Marry an Opportunity

There was a time when simply stepping on a football field again -- much less earning a starting job -- seemed so far away to sophomore linebacker Mike Marry.

Marry joined the Ole Miss football team prior to last spring. He was finally able to strap on a helmet, some pads, again after sitting out the previous fall due to a greyshirt.

But when he did, he made plays, to the delight of his head coach, Houston Nutt, and defensive coordinator, Tyrone Nix. And he was rewarded with some game action as a true freshman behind long-time starting middle linebacker Jonathan Cornell.

A year has gone by since Marry's days were filled only with schoolwork and workouts all to himself. Cornell has since graduated. Marry is of great importance now, left to man a position at the heart of Nix's defense.

"It's hard to fill his footsteps," Marry said of the void left through Cornell's departure. "I've got to come in and give it my all each and every day and just buy into the scheme and run the show."

Cornell, a three-year starter at middle linebacker and a physically imposing player, took 80 tackles and a wealth of experience with him. He was a workhorse, the driving force behind Nix's efforts.

Plays ran through Cornell. It made sense. He acted as an extension of his coach, manning the controls. He knew the defense better than anyone.

Marry is out to prove he is capable of doing the same. Standing 6-foot-2, 248 pounds, he is no slouch himself. He can handle the growing pains of one of defense's more physically demanding positions. This is the same player who posted back-to-back seasons of 100 tackles in his junior and senior years of high school.

LB Mike Marry
Associated Press
"I feel like I've improved a lot since last year. I like the coaching scheme," he said. "They really simplify things. Everybody comes out and buys into the scheme and plays hard. We're all having fun each and every day getting better."

Ole Miss is one week into spring practices, which end with the Grove Bowl April 16. Marry has been the starter at middle linebacker through five practices, even leading the defense with seven tackles Saturday in the team's first full-contact scrimmage.

"It's been really good," Nutt said of Marry's spring. "He's been physical like he's always been, but he's gotten smarter, more physical. I'm proud of how he's responded."

Marry is one-third of a linebacker trio featuring juniors Joel Kight and D.T. Shackelford -- two upperclassmen with plenty of starting experience under their respective belts. Shackelford replaces another departed senior, Allen Walker, in the rotation.

"I feel like linebacker is going to be a key role to this team," Marry said. "We have good chemistry. Even the simple things, we talk it out each and every play, no matter what. We make sure we're on the same page."

However, as a whole, the linebackers are lacking in depth. Sophomore Clarence Jackson, a promising player, was suspended for most of last season due to a violation of team rules. Junior Rudy Wilson and redshirt freshman Ralph Williams are the other notable names on the roster.

"We've come together. We're doing good with what we have. The first, second and third string are all doing pretty good. We just have to work with it," Marry said.

Ole Miss struggled mightily last season, following up back-to-back nine-win seasons with a 4-8 campaign. The defense was widely considered the team's greatest weakness, ranking near the bottom of the Southeastern Conference in most statistical categories.

Marry said the players have to buy back into the scheme and give it their all each and every play to turn things around.

"We got to buy back into the scheme like those players did when the coaches first got here. We've got to buy into the scheme and give it our all each and every play like those guys did, to get it back to where it was," he said.

OM Spirit Top Stories