Follow the Leader

Ole Miss outfielder Tanner Mathis finished the thought verbally.


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What is it about this team? Can he sense something……

"Different?" he asked.

"We are obviously better, but the main thing I've seen since day one is that the chemistry… I remember before we didn't have things like team dinners," Mathis said, who hosted one even before school began in August with some deep Louisiana gumbo from his part of the world.

The Lake Charles, La., product, part of a deep and talented, although somewhat youthful outfield, is a veteran now. Senior Zach Kirskey and Mathis join a host of freshmen – Will Jamison, Auston Bousfield, Chase Reeves, and Senquez Golson – who will track down fly balls and round up base hits as a solid unit of defenders for the Rebels.

"It doesn't matter who they put out there, they can all hit, they can all run, they can all catch, and they can all throw," Mathis said of the outfielders. "It really doesn't matter who they put out there, we're going to win and all three guys are going to hit. There's balls that have been hit the past couple of years people haven't gotten to. People are making those plays now standing up.

"Like Senquez making a play the other night. He was at the 365 sign making a play standing up. I was like wow."

There are others that wow Mathis.

"Jamison's quick. Bous is just as fast. They make plays that I didn't make my freshman year. Whether they are standing up or diving, I didn't make them. I just couldn't get there. They're going to make the play nine times out of 10. There've been some unbelievable plays made out there."


Tanner Mathis
Bruce Newman

And there's great effort.

"Chase Reeves knocked himself out running into the wall," Mathis said. "Kirksey almost did the same thing. Our effort's been unbelievable in the outfield."

Mathis has worked at his speed to get to those balls he used to not be able to get to.

"Me and Coach (Rich) Levy (strength and conditioning coach) have worked hard for me to get faster and stuff. He videoed us, everybody, running a 60. He looked at our running form, and for track guys it's like their hips and feet are even when they hit the ground. A lot of baseball players are kinda like a wheel, like they're reaching out. We've really concentrated on that (more like a track runner). There's some workout stuff we've done as a team. Just things to make you quicker and faster and more explosive.

"I wasn't able to squat much the last two years because of injury. Now that I was healthy all fall, I squatted a bunch. We squatted three times a week and it helped. I feel good. I feel faster."

And in addition to all that, the outfielders can pitch, too, or at least some of them, including Mathis.

"Will Jamison pitches, Chase Reeves pitches, Auston Bousfield could pitch if he wanted to, his arm's so good.," Mathis said.

Whatever they do, they do it as a team.

"We're all in it together," he said." Me and Kirksey, I think coach expects more out of us. We've been there and we've experienced everything the SEC has to offer. We know it's going to get tough for (the younger players). It's going to be easy for them, it's going to be tough for them, maybe even on the same day. From one at-bat something bad can happen and you lose everything.

"Our job, me and Kirksey's, is to keep ‘em up, keep ‘em thinking positive, keep ‘em thinking good thoughts, and playing with that confidence. That's what's got ‘em here. They came in here, played their tails off, and won their spot. If they keep that up, we're gonna be really good."

That's an experienced veteran speaking right there.

"We've seen it work in the past," Mathis said. "You have good team chemistry and you play better. We've been trying to establish that since August. We had freshmen come in in June or July for summer classes. They all got to know each other real early. We had those team meals. We bonded. Bobby (Wahl) had one at his house a few weeks ago. The talent's there, but the chemistry is what stands out."


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