All Grown Up

Even though he was the number one player in the country coming out of high school, Robert Nkemdiche was still a freshman last season. This year, a more mature Nkemdiche has emerged and it's showing up in dominant play in practices.

It's been said over and over in Ole Miss practice this fall camp. . .

"We can't block him. . . . "

"Him" is sophomore, yes sophomore, Defensive Tackle Robert Nkemdiche.

And no, "they" haven't been able to block him much in camp.

"Through all of our character training programs, our core values and the people we bring in to speak and all the things we have done, Robert has become more mature," said Coach Hugh Freeze. "Don't get me wrong - he was a very competitive, coachable youngster last year, but he was a freshman and I don't care how good you are, the expectations are always higher than reality.

"Robert is so talented, but now he is understanding the 'we before me' part of college football. I'm very proud of his maturity. He'll still have challenges because he is a magnet for people, but we talk every day about those and I feel he has his head on straight."

If how Robert is playing this year versus a year ago is any indicator, Freeze is dead on the mark. Bullseye.

"The main thing with me is that I know the playbook inside and out. I'm more relaxed and comfortable in the system," said Nkemdiche. "I'm not nervous, my head is on straight and I am ready to go.

"Last year, I had the tangibles to be great, but I didn't really know what I was supposed to do thoroughly. I know what to do and what to expect now. I'm not a wide-eyed freshman any more."

Nkemdiche is pleased with the August camp he has put in.

"I've been going 100% every day. I'm very happy with how far I have come since the first of spring training," he stated. "Like I said, I'm ready for some games."

When asked who has blocked him in camp, he smiled, as if to say "nobody," but he didn't want it to come across that way.

"We have a really good offensive line, and I don't want to sound arrogant, but I've done well in camp," he continued. "I have a lot of respect for our OL and we go hard against each other, but I think I have had a real good camp."

Maybe the understatement of the year, thus far.

"Look, this is the bottom line," said Freeze. "We believe he's going to be hard for anyone to block one-on-one, so there's no shame our OL has problems with him."

The hype Nkemdiche got coming into last season has blossomed into a reality - so far - this year. Of course the final proving ground is in real games, but he's passed all tests to this point of being on the cusp of "unblockable."

In short, his game reminds one of a healthy Issac Gross, only 40-50 pounds heavier.

"His first step is so quick and explosive it's hard for offensive linemen to get their balance and to get a big piece of him before he's got an advantage," Freeze allowed.

But Robert, as confident as he is in his own prowess, knows he will need a lot of help for the defense to be all it can be, and he believes he will get it.

"Guys like Marquis Haynes are freaks. He's 100% and he's going to get to the ball no matter what it takes," he began. "C.J. Johnson plays all out. He's an up tempo player. He's great. Fadol Brown is a big body who will be really good. Issac, Bryon Bennett, Woody Hamilton - we have a lot of talent up front."

With Nkemdiche and Johnson and the rest having productive August practices, Robert has noticed a more aggressive approach by the coaches with their defensive calls.

"We have shown so much progress on the DL that Coach (Dave) Wommack just seems more comfortable calling his game, which is aggressive," he closed. "We are getting after the QBs in practice and I'm sure we will in the games as well.

"I think he has a lot more faith in the front four this year and we are going to show him that faith is justified."

Last year, Robert Nkemdiche was a player with immense talent, but too much hype to live up to, even though he came real close a lot of the time.

This year, he's looking like a player with the same immense talent, but all grown up. His knowledge of the system and personal growth to manhood has put him on another level as a football player.

Looks for big things from #5 on defense.

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