Glory Days

Bradley Sowell remembers the early days -- the memorable highs and forgettable lows.

They were the days when his nerves would get the best of him, when his head acted something of a lazy susan, spinning round and round as he trudged through the growing pains of his sophomore season.

The lessons he learned against Eric Norwood -- South Carolina's decorated defensive end -- are still embedded in his cranium. Then there are the remembrances of back-to-back Cotton Bowls, nine-win seasons and the relationships he has built through the years. They're there, too.

"It's been a good career," Sowell, a fifth-year senior, said, "but it's been fast."

Sowell has started every game at left tackle the last two seasons
Courtesy: Matthew Sharpe
Those were the glory days, as he calls them. Times to look back to. Memories that have brought him to where he is now, a senior, setting out to lead a young team back from the stomach-turning ignominy of a 4-8 (1-7 SEC) season.

"It was pretty hard, man. It was pretty heart-breaking," he said. "You go from two seasons where it's the best in the history here to right back to the losing days. It's really a bad taste, losing the Egg Bowl again. We knew how bad Coach (Nutt) wanted that.

"We're really motivated this offseason. A lot of guys are working a lot harder, a lot of good attitudes, a lot of good competition going on right now."

He has toned down a lot over the years. Honestly, his confidence as a sophomore could have sometimes been misconstrued as arrogance, though Sowell is far from a me-first guy. He relaxes more now. He is more laid back, a sign of the wisdom and maturity he's gained.

"I kind of look at the NFL veterans," he said. "They're so laid back and calm. I'm kind of like that now. I just know how to get the job done."

Sowell feels old, maybe like a father figure, when looking about the locker room of new and familiar faces. The only players left from those aptly named glory days are Sowell, Kentrell Lockett -- who is awaiting an NCAA ruling for a sixth year of eligibility -- and Alex Washington.

"I've played a lot," he said. "There's different situations that I know how to handle now. I don't get so antsy out there. The first year (he started) I'd get all rattled in the big stadium. Now it's just rep after rep. That's how I do. It's experience. I'm not as jumpy as I used to be."

Time has flown by. His first career start against Memphis in 2009 seems only days ago. But such is life in the fast-paced day-to-day life of student-athletes. Days are regimented. Schedules are strictly followed.

Weeks turn to months, and then to years, so quickly.

"You feel so old," Sowell said. "These young guys, you can tell they look up to you so much more than guys in the past. They look up to you, and you know you're a leader now. Everything you do, they're going to emulate."

Emulation is the greatest sign of where he is now, how far he's come. No longer is Sowell the wide-eyed left tackle cast into the unenviable position of replacing Michael Oher, now with the Baltimore Ravens.

Sowell has become the anchor of a suddenly strong Ole Miss offensive line. His every step is watched closely by those still developing offensive linemen -- Patrick Junen, Evan Swindall, A.J. Hawkins, even the backups toiling to make a name for themselves.

"Brad's doing real well," junior quarterback Nathan Stanley said. "We're fortunate to have Brad on our team. He's been here a while, knows his stuff. Good leader. Brad always does everything right. I think guys are reacting to it, as far as offensive line and even guys who don't play offensive line. They're responding to it. Definitely has a good impact on this team."

Sowell is the anchor of Ole Miss' deep offensive line
Courtesy: Chuck Rounsaville
Wins and losses. Wins. And. Losses.

Sowell isn't focused with personal accomplishment, only on the overall achievement of his team. Sure, to be honored as an All-SEC selection would be flattering, as would Sowell being named an All-American.

But mostly, he wants to rid his mind of last season's misfortunes. He wants Ole Miss to succeed, to be the senior class that returns this university to respectability -- somewhat lost with only four wins to eight losses.

"We might have gotten complacent," Sowell said. "We won the two Cotton Bowls, and might not have done some of the little things we should have done.

"Now we're going back to, first off, correcting the little things. Once we get those right, those big things will start happening."

Mastering the little things. Personal accountability. Both are being preached in Ole Miss' reenergized offseason strength and conditioning program. And Sowell is leading the movement.

Because he remembers the glory days. He remembers the bowl trips, spending time with his teammates in cities not named Oxford for New Year's Day. He missed that as a junior. He'll be damned if it happens again as a senior.

"We're doing a lot of things to clean up the act around here. It's been pretty tough, but guys have responded pretty well. Everybody's getting a lot better. We're just trying to get the accountability right. Whenever you mess up and stuff, everybody's accountable for it. We kind of get punished as a team now."

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