Bringing It Back

It seems like only yesterday Tanner Mathis of Lake Charles, La., arrived at Ole Miss to find his place among a program that enjoyed much success for nearly a decade. Now, as a junior, the outfielder is a team leader and is helping Ole Miss try to get back to its winning ways.

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Last season the Rebels were 30-25 and failed to reach any type postseason – conference tourney or NCAA Regional – for the first time in nine years.

This year, Mathis and his teammates are dead set on getting things back the way they ought to be. And although they know they must improve this season as a team, it doesn't hurt to be reminded of it fairly often.

"The coaches do," said the level-headed Mathis, whose low-key approach makes for a good leader for a team with a lot of youth. "Sometimes they'll say ‘You're working like you did last year, and that's unacceptable because of what happened.' They remind us to make us work harder. It's positive reinforcement.

"They bring it up that 30 wins is not good enough. It's not going to work again."

Mathis said it's up to the veterans, of which he is now a part, to lead the Rebels back to their rightful place among college baseball programs.

"The upper class leadership is good," said Mathis, the Rebels' centerfielder last season and frontrunner to remain there this season. "We've done a good job with it so far. Last year I still looked at myself as one of the older guys, because I played my freshman year. So I did have some experience. This year it's like me, (Brett) Huber, (Alex) Yarbrough, (Matt) Snyder, R.J. (Hively). We're the leaders. For us to be good, the upperclassmen have to take control of the team. I do look at myself as an older guy, because it's our team."

Mathis is back for year three
Bruce Newman

It's also a team that will count on a youth movement, especially on the mound. Gone are all three weekend starters, and who emerges this fall and preseason in those roles will go a long way in determining how much success or failure the 2011 team will have.

But it's that way throughout, even in the outfield where Mathis is the lone returner with extensive playing time.

"Everybody's been busting it," Mathis said. "(Zach) Kirksey and (Jimel) Judon, they've almost torn down the wall robbing home runs and stuff. You've got (Will) Jamison who runs 6.5 or 6.6 (in the 60). You've got (Auston) Bousfield who runs like a 6.7 (60). Chase Reeves takes really good routes and runs pretty good. So there's more competition than last year."

Mathis is a fan of great competition for playing positions.

"We have three centerfielders – me, Bousfield, and Jamison. Reeves can play center, and everybody can play a corner spot. That's like four guys that can play center, and six or seven guys that can play corner spots. So it's all up in the air. My job's not even guaranteed. These young guys are going to bust it 100 percent. No spot is safe, and I love that. That's what the fall is all about."

In the spring, football players Senquez Golson and Chief Brown will also by vying for outfield playing time with the baseball team.

Mathis, the team's leadoff batter in 2011 and second-leading hitter with a .336 average behind Yarbrough's .350, said he is excited about the fall and improving.

"I just want to get better myself and help the team get better," he said. "From a team standpoint, we've harped on becoming more of a team with better chemistry, getting to know each other a lot better. We all felt last year we weren't very good at the "team" concept.

"I just want to keep doing like I've done the last two falls, hit for the highest average, things like that. I want to work on stolen bases, getting better in the outfield, and bunting. Those are three things I want to work on the most."

He likes the improved team chemistry he's already seen.

"It's better. Those young guys came in and fit in well. It's awesome so many of them came up here early in the summer. I wish I'd done that as a freshman. We are all on the same page. We had people over to cook gumbo. We had a movie night one night and went to a movie. We've got a good thing going on already as far as the ‘team" concept."

Mathis said fall ball at Ole Miss is actually more intense than some might think. He said it's often a time where a team is made and where a player emerges at a certain position.

"I don't know if it's really as relaxing as the spring," he said. "Early spring is real relaxed, and the season's right there and you're ready to go. Fall is competition, competition, competition. Any given day something can happen. It's real competitive. It's about getting better and seeing what you can and can't do. It's about playing smart and getting ready for the spring."

And that's something the veteran Mathis speaks on from experience.

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