-Blue-clad fans along that pathway before each home game in the fall. In recent years, the walk has also lived up to its name as a place where champions from many Ole Miss sports have traveled.
From the baseball diamond to the track to the tennis courts, Ole Miss has become a thriving hotbed where champions are born.
Devin Britton and Rebel Tennis
Probably the most successful Ole Miss team in recent years has been Billy Chadwick’s men’s tennis squad. Perennially one of the nation’s elite teams, the Rebels produced one of their best campaigns in 2009. Competing regularly with as many as four freshmen in the starting lineup, the Rebels aced, volleyed, sliced and slammed their way to a perfect 11-0 record in league play to claim the SEC Overall and Western Division titles. They breezed through the SEC Tournament to capture that championship, as well.
In fact, Chadwick has guided the Rebel netters to five SEC Overall Championships (1996, 1997, 2004, 2005, 2009), three SEC Tournament Championships (1997, 2008, 2009), an incredible run of the last eight SEC West titles and numerous SEC individual titles. Ole Miss has earned a berth in each of the last 15 NCAA Championships, reaching the “Final Four” on four occasions, the “Elite Eight” nine times and the “Sweet Sixteen” 15 times. Although they have yet to claim a national title (finished runner-up in 1995), it was one of the outstanding freshmen on this past year’s team that made championship history.
On a team with just one American, it was Jackson, Miss., native Devin Britton who stormed through the individual portion of the NCAA Tournament to become the first ever NCAA Singles Champion from Ole Miss. At just 18 years old (he graduated high school a semester early to enroll at Ole Miss), Britton became the youngest player to ever win an NCAA Singles title. The power-serving 6-foot-3 stud earned an automatic spot in this year’s U.S. Open and recently announced his decision to turn pro and sign with renowned sports agency, Octagon.
Over the past couple of years, there has been no better American female in the long jump pit than former Ole Miss All-American Brittney Reese. A humble, quiet young lady from the Mississippi Gulf Coast, she used her springs for legs to claim the NCAA indoor and outdoor long jump titles in 2008. A truly dominant champion, she won the long jump at every meet in which she competed in 2008, setting a boatload of records along the way. The 2008 National Women’s Field Athlete of the Year won a total of five SEC titles during her career, including four in the long jump and one in the high jump. She also finished runner-up in the high jump and triple jump on multiple occasions.
Reese’s prowess allowed her to turn pro after her junior season. She immediately qualified for the 2008 Olympics and was the top American finisher in the long jump, earning fifth place at the Beijing Games. Her career continues to soar, as this summer she leaped to a new personal best of 23 feet, 3.25 inches to capture the long jump crown at the USA Track and Field Championships.
Another track and field athlete with championships under his belt is current senior distance runner Barnabas Kirui. After arriving at Ole Miss from “across the pond” in Kenya, Kirui burst onto the scene as a freshman and won the 2006 SEC Cross Country Championships. Since then, he has won a national title in the 3,000-meter steeplechase (2007 NCAA Outdoor Championships) and claimed four SEC titles in the 5,000 meters, 10,000 meters and twice in the 3,000-meter steeplechase. The diminutive, jovial Kirui always wears a smile, and he should have plenty of reason for more before his Rebel career is complete.
The level of excitement surrounding Ole Miss Baseball is at an all-time high, thanks to championship excellence over the past few seasons. Mike Bianco’s team secured its first SEC Overall Championship in 2009 by setting a school record for league wins in a season en route to a 20-10 conference mark. The Rebels also claimed the 2006 SEC Tournament Championship and the 2005 SEC West title. The success has helped Ole Miss earn a berth in four of the last five NCAA Super Regionals, one of only six teams in the country to boast that feat.
Oxford-University Stadium/Swayze Field, which underwent extensive renovations this year to enhance its reputation as one of the nation’s top college baseball facilities, has also become a hotbed for professional baseball talent coming through the Rebel program. Ten Ole Miss players were drafted in the 2009 MLB First Year Player Draft, bringing the Rebels’ total to 52 draft picks over the last nine years. Five of those have already appeared in the Major Leagues (T.J. Beam with the New York Yankees and Pittsburgh Pirates, Matt Tolbert with the Minnesota Twins, Seth Smith with the Colorado Rockies, Matt Maloney with the Cincinnati Reds and Chris Coghlan with the Florida Marlins).
The youngest member of the “First Family of Football,” Eli Manning came tantalizingly close to winning titles at Ole Miss, but he realized the ultimate championship when he orchestrated his New York Giants’ run to the Super Bowl XLII title in 2008. Manning was named the Super Bowl MVP after he engineered a fourth-quarter comeback and finished 19-of-34 passing with 255 yards and two touchdowns in the win over the previously unbeaten New England Patriots. His experience as an All-American quarterback at Ole Miss helped him become the No. 1 overall selection in the 2004 NFL Draft and pave the way for his Super Bowl exploits and a recent Pro Bowl appearance.
Other Notable Recent Championships
Antwon Hicks: NCAA Indoor Champion in 60-meter hurdles (2004, 2005)
Savante’ Stringfellow: NCAA Indoor Champion in long jump (2001), NCAA Outdoor Champion in long jump (2000, 2001)
Mahesh Bhupathi: 11-time Grand Slam Tennis Champion (most recently 2009 Australian Open Mixed Doubles), 1995 NCAA Doubles Champion with Ole Miss teammate Ali Hamadeh
Football SEC West Championship (2003)
Men’s Basketball SEC West Championships (1997, 1998, 2001, 2007)
Women’s Soccer SEC West Championships (1999, 2000, 2005)
Women’s Tennis SEC Tournament Championship (1999) and SEC West title (2005)
Ole Miss Track and Field: 20 individual SEC Champions since 2000
Great America Rifle Conference air rifle champion (Meredith Holman in 2009), smallbore champion (Shannon Wilson in 2008), combined champion (Jennifer Lorenzen in 2007).
NCAA Football statistical champions:
Team tackles for loss per game (8.62 in 2008)
Patrick Willis solo tackles per game (9.0 in 2005)
Ken Lucas passes defended (30 in 2000)
NCAA Men’s Basketball statistical champion:
Dwayne Curtis offensive rebounds (154 in 2007-08)
NCAA Women’s Basketball statistical champion:
Armintie Price steals per game (3.74 in 2006-07)
NCAA Soccer statistical champion:
Ann Shelton goals against average (0.27 in 2005)