Countdown Continues

It's getting closer to football season. That's easy to tell. Thursday night's Ole Miss Quarterback Club meeting was a clear indication.

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Nearly 500 fans showed up for the season's kickoff event at the Oxford Conference Center. It was the first one of these for head football coach Hugh Freeze and athletics director Ross Bjork. Both always deliver a dose of realism with plenty of optimism. That happened again Thursday night.

Bjork said season ticket sales continue to climb. The phone banks and marketing of them have helped. There were more than 100 sold on Thursday alone. That brings the total to more than 33,000.

With 8,000 student season tickets projected to be sold by the first game on Sept. 1, the total number stands at more than 41,000. Not where they want to be, but not where they used to be, even recently.

Freeze said he remains "cautiously optimistic" that two of the four players with academic situations will make it. He knows that's not 100 percent, but it's better than 25 players on the list not long ago.

Both leaders seemed at ease and comfortable with an Ole Miss crowd than any time I've seen them these past few months. And that's been several times. Maybe being on "home turf" will do that.

Bjork talked a bit about the first "101" days now that he's been on the job. He mentioned the goals and accomplishments so far and ones to come. He talked about total unity and solidarity and everybody being on the same page.

Freeze had his staff introduce themselves and say a few words if they wanted. Matt Luke went first. He started by asking the crowd, "Are you ready?" They are.

The one overriding message from everybody who spoke, and that included club officers and other Ole Miss athletic officials like Michael Thompson, was that everybody is on the same page and pulling together. That certainly was the theme and not just from those who spoke. Those in attendance seemed to sense it too, it appeared.

Luke on the offensive line and Chris Kiffin on the defensive front are looking for a few more men to step up. "We'll find them. I promise you that," Kiffin said of his defenders.

Ross Bjork
Bruce Newman

Freeze said he and his staff continue to work to instill more accountability among the players.

"You have to have discipline if you're going to build a program," he said.

There was a question about defensive backs looking for the ball, and there was one about the depth, or lack thereof, at running back. Freeze was also asked about the last game of the regular season.

"I've said all along I have quite a good understanding of what that game means to people," he said. "I assure you our guys will be ready."

Freeze didn't predict victory in that or any game, but Bjork jokingly acknowledged the standing ovation each got.

"We're undefeated, Coach," he said. There is still that honeymoon phase in late July.

But Bjork said he knew he wouldn't be able to please everybody on everything and pointed out the recent Memphis contract for football and men's basketball as being but one.

One presenter of a plaque to four-year quarterback club president Lee Meek jokingly said they had asked Meek not to tell any jokes. Meek said the quarterback club had raised $350,000 for Ole Miss football during the past four years alone. That is not a joke. That is an important fact.

Meek said telling jokes wasn't the only thing he's noted for. He, again jokingly, said he had two buildings named for him on campus – Meek Hall and the Meek School of Journalism.

When Bjork got to the podium to speak, he told Meek there were several other naming opportunities at Ole Miss now for him to help out with. There was laughter.

There were many informative moments. There were many light moments. Freeze ended the meeting by saying he couldn't wait to walk through the Grove on September 1 with his team.

"And I'll probably cry," he added.

No doubt, football season is getting close. That fact was on full display Thursday night in Oxford.

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