Making Progress

The word is things are getting better, but the message remains basically the same.

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Hugh Freeze met the press Friday afternoon and relayed the message again throughout his half-hour talk and question/answer session.

"In year two we certainly think we're heading in the right direction and are probably ahead of schedule a little bit," said Freeze, who led Ole Miss to a 7-6 season in year one of his regime.

"But I do believe we have to temper expectations and be realistic. We're still a very young football team with depth issues in some places. Last year we were able to get by without many injuries and some lack of depth. That wasn't the case in the spring."

There are some walking wounded as fall practice begins. But most are on the mend. Time will tell how well they'll be when gametime comes around at Vanderbilt in four weeks.

Will Bo Wallace be 100 percent? Can D.T. Shackelford play at the same level he did after sitting out two years with injury and surgery? Aaron Morris is limited this preseason after a shoulder operation. Issac Gross is hopeful of being ready to play against Vandy.

Senquez Golson said he's bothered now by a slight hamstring situation, and everybody knows those can linger. C.J. Johnson is limited right now. Patrick Junen went through conditioning Friday but that was all.

There are a few others. The Rebels need all of them to be ready to play. How realistic is that? Again, time will tell, and preseason practice could also add a few names to the injured list. Usually does.

But that's not to present a gloomy situation. It's far from that inside the IPF. Being healthy is a key to success for all teams, and this one is no exception.

What Freeze wants most now is for the Rebels to be able to build on last season's bowl-winning campaign. And he's goal-setting, in his own words, carefully.

"I'm very careful not to identify a specific expectation this year other than to become more relevant in the SEC West," he said. "And to continue to compete passionately for our university for 60 minutes. Part of that is that I don't really know how these kids are going to perform, particularly the young ones.

"Do I think we have the ability to scare a lot of people? I do. Does that mean we can win all those games, I don't know. I say that because I believe with unrealistic expectations, if they don't come true, frustration sets in. The last thing we need in step two of our journey...we have to continue what we do with great enthusiasm and passion. We will get there."

Hugh Freeze
Bruce Newman

Freeze's message is the same as it was the day he was hired and he proclaimed his goals from the Ford Center stage.

"I have a great sense of pride, being a Mississippian and understanding the Mississippi people, and knowing we've given them a renewed sense of pride in their football team, and they have some joy from watching our team play last year, that brings great satisfaction," he said.

"That's all great. The other side is as opposed to last year with zero expectation, certainly they've increased. So I'm driven to not be defined by what the scoreboard says or what the win-loss record says, or what the recruiting rankings say. They are very important to me. But at the same time, in building a program if you let yourself go down that road where that defines you in a year or a week, I think the coaches and the people around you immediately start feeling a sense of pressure. And to me, that's not what our program's about."

So as year two begins, at least the preseason practice portion of it, the program's direction continues to be set.

"We're just going to stay the course, regardless of what the expectations are," Freeze said. "We want to deliver. We want to win. I think we have very good chemistry around here right now. I think the recruits sense it when they come on campus. It's a family atmosphere.

"As the leader (if I) can maintain that and be very consistent, then great things can and will happen here."

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