Don Decker has been a strength coach for a long time.
Now in his fourth year at Ole Miss, Decker has seen a lot of talented freshmen and newcomers come into his strength and conditioning program.
The Rebs' incoming class this year has been highly-touted. Decker mentored 20 of them in the first semester of summer school and added eight more the second semester of summer school.
To say he's been impressed would be an understatement, and he explains why.
"We had our biggest group (20) ever come here at the end of May for the first semester of summer school. That, in itself, tells you something about them because a lot goes into getting here early - academic clearance, acceptance in school, those kinds of things," Decker began. "That was unique.
"They were a highly-touted group as well. From top to bottom, in my 20 years in this business, from an athleticism standpoint, from an attitude standpoint and from a togetherness standpoint, they are the most united group, most driven and most focused bunch I have ever worked with. They are the whole package."
Decker was backed up in those sentiments by Jason Wilfawn, his top assistant who always takes control of the newcomers when they first hit campus.
"They are a joy to coach, number one. They were like sponges and very eager," said Wilfawn. "You always expect that in the first couple of weeks, but after the newness wears off and it becomes a grind, you wonder how they will respond then. This group never let up.
"For eight solid weeks they came in here with an attitude to get better, an attitude of being grateful to be here and an attitude of pushing each other. They were fun to coach and they are talented. Our coaches did a great job of recruiting some outstanding athletes."
Decker admits the summer was just a start and their work ethic has to stay at a high level, but it was an excellent start.
"They still fall under the category of potential, they are freshmen, but every early indication we draw on tells us they will end up being all they were touted to be," he continued.
Decker rattled off a few of the newcomers who "jumped out" at him.
"(WR) Donte Moncrief, (WR) Collins Moore, (LB) C.J. Johnson, (LB) Keith Lewis, (OL) Aaron Morris, (S) Denzel Nkemdiche, (DT) Uriah Grant, all of whom were here all summer, showed some special traits. (OL) Justin Bell impressed me with his leadership," he said. "And those are just the ones off the top of my head. There were others."
Grant, a JUCO, made such a quick impression that he was moved up to the varsity workout group quickly.
"Uriah not only thrived with the varsity, he excelled. He is one of our top three strongest players on the team," Decker noted. "That doesn't happen very often. He was a nice surprise."
As Decker thought more deeply, he added more names of newcomers who excelled in summer, starting with Safety Cody Prewitt.
"Cody had an phenomenal summer. He's now up to 209 pounds and can really run," Don stated. "He jumped off the page at me. Nick Brassell didn't get here until second semester of summer school, but he hit the ground running and was very eager to learn and to work hard. He wants to know everything right now, and I like that focus and energy.
"Senquez Golson got here second semester and was very solid. He's strong and fast. He's a very gifted athlete. (TE) Jamal Mosley came in second semester and I think he's the real deal."
Decker shifted back to the overall work ethic of the newcomers.
"Again, from top to bottom, they were workers. You sometimes wonder with guys who come in with a lot of press clippings if they are going to be grinders. We didn't have that issue at all. They came in with a blue collar attitude and did not get caught up in the past," he explained. "They have all taken the attitude that the past is the past and now it's time to turn the page and take on their biggest challenge yet."
Decker said it was obvious to him and his staff that the newcomers came to Ole Miss with a purpose.
"To me, the press those guys got when they signed was validated by how they attacked the summer. It's easy to see why they were the best in high school. One, they are gifted athletically. Two, they get after it when it's time to work. They don't mind grinding," he stated. "They came in here looking for a job. They want to compete right now for a position and their competitive attitude had some of our veterans looking over their shoulders.
"Our vets understood quickly that the hype about those youngsters was real. Competition is a monster motivator."
Even though it's still early in their careers, Decker is convinced of one thing already.
"You can tell they all got together during recruiting and joined forces, so to speak," Decker closed. "They came here unified, single-minded, knowing it would take a lot of work and a price would have to be paid, but knowing they came to Ole Miss to get something special done together.
"It is very gratifying to see a group that together, that committed, that talented and with that much purpose."