Doors Opened Quickly

2010 was a whirlwind, sometimes overwhelming, experience for then-true freshman OL Patrick Junen, but he's thankful for the experience and looks to the future with enthusiasm.

Imagine, if you will, the first three months of Patrick Junen's Ole Miss football career.

In a nutshell, he went from being a lightly-recruited offensive lineman out of Huntsville, AL, who ended up walking on at Ole Miss to a starter when the Rebs took on Fresno State early in the 2010 season.

Mind-boggling? For sure.

"I was, believe it or not, at Mississippi State's camp when I started talking to a coach from Decatur, where D.T. Shackelford is from, that I knew," said Junen, who looks, except for his body mass, as much like the engineering student that he is as he does an SEC football player. "He told me about Coach (Mike) Markuson and we started talking.

"Coach Markuson convinced me to walk on here. They had a plan for me that included a quicker route to a scholarship if I came in and showed them I was good enough. After two weeks of August practice, a scholarship opened up and I got it."

While that's pretty impressive, the rest is even more startling.

Within a month of the start of the season, Junen, due a lot to injuries and partly because of his progress, got the starting nod against Fresno State.

"That was surreal. It was amazing how God opened up these opportunities for me and paved the path for me to come in here and help that quickly and in a time of need," he explained. "A few months before, I had no idea what I wanted to do. I had some small offers, but I wanted an engineering degree and I wanted to play in the SEC. I got a miracle, really, with God working through me.

Patrick Junen
Chuck Rounsaville
"When Coach Markuson told me I was starting, at first I thought he was joking. I was like 'holy cow!' It hit me when we were on the bus going to the stadium from Tupelo. It was amazing."

Junen knew the basics, but the rest was just winging it.

"I knew most of the run game and protections, but I needed a lot of help from Bradley (Sowell) and A.J. (Hawkins). It was overwhelming, but after the first five minutes of a game, when you quit thinking about lining up against guys like (Alabama DT) Marcel Darius.

"After a few minutes, it gets down to playing football and you start to gain confidence. Things slow down a little then - not a whole lot, but a little."

Junen felt he "held his own" against some top-notch DL, and that, in itself, surprised him a little.

"It was certainly a confidence-booster when I was able to do some good things against some of those guys," said Junen.

After the baptism-by-fire, which included an ankle injury that cost him some playing time during the season, Junen started preparing himself for spring training and when that rolled around, he recognized he had improved.

"I could start feeling the benefits of the offseason program," he assessed. "My lower body strength and balance were much better. Even though I played some left tackle, some left guard and some blocking tight end and really couldn't get set firmly in one spot, I felt a whole lot better physically. Playing left tackle with those pass sets against faster defensive ends help my quickness and speed a lot."

Junen played last year at 305 pounds on his 6-6 frame. He's packed some beef on to that now, but more importantly, he has gained some needed lower body strength.

"I'm 322 now and feel good with the extra weight because there's not any baby fat now like there was last year," he stated. "I have done a lot of lower body strength stuff. When I looked at my past films, my blocking was good for a short burst, but I would lose my balance.

"During spring, I was able to finish more blocks and stay upright without getting off balance due to the extra strength I have gained. 322 is a good weight for me and I am continually adjusting to it better and better. My strength levels have gone up a lot. I feel good right now."

Junen is competing with Alex Washington for a starting job
Chuck Rounsaville
Markuson will hunt for the "five best" OL and worry about positions later. Right now, Sowell and Bobby Massie are "locks" for the tackle slots, Hawkins will be the center and Matt Hall appeared to have sewn up right guard.

There is, in actuality, one opening to be counted in the five-best realm when August rolls around - left guard.

Will it be Junen?

"We'll see in the fall. I really don't know. All I know for sure is that I will try my best and I have confidence I can help this team," he added. "I believe I will be a lot better this fall. Last year, I had the speed and flexibility, but I didn't have the strength to continue and to hold blocks. I believe I have that now."

Junen is excited about the 2011 Rebels in terms of what he's seeing in the offseason.

"It's like night and day. I think there's more respect for 'team.' Overall, the attitudes are better and we are all working hard and together to get to Atlanta," he closed. "The feeling is just better. It's less about 'I' and more about team now. The discipline and respect for discipline has been a whole lot better.

"Also, our leadership has stepped up. On offense, Bradley, H.R. Greer and Tank Washington are all doing a great job. The defense has good leadership too. The leadership is a major part of the better feeling on the team."

Everyone inside the football program has something to prove. Everyone has things to work on between now and the season.

For Patrick Junen, with the whirlwind he experienced last year over with, there's an anxiousness to move forward with more tools in his arsenal.

More strength, more size, more balance and, most importantly, more experience gained under fire as a true freshman.

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