As the Rebels draw near the Friday’s bowl game, there is undoubtedly a great deal of last minute fine-tuning as well as multiple reflections on the past season and what kind of note it should end on.
Sometimes when you begin the football season, you anticipate it will turn out one way, but as anything in life, it usually turns out another way.
One of my mentors in this business always used to tell me, “Sometimes, Lee Ann, it’s not always about where you start at the season as a team, but its where you finish.”
As an a former athlete and now sports analyst, this mantra has stuck with me since I could remember. This mantra has allowed me to take away the veil of the numbers game in the analytical and statistical part of my job so I could really look at the raw portion of a team and individual players.
This in the end is what makes all the difference in the games for the next few days. The best can fall and the underdog can rise.
Despite the twists and turns of this past season, Ole Miss’ football team wasn’t a lost cause. The Rebels managed to get themselves back in the game whenever the sports world had written them off. Now in a few short days, the Rebels have more to play for than just a trophy. They’re playing for pride, history and a great deal more that makes Ole Miss such a staple of tradition in college football.
Here is a snapshot of what these players, Chad Kelly, Fahn Cooper, Jaylen Walton and Laquon Treadwell have to say at the Ole Miss’ football offense’s press conference in New Orleans.
Quarterback Chad Kelly
On rewriting his own story: “I feel like I have been able to rewrite my story to some extent but I feel like there is still a lot of work to be done and it starts with this game. This is a big game for the University and us, as players. We are just thankful for this opportunity.”
On whether or not the season turned out as he expected it to: “It did, but our main goal is always to win the national championship and to win the SEC of course, but the next best thing is the game right here.”
On Oklahoma State: “This is going to be a great game; we have not played a team out of the Big XII this season so it should be good. They are physical and fast, they like to press their corners and get after the quarterback. They are always going to have great players because their coaches recruit so well. I am anxious to get out there and see what we can do against them.”
On Oklahoma State defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah: “He is a really good player and we have known that. We just need to go out there and execute. We need to make sure that we know where he is at all times on the field and have to account for him.”
Offensive Lineman Fahn Cooper
On getting focused for the game: “I feel like before we got here we were practicing at school and the standard was set. Our guys were not going to be going and messing around and getting in trouble. Guys were going to follow the rules and when it’s time to work, it’s time to work.”
On Oklahoma State defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah: “He looks like a very strong player. He has a nice little push-pull move. He plays pretty aggressive and I think that serves him well and has helped him make a lot of plays.”
On amount of snaps played in SEC vs. Big XII: “They feel like they play more in the Big XII? I think that may be true because I know in the Big XII most teams run an offense kind of like ours. They make people play a lot of plays. I know a lot of guys that played us in the SEC, it wasn’t until they played us that they got to playing the game and running a bunch of plays and going against another offense. Fatigue is something that’s going to settle in for everybody and so are injuries. It’s just twelve or thirteen or whatever weeks into the season. I feel like in the game the team that is going to tough it out and play physical is going to win. I feel like playing in our league every week you’re facing fatigue; the SEC is just the most competitive league there is.”
On how he feels physically: “I feel good, but I mean to me that’s all about what you put into the off season. Last season around this time when we played in that bowl game against TCU, I was sore, tired, hurt, all that. I felt that way and I played that way in the game. This year, I said, it’s not going to be like that. I’m going to make sure that all throughout the season I’m going to take care of my body so that when we got to this point I can be as fresh as possible. I feel like right now, I feel even better than I did three, four, five, six months ago, so I feel good; I feel I’ll be ready to play. And not just me, a lot of the guys.”
On how the rushing game changed with the return of offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil: “I feel like a big part of it was in that Texas A&M game you run the ball for so many yards. I feel like the coach put it on us a lot more that we can really get this offense going, but we got to run the ball. I feel like the emphasis of now this is how we’re going to win games and that feeling of ‘man, we’re going out and playing them and this is a big game’; we got out there and just got after it. It’s because we got to get the running game going, like we haven’t all season so far. After that, I feel like that kind of gave us a little edge. And obviously, we’re the best offensive line that’s played in our league and that helped us out too.”
Running Back Jaylen Walton
On the trip so far: “The trip has been great so far. We are having a great time, but I’m ready for Friday. I am ready for Friday. I want to play a great game with my brothers in the Superdome.”
On what stands out about the Ole Miss running game: “Since we have (offensive tackle) Laremy Tunsil back on the field, we have really balanced our offense. We have been able to run the ball and pass the ball. The running game is going to be there. We just need to make sure we are making explosive plays and taking shots.”
On being on the Sugar Bowl’s stage: “We have come a very long way. From being at the Compass Bowl in Birmingham, Alabama to the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans, it is a big step and it is a pretty big deal. Head coach Hugh Freeze has been telling us all week we just need to come out and execute the gameplan and to not leave anything on the field except 100 percent.”
On what the Sugar Bowl means: “It is a huge development and achievement for us. From having a 2-10 season to where we are now with a chance to have 10 wins in one season, it is a very big deal. We have been blessed to have a great opportunity to perform on a stage like the Sugar Bowl. It is a very big deal and we are really looking forward to it.”
On last year’s bowl game against TCU: “That motivates us a lot. We definitely had not had an upset last year until we played TCU in the bowl game. It was a downfall to a great season we had. We have the choice to come in and change the outcome of this year’s bowl game. The choice we are making is to come out and have a great game plan and to make sure we change last year’s outcome.”
Wide Receiver Laquon Treadwell
On Oklahoma State’s program, and why it was on his shortlist coming out of high school: “Just the depth of the receivers they had. The list goes on and on about the great receivers the coaches have trained. That was something I was looking big into, finding a good group of coaches that suits me and helps me develop my game. The program speaks for itself. First class facilities, big fan base, history of good wide receivers. We are trying to make that our motto here and trying to get some of the best wide receivers to come play for us.”
On Oklahoma State’s Secondary: “They are very athletic and mobile. They have great tendencies and great hips. They can run with about any receiver they guard. They are very mobile, so it helps them get in and out of their breaks and break on passes. It will be a great game, so we have to play a great game. We pride ourselves on playing at a high level every week. We’ve done that for thirteen weeks now and we are just trying to continue to get better.”
On Oklahoma State cornerback Kevin Peterson: “They are all about the same when it comes to athleticism. Mobile and quick and they love to play the ball. They have good ball skills. I just have to play my game. I can’t get into what I would do differently against him. I have to attack his tendencies, of course, but I need to play my game. I need to know what I want to do on certain plays.”
On Ole Miss returning to a New Years’ Six Bowl: “It’s big for us. Consistent work. We have fallen short, but we will continue to work hard and that’s what the team is built around. We work hard and let the depth show we are one of the best teams in the country, even though we don’t have a lot of depth. We have they type of players that are consistent every week. We slip up every now and then and we get back to the drawing board and it goes to the coaches. Bringing us together and competing against some of these teams that have been around and in the spotlight for being the top programs. To be here, after nine victories, nobody would have thought it. It just goes to show that the players are working hard.”
On entering the draft: ”I’ve just been waiting around and taking my time. If I do get that gut feeling that I should leave or stay, then I’ll go with that, but nothing has really drawn me away from the school. There hasn’t been anything that told me ‘I’m out this season.’ Besides all of the predictions and all that. I’m just taking it one day at time and enjoying this time with my teammates. Once the bowl game is over, I’ll go back home and see where I’m spending next year, and go from there.”
Lee Ann Herring-Olvedo is a HottyToddy.com contributor, veteran SEC sports journalist and Brown University graduate. She loves good cigars, good games and a smooth glass of bourbon — not necessarily in that order. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.