FEATURE: Seniors Up Standard of Rebel Football
Dec. 1, 2016
Story Featured in the Egg Bowl Game Program (Nov. 26)
It is difficult to understate just what this year’s senior class has meant to football at Ole Miss. In their time in Oxford, school records have fallen and wins have been racked up while the Rebels have returned to heights not seen in years. They changed the perception of Rebel Football on a national scale.
It’s important to remember that when many of these seniors bought into Hugh Freeze’s message and decided to go on the journey at Ole Miss with this coaching staff, the high level of success had not materialized yet. Freeze’s first year, while undoubtedly successful, was just a six-win regular season. Over their careers, this year's seniors saw to it that six wins is no longer the standard at the University of Mississippi.
The seniors have had a few highlights during their career, maybe you recall some of them? There was the time that No. 6 LSU came to Vaught-Hemingway in 2013 and left with a loss.
Still, that win had a little too much of an upset vibe to it. The way to one-up it was the next year when two undefeated teams met in Oxford with College GameDay in town. Ole Miss officially arrived on the national scene with that win against No. 1 Alabama, due in no small part to the role some of these seniors played. Ole Miss ended the season by reclaiming the Golden Egg and earning a berth in a New Year’s Six Bowl.
How did these seniors follow up that 2014 season the next year? By besting it in every way. They beat Alabama, again, this time in Tuscaloosa. They beat Mississippi State, again, this time in Starkville. They beat LSU, to hold each rivalry trophy in one season. Most importantly, they returned Ole Miss, for the first time since 1970, to the game that has always held a special lore around Oxford, the Sugar Bowl.
This last season for the seniors has not been without difficulty. They have had to battle adversity, heartbreaking finishes and injuries throughout the year.
A lesser group would have seen this season as a lost cause and already moved ahead to the next stage in their lives, mentally. Anyone that watches sports has seen a group somewhere check out when things start going badly. Not this senior class, though.
“If the seniors don’t continue to fight, the young guys will develop not as well,” Tony Conner said. “As long as they see the seniors keep on trying to fight, it’ll take part in their leadership down the road.”
And that’s just what the seniors did, even when all the cards were against them. The team just lost two leaders in Chad Kelly and John Youngblood the week prior. They showed the young players on this team what it means to be a Rebel. They went to a very difficult place to play and beat No. 8 Texas A&M.
“The seniors lit the fire and kept it going because we all had the most to lose,” Evan Engram said. “It’s our last ride. We want to go out with a bang. Everybody buying in and fighting for us seniors is what sparked everything.”
Still, it’s a shame that seniors like Kelly and Youngblood did not get the opportunity to finish their last season in Red and Blue the way they both deserved to. Both players led and represented Ole Miss in a way that should make any fan proud.
“My time here was amazing,” Kelly said. “It felt like home for not only me but my family also."
Even the seniors that spent some time on the sidelines with injuries earlier in the season did not wallow in the fact that some of their last season was slipping away. Some, like Fadol Brown, were more interested in making sure the guys behind him were playing up to the standard this class set.
“We have to get the young guys ready,” Brown said. “I do everything I can when I’m not on the field to get the young guys ready."
It’s unfortunate that student-athletes are only allowed four years of eligibility because there are so many players on this team that any Rebel wishes could keep suiting up for Ole Miss for years to come.
“It’s been a journey,” Engram said. “I’ve learned a lot. So many memories. Now, I’m soaking it all in. I’m taking advantage of each opportunity we have to practice and be together and bond with my teammates one last time.”
“It’s been fun,” Brown said. “I love the fan base here. I love the people here. Everyone, they treat you like family here. I love being a Rebel.”
That’s right. It’s family here, and being a Rebel doesn’t end with eligibility. So that means all are welcomed back here as often as they like.
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