No More Tears

Kentrell Lockett walked into Ole Miss' indoor practice facility Monday afternoon. No crutches. No limping. Nothing.

He captivated a collection of local media types as he answered questions in a near 15-minute sit-down session. He spoke openly and honestly. He cracked jokes. If he were a member of congress, he would be the one called upon to filibuster.

Basically, he was himself again after a year of difficulty. Of crying. Of helplessness. Of devastation.

"I'm just ready to play ball. It's been so long. I'm just ready to get out there," he said.

His senior season was a lost year. Lockett played in all of three games: Tulane, Vanderbilt and Fresno State. He missed the season-opener with Jacksonville State -- the opening salvo for a miserable season -- due to an irregular heartbeat. Against Fresno State, he suffered a season-ending tear to the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee.

"Tears isn't even the word," he said. "Crying just to be crying."

It was a downward spiral. An emotional rollercoaster, if you will. Lockett was helpless. The crying, he said, was constant. Ole Miss plummeted without him to a 4-8 overall record, its defense one of the worst not only in the Southeastern Conference, but the nation.

Lockett was injured against Fresno State
Chuck Rounsaville
Lockett was removed. He was disengaged. And a team that had previously won back-to-back Cotton Bowls was crumbling.

"It was just crazy all together," he said. "When it all started falling by the wayside, it just fell apart completely. Last year was just kind of like a mad, stupid, hiccup."

More like a violent regurgitation.

Lockett was comatose. He felt he had nothing to give. He said the team lacked leadership, Lockett placing some of the blame on himself. His injury was so jarring, he was completely lost mentally. A shell of himself. Used up.

He thought his career was over. Actually, he began to look towards his career in broadcast journalism, his major. It was time, he thought, even if it had arrived sooner than it was supposed to. Because football, so it seemed, was done.

"When I got injured, I didn't even want to talk to anybody anymore, because I was like, ‘Well, my football's done with. There's no sense in being around it, ‘cause I'm going to hurt myself even more and cry even more and all of that.' I don't want to be around it. I can't get happy if I'm just going around the thing I love so much and I can't do nothing about it."

He cried every day of the three-day NFL Draft in April. Tears rolled down his face when his name scrolled across his television screen for Mel Kiper's "Best Available" list of defensive ends. The harsh reality hit home again. And again. And again.

His mom, Andrell, called. She had seen the list, too. The problem, however, was Lockett hadn't once worked out for NFL scouts. He wouldn't be drafted on this day. She knew what her son was feeling, that he would likely be crying. Lockett's wife, Leighanne, knew it, too. She walked in the front door of their home around the same time.

"I've grown so much mentally," he said. "(The injury) was more of a mental struggle than it was a physical struggle. Things heal -- broken bones, torn muscles and everything. All that heals. It's just that mental thing, ‘cause you've been off it so long, you think ‘Is it still injured? Is it 100 percent?' It was more of me overcoming the injury mentally. Now, I really and truly feel like I can run and do what I want to do."

He wasn't crying Monday. No, he was excited again, looking to SEC Media Days in July, where he was a hit almost a year ago.

He is reenergized. Lockett was granted an additional sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA in March after a near four-month holding pattern. He filed for a medical hardship waiver in early January. The successful waiver was based on injuries suffered in 2006 (shoulder) and, of course, 2010.

He will surely return to his starting position at defensive end come fall practices in August. And Lockett is a welcomed addition. Ole Miss lost four defensive tackles to graduation, including starters Jerrell Powe and Ted Laurent.

Kentrell Lockett
Associated Press
Lockett is the elder statesman of the defensive line by a wide margin.

"I'm really trying to just come back and really pick up where I left off," Lockett said. "It sounds crazy, it sounds like it isn't realistic, but that's what I'm shooting for. I just want to come out and play ball again. I'm not even going to think about getting injured. I'm not even going to think about anything happening.

"I'm just going to think about it as I had a lot of time off. I had a lot of time to be fresh. I'm thinking about it as my legs are more fresh than anybody out there, ‘cause by the time I play, it's going be almost a year since I played already. I'm going to feel like I'm the freshest guy on the field."

Lockett, a 31-game starter at defensive end, has totaled 88 tackles for his career. He ranked second on the team in tackles for loss (10.0) and sacks (5.0) as a junior. He helped the Ole Miss defense top the SEC and rank 11th nationally in sacks in 2009.

He is currently rehabbing under the guidance of head trainer Tim Mullins and assistant Larandust Coleman, his workouts consisting of running the steps inside Vaught-Hemingway Stadium and weight training.

But he has yet to rejoin the team for regular workouts. Still, he said he is at the exact point strength-wise he was prior to injury. He is bench-pressing 280 pounds "seven or eight" times and is at or near his playing weight. Now he is simply trying to build on the progress.

"I'm close to being back with the team, but at the same time, we just want to be safe about everything. We don't want to do anything that's gonna be stressful," he said. "We don't want to do anything that's going to reinjure anything or aggravate anything going into this season. We're going to make sure everything's perfectly fine and everything's perfectly healed and everything's good to go by the time camp comes in August."

There is no trepidation when he works out. He refuses to worry about his knee, to be scared of getting injured again. He has new life, his football career reborn. He constantly reassures himself. His knee was fixed once. It can be fixed again.

"You can't go out there and play in fear. You can't get better if you're scared. If you go out there scared, you're going to get hurt again," he said. "I think the excitement overrides everything -- the fear, the fighting about injury or anything. It's just the excitement and ready to get back to playing ball is overshadowing all of that."

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