Second Time Around

A year ago Jaylen Walton was a rookie college football player in his first camp wondering what the future held. Year one turned out to be a success for him and for his team.

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The Memphis, Tenn., product had arrived at Ole Miss as a running back that could indeed have an immediate impact. He and others were brought in to help resurrect a sagging program. He's from a city Rebel head coach Hugh Freeze knows well, and Walton sees a Bluff City resurgence for the program.

"We're basically trying to set a foundation for other Memphis kids coming up," Walton said. "There's some Memphis kids that are at a lot of schools. We're trying to put the city on the map. But (Ole Miss) is home turf."

It's also home turf for another Memphian, Mark Dodson of Whitehaven High, who arrived in January and is ready for his freshman season, like Walton last season.

Walton knows Dodson well, from the Memphis prep ranks when they played there, and now that Dodson has been at Ole Miss since January.

"Mark Dodson's always been a good back, ever since I was in high school playing against him," Walton said. "I've always thought he was a good running back. Only advice I'd give him is just keep working hard and keep playing within himself."

As for this August, Walton himself has more of a sense of confidence and readiness as game one approaches.

"Camp this year is more aggressive, more serious," said the 5-foot-8, 168-pounder from Ridgeway High School in east Memphis. "We're trying to be better than we were last year. Basically coming into the camp we had to be on our Ps and Qs."

Walton's year one experience helped him to better understand how to approach this summer and preseason and get ready for the 2013 season. He had some goals, to get stronger and even gain some weight. Walton is a fairly small player, all things considered, but he is actually a durable player as he proved last season.

"My goal was to gain a couple more pounds and be in better condition," he said. "It's going to be a whole four quarter thing, not like a session here and a session there. So I had to get in better condition and get better weight."

Knowing and understanding he may have more opportunities to rush the football this season is exciting for Walton. Last year he had 23 rushing attempts for 118 yards and one touchdown – in the season opener against Central Arkansas on a 10-yard run.

Jaylen Walton
Bruce Newman

He also caught three passes, one of them for a touchdown – vs. UTEP, a 51-yarder from Bo Wallace in his second college game. In his third collegiate outing, he scored a touchdown on a 100-yard kickoff return against Texas.

In the first three weeks of the 2012 season, the freshman Walton showed how valuable he was and will be for the Rebels.

"He's solid, much more mature this year," Freeze said. "He handles the work load better. Last year at this time, we would not trust him to be in there on any kind of pass protection, just because he probably did not understand all the complicated blitzes we see in this league. He's much farther along and has had a solid camp."

But running backs is a talented group at Ole Miss, with players like Jeff Scott and I'Tavius Mathers joining Walton and Dodson, among others.

"That's what football is all about. It's all about competition and who's battling to be starting," Walton said. "Always run hard. Pick up good pass blocks. Always be on your job. Anybody can step up."

There are more responsibilities for backs than just being able to run the football. Picking up a rushing defender and blocking him so the offense can have time as a unit to make something happen is also a key to being a successful running back.

"More understanding," Walton said of all the additional aspects of the game at this level now. "The game is pretty much the same, it's just having more of an understanding with things like pass blocking."

Walton, in addition to the 100-yard kickoff return against the Longhorns, proved valuable in that department for Ole Miss. He had 26 returns for 643 yards and averaged an impressive 24.7 yards per return.

Walton then and now wants to help get the offense in position as best he can.

"Same as last year. When the ball gets to me (on a kickoff), make a play," he said. "Set up the offense in good field position so they can score. Be a momentum changer. That's what my role is."

Walton said that with this being year two for himself and for the current regime of coaches and staff, he can feel the difference as the season approaches.

"I'd say more excitement and more focus," Walton said. "Top recruiting class and everybody is going to come after us. We've got to come out every game and play hard.

"We're just taking it one day at a time," he continued. "Coach Freeze says ‘Win the day.' So we've got to win each day. Next Thursday we'll be ready to play Vandy."

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