'I think he'll do great'

Michael Oher knows Hugh Freeze. Freeze was his head coach in high school, and then again in three of his four years at Ole Miss.

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Their relationship was one of the foundational storylines of the book The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game, which was later made into a major motion picture starring such Hollywood A-listers as Sandra Bullock.

Oher believes in Freeze. He always has. So much so, upon the final news conference of Houston Nutt, when he was dismissed as Ole Miss head coach in November, Oher sent out a tweet via his official Twitter account, @Michael Oher.

"I think Coach Freeze should have the best shot at the job if Ole Miss wants to be in the Hunt Nationally!"

Freeze was hired the first week in December. Oher, meanwhile, was wrapping his third regular season as a member of the Baltimore Ravens. The Ravens finished the season with a loss to the New England Patriots in the AFC championship game.

"I thought we were going to be playing Eli (Manning) in the Super Bowl," Oher said, three months later. "I saw Eli the other day, congratulated him. I thought we were going to be playing those guys. We had the team to do it, but a couple of plays didn't go our way in the AFC championship game."

Oher has been in and out of Oxford this off-season. He's worked out in the Indoor Practice Facility with good friend and Minnesota Viking Jamarca Sanford, watched film with Freeze and hung around current and a handful of other former players.

He's seen Freeze work up close. Ole Miss finished 2-10 last season. The Rebels have lost 15 of their last 16 Southeastern Conference games. Freeze is tasked with repairing a broken program.

Hugh Freeze
Bruce Newman

"You wouldn't want to have another guy as your head coach," Oher said of Freeze. "That's one of the great guys to be around.

"I sat in while he was going over offense, just seeing what they're running and things like that. He's going to be a great coach. I've met the strength and conditioning coach (Paul Jackson). He's doing a fantastic job over there. Those guys, they look like they're starting to form up pretty well. It's great. I like everything that they have going right now."

Oher, an Associated Press first team All-American as a senior, caught many of Ole Miss' games last season. Ole Miss, Oher said, is doing right by starting over anew. Nutt spent four seasons in Oxford, including Oher's senior season, when he was drafted in the first round by the Ravens.

To Oher, Ole Miss needs Freeze.

"The thing is, he knows the game of football, and he's worked his tail off to get where he is now," he said. "He knows the game inside-out. His track record speaks for itself. He's been successful everywhere he's been. Players will love him. He's a player's coach, but he's going to be hard on you because he wants to get the best out of you. As he's being hard on you, you're going to learn to love him, because you know he wants the best for you.

"The guy has the mind of genius. I'm looking for Ole Miss to be in the top half of the conference, if not the nation, in points per game. This guy, I think he'll do great this coming up year."

Much of the skepticism surrounding Freeze is his quick rise to the SEC. His critics view him as unproven. He was the head coach at Arkansas State for all of one year. Stops at Lambuth -- where he was 20-5 in two seasons -- and Ole Miss as wide receivers coach all but make up his resume.

His supporters, conversely, site how the Red Wolves captured the Sun Belt Conference championship last season, and finished 10-2 overall. It was the program's first 10-win season since 1986, and came a year after Arkansas State was 2-10.

Again, there's no greater supporter of Freeze than Oher. Oher played under Freeze at Briarcrest Christian School in Memphis, Tenn. Freeze won 99 games to only 23 losses, including a state championship in Oher's senior season.

"I understood then that he was a fantastic coach," Oher said. "I didn't know the future or anything like that, but I understood then what a good coach he was. When I was a senior in high school, we weren't that good. I understood in high school we weren't that good. We didn't have a team to just line it up and play.

Michael Oher
Associated Press

"We had a coach that called the right plays, and we went out and beat the best teams in the city because we had a great coach. We won a state championship because we had a great coach. The guy's great. I love him. I think he'll do great."

Whether Freeze pans out or not, Oher will be watching and rooting him on. In his introductory press conference, Freeze called Ole Miss his dream job. Oher said he's living his dream every day -- as a standout NFL lineman.

Player and coach, each where they all along hoped to be.

"It's awesome to be fulfilling your dream in the National Football League, something you've wanted to do all your life," Oher said. "Just to play with these guys and play against these guys that you've grown up watching, it's unbelievable.

"I'd be lying if I said I didn't pinch myself every time I step on that field. It's a dream come true, a lot of hard work and dedication just to get to this point. It's amazing."

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