A Different Preseason

HOOVER, Ala. - Mike Marry said last year was about gaining respect as a program. And he was OK with that. He had to be.

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"We were trying to get respect," said the senior linebacker from Clearwater, Fla. "We wanted to show the world we could compete, just like everybody else. We might not have been doing as good as some other teams. But we had good players, and I think we proved we could play."

Indeed they did that. Their 7-6 record including a convincing 38-17 bowl win against Pittsburgh the proof. They actually were on the verge of more. Like eight wins, or nine. Maybe ten.

They lost heartbreakers to Texas A&M, Vanderbilt, and LSU. Most of their seven wins were decisive, except for a three-point win against Arkansas.

So mission accomplished last season, capped in the regular season by a 41-24 win against arch-rival Mississippi State, the first time Marry had known victory when playing the Bulldogs.

"We earned some respect, but we're not where we want to be," said Marry, who this season will wear No. 38 as the recipient of the Chucky Mullins Courage Award this spring.

He knew, as did his teammates, few were giving them much of a chance to be better than they'd been the previous two seasons, when the record was a combined 6-18.

"You can't be mad for somebody not having respect for you when you go 2-10 and not getting the job done on the field," Marry said.

And they clearly were not.

"We wanted to show people we could get it done and that we are good players," he said.

And so they did.

Marry will wear No. 38 this season
Bruce Newman

Now there's no sneaking up on anybody. Everybody knows what the Hugh Freeze era of Ole Miss football is all about.

Playing hard every snap of every quarter of every half of every game. And, as far as the coaches, recruiting the rest of the year.

Marry loves the program he and his teammates are a part of.

"We're going into this preseason with a lot of confidence," he said. "Some of it is because of what we did last year. Some of it is just coming from Coach Freeze, being around somebody that believes in you and cares about you every day.

"It just gives you confidence. Whether you win or lose, it makes you want to play your hardest every play of every game."

Last year was about molding the team, both mentally and physically, and getting things as right as possible so they'd have a chance. Some things didn't go their way. A lot of things did.

Now that the program is a year and a half old, it's more about building on the foundation that's now there and taking it to that other level so many always speak of.

"We're going to be able to do more things this year," Marry said. "We're focusing on playing harder, faster, and being more physical. We're just trying to get better and become one of the top defenses in the country."

Only a year ago at this time, those type thoughts weren't even in the players' minds. The seed had been planted by the new coaching staff, but no games had been played.

The Rebels trailed Central Arkansas at halftime of the opener but blew the Bears out of the stadium in the second half on their way to a 49-27 win.

The defense was a long way from being where it would be late in the season. Two weeks later, Texas scored 66 in a lopsided 35-point win by the visiting Longhorns.

But that game was also gut-check time for the Rebels. They were challenged after that game by their coaches and among themselves. In what appeared to be a game that might have, on the surface, shown that this defense wasn't going to be very good in fact was the opposite.

Marry credits Freeze for Rebel revival
Bruce Newman

The Rebels grew from that loss and were competitive most of the rest of the way in a season that ultimately rallied the program and its fanbase.

"Sacrifice. Playing for the person next to you. Spending more time than you might even want to in the film room getting ready for your next opponent. Buying in and doing what the coaches tell us," Marry said of how things got better for the Rebels in 2012. "The coaches are going to put us in the right position to be successful. It's up to us to execute."

That all begins on the road at Vanderbilt, a Thursday night nationally televised matchup. A Southeastern Conference game, the first of four road contests in the initial five games for Ole Miss in 2013.

The schedule is loaded, but Marry said the Rebels accept that and are preparing for it.

"It's a tough start, but all our games are going to be tough," said the voice of reason and experience. "We just take it one day at a time and prepare one game at a time for each team."

Knowing, as he does, that Ole Miss on someone's schedule this season means a little something more than it did on that same team's schedule last season.

"More teams will be expecting us to play good. But that's what we want," Marry said. "We don't want to beat a team that just overlooks us. We want to be the team they know they're going to have to give it their all, because we're going to give it our all."

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