Countdown Closes

Lavon Hooks arrived at Ole Miss in January. Back then the last week of August seemed like a long time away. But now it's here.

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The 6-foot-4, 302-pound defensive tackle from Atlanta had spent two seasons of football at Northeast Mississippi Community College in Booneville. After a year and a half of school there, Hooks joined the Rebels and became a part of one of the nation's best signing classes.

Now it's game time, and Hooks will likely see a decent amount of game action as the Rebels open their season at Vanderbilt Thursday night on ESPN. It's those moments that he's here for, but he admits some anxiousness as he awaits a trip to Music City.

"It hasn't really settled in with me exactly," Hooks said of this being game week and Thursday night being a nationally-televised game for him and his teammates. "I'm really nervous about it, because it's my first Division I game."

Vanderbilt has had the Rebels' number lately, winning three in a row in the series. Head coach James Franklin's Commodores enter the 2013 season with a lot of confidence that their recent success will continue.

Hooks said offensively Vandy just lines up and tries to whip you.

"They do a lot of running. Their offensive linemen are pretty mobile," he said. "They're pretty much like a smash-mouth football team. We've got to come ready to play. We can't bring anything less than our best."

Hooks, listed on a recent Ole Miss depth chart behind Bryon Bennett and in pretty much equal company with Carlton Martin at defensive tackle, will be counted on. He was recruited out of junior college to help right away. The fact that those players are right there in the mix shows some depth improvement for the Rebels, not only defensively but throughout the team. Hooks said he's ready to do his part.

Hooks believes in what Coach Dave Wommack is doing with the Rebel 'D'
Bruce Newman

"I think (the coaches) want me to go in there and stop the run, just play smash-mouth, fast football. Relentless," he said. "Using your body and everything you have, it helps you take over. I'm going to try to put together everything I've learned and take it out there on the field."

Hooks said arriving in Oxford last spring semester has been beneficial for him.

"It definitely helped me out a lot with conditioning and technique," he said. "In junior college I was able to get away with using my athleticism and God-given talent. But you need technique to play in the SEC. It's all been a good learning experience."

Hooks likes the defensive approach of the Rebels, and he believes they'll be a solid group this season, starting Thursday night.

"Coach (Dave) Wommack always has a lot of tricks up his sleeve for our defense," he said. "He coaches as great as anybody I know. We just have to execute his plays. So everybody will be able to see that on Thursday."

But he also attributes his time in Booneville to his development as a player that could reach this level of achievement. He appreciates the last two seasons and what they've meant to his career.

"Junior college did prepare me for this," Hooks said. "I had great coaches and great mentors. Here they've just elevated my game even more. I still believe I have more room to grow. But I think I was prepared coming out of junior college."

How much better is he now? Hooks even gives a ratio of how far he believes he's come.

"I'm probably about five times better than I was," he said. "Coach (Paul) Jackson and the strength and conditioning coaches, they've bulked me up a lot. I've gained about 15 pounds of muscle since I've been here. With coaches like Coach (Chris) Kiffin, they've helped me a lot with my technique."

And now it's time to put all that learning and developing to more use. Hooks is ready for a game.

"We think we have a chance to go in there and win," he said. "I'm nervous but I'm ready. I'm excited about it."

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