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Evan Engram earned his first varsity letter at Ole Miss last season as a true freshman. He was also named All-SEC second team and Freshman All-America honorable mention. And he missed five games with injury.

An effective part of the Rebel offense last season, until his ankle injury against LSU and subsequent surgery, from which he didn’t return until the bowl game in Nashville, Engram is set for a big return to action Thursday night in Atlanta.

Ole Miss plays Boise State on ESPN, and Engram is ready for it.

“I think I’ve had a strong camp,” said the 6-foot-3, 217-pounder from Powder Springs, Ga., an Atlanta suburb. “I’ve had good days and bad days. But I have a lot more confidence out there. I’m stronger. I’m moving around a lot better. I feel really well going into this year.”

Engram impressed from the beginning in 2013. At Vanderbilt in the season opener, he caught five passes for 61 yards. The next week against Southeast Missouri in Oxford, Engram made his first start. And it was memorable. He only caught two passes but one was for 64 yards and a touchdown.

He was on his way, until the injury. His season totals were eight games played, six of them starts, with 21 receptions for 268 yards and three touchdowns.

Ole Miss tight end Evan Engram and quarterback Bo Wallace.

Ole Miss fans were happy to see such a strong and effective tight end in the system, one they knew was good but might not have expected as much from that soon.

Engram doesn’t look back. He looks ahead. And he’s heading home to play Thursday night.

He can’t wait.

“We’re tired of hitting each other every day,” Engram said of the grueling August camp. “Getting to go against another opponent, especially with the hype this one has and playing in the Georgia Dome, it’s really exciting.”

Boise State is used to winning. The Broncos will not only play to win, but to continue to prove they belong among the nation’s best programs, just as they’ve done for several seasons this century.

Engram said the Rebels are a better team now than they were heading into the season a year ago.

“I feel it 10 times more than last year,” he said of the confidence they take into the season opener. “We have much more leadership. We have much more confidence in our game. There’s a lot of trust. There’s a lot more belief this year.”

And he’s seeing that this month on a daily basis. As a part of a recruiting class of 2013 that was so highly ranked, Engram said those younger players, like himself, are ready to lead as well.

“We all expect to make each other better every day,” he said, giving some mentions of older guys encouraging and leading younger ones, and vice versa. “We‘re pushing each other, it doesn’t matter what class we’re in.”

Ole Miss tight end Evan Engram.

Engram said blocking was his biggest adjustment as a college freshman.

“Just the size difference and the strength difference,” he said of his confidence about that aspect heading into year two. “I knew I could battle with the big guys (last season), but I definitely feel better this year than last year.”

There’s been a lot of mention lately about the Rebels’ red zone production last season not being up to par. Engram believes that will change this season, with some of it due to his pass catching abilities deep in enemy territory.

“I feel that’s my specialty,” he said. “I can go up and get balls or be able to adapt to however a defense is on me. So I feel really confident about the red zone. I know Bo (Wallace) has a lot of trust in the running backs and the receivers and offensive line in the red zone to score points.”

Engram said he’s seen a lot of improvement in Wallace at the quarterback position.

“It’s huge. Through the roof,” he said of Wallace. “His leadership, his arm strength, his decision making, all of it. I have a lot of confidence in Bo, and I know he has a lot of confidence in himself, which is so important in that quarterback role. He knows he can bring it, and we know he can bring it.”

It’s not all about the offense for Engram. Facing a talented and deep Rebel defense has also given Engram and the offensive players notice the Rebels are to be reckoned with in 2014.

“We see a lot of different looks every day,” he said. “We see guys coming off the line with a lot of speed, and we have to adjust. Some guys will power you up and use their strength. Going up against them every day and seeing all the looks and the great talent we have there, it’s going to help us offensively in the games.”

As far as the offensive linemen, Engram said they, too, are better.

“I think it’s our strong point offensively, giving Bo time to sit back there and make decisions, and the improvement Bo has made to be able to throw the ball downfield. So giving Bo more time is big, and our O-Line is looking really good. We have a lot of confidence in them.”

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