Plenty to Prove

The film room is relatively bare now, Jeff Scott the lone proven running back on the roster. He has no veteran crutch to lean on. Ready or not, he's the guy.

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It's the cycle of football, mirroring life, in a way. An underclassman becomes an upperclassman in short order. Freshman to sophomore. Sophomore to junior. Junior to senior. Simple.

Brandon Bolden, who acted as a big brother to Scott, is gone. Enrique Davis, too. Sure, Devin Thomas returns for his senior tour, but Scott, the team's leading rusher last season, is the head of an extremely thin running back stable.

He's not the kid of the group anymore, readiness be damned. The same kid who was suspended multiple games for violating team rules last season, including the season finale against in-state rival Mississippi State. The same quiet, yet self-assured, kid who mostly stayed on the periphery.

"I feel pretty confident leading this offense, the backs, into this new season," Scott said.

Seven rounds of the 2012 NFL Draft came and went in April. Bolden wasn't drafted. Other running backs were taken instead. Bolden ultimately settled for an undrafted free agent contract with the New England Patriots.

Scott watched the draft. He felt disappointed for Bolden; a player Scott has often said took him under his wing the minute he arrived on campus from Miami, Fla., two years ago.

"It got me thinking about myself," he said. "I have a couple of years left. I'm taking advantage of it. I'm working harder and on the weekends. I'm training even harder. When I do get to that point, I'll know that I gave it all I have.

Jeff Scott
Bruce Newman

"I don't want to go back and think ‘Well, man, I wish I would've done this, I wish I had done that.' With these two years left, I'm going to go as hard as I can and try to be a leader."

He has to be, frankly. He has no choice.

Behind Scott and Thomas are unproven veteran Nick Parker, converted wide receiver Tobias Singleton and a collection of walk-ons.

The incoming freshman class offers a few talented runners, namely I'tavius Mathers.

But the focus is on Scott, and he's working with the same chip on his shoulder he's carried since his freshman season.

"I definitely think I have something to prove. Every time I'm out there -- in the weight room, on the football field -- I have to go out there with a chip on my shoulder," Scott said. "They don't think I can run between the tackles. I definitely feel like I have to prove that, that I can handle it."

A number of players were held out of spring practices due to off-the-field issues.

As has been reported, nearly a fourth of the scholarship players on the roster are on probation. Nearly a sixth did not pass the minimum of nine hours during the fall semester, meaning they're in danger of being suspended the first four games of the 2012 season per NCAA rules.

So far, Scott has done his part both on and off the field. His name has been linked with those troubled players. But unlike a number of his teammates, he didn't miss a practice in the spring.

Fifteen practices. He participated in them all.

"The atmosphere is a lot different. The coaches are always on you. It's not all about football. It's all about responsibility," Scott said. "They're hard on us in the classroom, making sure you're going to class. They send us text messages throughout the day, early in the morning, with little scriptures out the Bible and everything. Just teaching us about life and being a better player and a better person in life."

Scott said lack of trust in the locker room was a problem last season, when Ole Miss finished 2-10, its worst season record-wise in program history.

"We had players who wanted to go out and do their own thing and all that," Scott said. "We had some players, they wouldn't want to come to class."

Hugh Freeze
Bruce Newman

Freeze has instituted accountability groups since his arrival in December.

The groups include 10 or so players, ranging from running backs to defensive linemen. Position doesn't matter. If one player slips up, all in the group are punished.

It's Freeze's way of attempting to change the culture, to fix a broken program.

"If you're in a group, you don't want to get punished. If you're doing well but you have your teammate messing around and getting into trouble and not doing what he's supposed to do, everybody's getting punished," Scott said.

"Everybody cracks down on that person. It kind of gets frustrating. After a while, everybody comes together as a team. Not just one person stands out. No individuals on the team. That's something we're continuing to work on."

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