Ole Miss redshirt freshman Defensive End John Youngblood didn't expect to get much action - other than special teams - this year, but with some key injuries at his position, he's making the most of being thrust into the limelight.

John Youngblood wants to play as badly as anyone on the Ole Miss roster, but he was realistic about his chances for extensive action this year.

After all, he was a tight end during most of his redshirt year last season and was only switched to defensive end, a position, it was thought in the preseason, with good depth, in spring training.

The unexpected happened to Youngblood on his way to being a special teams contributor, a mop-up guy at DE and pupil of his craft in 2013.

First, C.J. Johnson went down. Then Carlos Thompson. Then Robert Nkemdiche.

All of a sudden, Defensive Line Coach Chris Kiffin was scrambling. Kiffin moved Bryon Bennett from defensive tackle to DE, but that still left a void.

He turned to Youngblood to fill out his two-deep.

"I didn't want to get playing time due to my teammates being hurt, you never want that, but when the opportunity arises, you have to take advantage of it," said Youngblood. "I'm loving getting a chance to play."

Kiffin is pleased with his young student to this point.

"John has been awesome for us," said Kiffin. "He comes to work every day with a smile on his face and eager to learn and get better.

John Youngblood
Chuck Rounsaville

"I'm very excited he is only a redshirt freshman and has three more years with us."

Youngblood is a competitor and is up for the challenge, but even he admits the action is faster than he thought it would be.

"There's nothing slow out there no matter who you are playing against," he stated. "I'm enjoying the experience, but the speed of the games has taken some getting used to.

"I've worked hard to gain the trust of the coaches and I'm glad it's paying off with some playing time, but I've still got a lot to learn. The more I play, the more I realize that."

Youngblood has played on special teams this year, so when his number was called to play defensive end, he was not nervous.

"I was just excited. If I hadn't been in games, I probably would have been nervous, but playing special teams helped prepare me for playing on defense," Youngblood noted. "It's been a lot of fun being able to contribute to the team.

"I think coach (Kiffin) was more nervous than I was. On the sidelines, he kept going over the plays, making sure I knew everything I was supposed to do on certain calls. I just went out there and did what I've been doing in practice and I think he was pretty pleased with what I did."

After Nkemdiche went down and he knew his number would be called, Youngblood, already a hard worker, turned it up even another notch.

"I started watching more film and focused on my opponent more. I tried to go harder in practice on every snap. I just tuned in a little harder," said Youngblood.

He's the first to admit, however, he doesn't feel like he's a finished product.

"I have the athleticism to play the position. I am confident in that, but I need to come off the ball quicker and become more physical at the line of scrimmage," he added. "I will continue to work hard in the weight room and in practice to shore up those things."

Youngblood, who hovered around 240 pounds last year, is now a "solid 250 pounds," according to Strength & Conditioning Coach Paul Jackson, but he wants more, much more.

"I have just gotten my feet wet. I haven't even been at the position an entire year," he closed. "I'm going to get bigger and I'm going to learn the position better and better.

"I have just now scratched the surface of where I want to be and I'm willing to do what it takes to get there."

With the taste of getting "real" playing time in his mouth, count on John Youngblood to continue to improve and flourish.

After all, the meaning of the name Youngblood, of German origin, is "young blossom."

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