Better Man

Derrick Nix has coached Jeff Scott for three seasons. He knows him well - his successes, his failures.

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More than anything, he knows how far the junior running back has come, both on and off the field.

"He's been through some ups and downs here, made some mistakes, done some positive things along the way as well," Nix said. "He's learned from them. He's in a position where he sees a little light at the end of the tunnel where he can go out and become something."

When Ole Miss hired Hugh Freeze to take over its football program in December, Scott was among the some 25 players in serious academic trouble. However, his off-the-field struggles extended far beyond the classroom.

So much so, there were concerns he wouldn't return to Ole Miss for the 2012 season. Even more, Scott had reservations about the hiring of Freeze. Freeze had to win him over.

"I was kind of skeptical," Scott said. "I wasn't really sure of what was going on with the offense. Coach Nix just told me to patient and it'll come, and it did."

Nix has been the constant. Scott said his presence on the coaching staff was key in him buying into Freeze and the future of Ole Miss football.

"He's grown tremendously as a person, as a player, since the first day he stepped on this field," Nix said. "I feel like I've provided a helping hand in that. Still not finished, though. I do feel a little pride in that. He's a kid I've kind of raised up since I've been here."

He didn't miss a practice in the spring. He kept to his books and became eligible for his junior season. Good thing, too. He's been arguably Ole Miss' most valuable offensive player.

"I think this (offense) is a godsend for him," Nix said. "Doesn't lock him in a box. He's taking advantage of it. It's showed off his skills tremendously."

Jeff Scott
US Presswire

Scott leads Ole Miss in rushing by a wide margin with 562 yards gained on 92 carries, good for sixth in the Southeastern Conference. More impressive, he's averaging 6.1 yards per carry.

He's totaled six touchdowns, including five on the ground.

"We as coaches felt all along that he had the ability to get it done," Nix said. "It was a matter of him seeing for himself. I think at different times, he's seen the reality of what can be for him. That's transitioned to on the field.

"We preach to them that everything they do, it matters. What happens off the field correlates to what happens on the field. If you take care of your business and be a professional off, you'll be successful on it."

Ole Miss is off this week. But through seven games, the Rebels have doubled their win total from a year ago, and sit at 4-3 overall and 1-2 in league games.

Scott is a big reason why.

"Been pleased with him," Freeze said. "I think he's progressing more attitude-wise and as a student-athlete now than he was in the spring or even in (August) camp. I couldn't be more pleased with his progress.

"Jeff and I have had more heart to hearts than you can imagine. I love trying to win him over to be a great team guy, someone that buys in and shows he has bought in by not only the performance on the field but the choices he makes academically and socially. We've had many of those talks and I'm real proud that I think he's on the way."

Scott, a preseason All-SEC first team selection by USA Today, credits Freeze for his turnaround.

"Obviously, we had some problems off the field last year," he said. "Coach Freeze told me when he got here he was going to grind on me. He just wanted me to know that he loves us or whatever. At the end of the day, he just wanted us to leave with discipline and leave with a degree."

There's work to be done still. Scott isn't a finished product. Just ask Nix. He'd know better than anyone.

"He's working hard every day to try to be the guy he can be and live up to his potential," Nix said. "Doesn't mean he does everything the right way, but he's striving to get to where he wants to be. He's a lot different from the first day he stepped on campus here in Oxford. He's grown. Of course, there's still some more things we've got to get done. But he's on his way."

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