COLUMN: Rebs Respond

This summer, we asked Ole Miss Coach Hugh Freeze what the motto of the team would be. Those motivators can be easy to come up with but sometimes difficult to follow. So far, through an unblemished seven games, the Rebels have done exactly what their 2014 motto has called for.


That's how Freeze answered the summer query.

As in relentless pursuit, relentless focus, relentless attention to detail, relentless 60 minutes on game day, relentlessly never letting up - at practice, in the film room, in the weight room and in games. . . and so on. . .

Little did Freeze know that the word "relentless" would define his 7-0 team to a tee.

It was just his hope for the 2014 squad.

"In this world of college football, our league, our division, you will not be successful if you are not relentless," Freeze stated, standing over a 20-foot birdie putt he jarred, in mid-June. "We are going to have a better team than we did in 2013. How many wins we have will depend on how relentless our guys are and how they approach each day, each game, each experience."

One would have to say they qualify as relentless, if not maniacal, in their approach.

This conveyor of Rebel information - The Ole Miss Spirit - has been in existence for more than three decades.

In that time, there have been very good teams - 1986, 1990, 1992, 1997, 1999, 2003, 2008, 2009 come to mind quickly - but, we feel confident to say, none have had the top-to-bottom focus, buy-in, trust of one another and relentless nature of the 2014 crew.

And it's not just because they are 7-0, although that is a huge factor.

In fact, they are 7-0 because of those things.

You try to put your finger on the ingredients - besides good coaching and good players, but it's hard to define.

Last week, a thunderbolt of reason hit when the media was interviewing junior DT Issac Gross.

Gross was an instant impact player as a true freshman, but injury slowed him the next year (sports hernia) and early this year (neck).

Now here's a guy who was ticketed for stardom after the Alabama game of his freshman year and while he has done well, he has been relegated to sharing playing time in a strong defensive tackle rotation.

That would upset some, but Gross - like everyone on the team - hasn't let it affect him at all.

"I know my role and I'm glad to play it, no matter how much or how little," he said. "We have a bond on this team developed from spending time together not only on the field but off it as well. When we get our chance, we make the most of it and give it everything we've got. When it's my teammates turn, I pull for him.

"We've got each others back."

Let that sink in a minute.

That doesn't sound like much of a revelation, but it speaks of unselfishness, trust, togetherness, willingness to do what is best for the team, cohesiveness, and being relentless to a common cause.

Gross hit the nail on the head, the sweet spot, of what this team is all about, and it has paid dividends.

His is not the only example.

OLBs Serderius Bryant and Denzel Nkemdiche are good enough to start and play 70 snaps a game for just about anyone in the country, but they are gladly splitting time, getting about 30-40 snaps a game each. They are not only willing to do that, when one of them makes a play, the first one to hug him is the other.

Junior Mike Hilton has been jerked around from position to position like a toilet chain out of necessity. Husky to CB to SS to CB, and there will be more, but instead of pouting about how difficult that is, how it's hard to get in a rhythm, how it's hindering his performance, what does Mike say? Whatever I can do to help the team, coach, that is what I will do.

Five running backs. Five. All of them want the ball. All of them are competitive. None of them complains. Follow them on Twitter. Listen to their comments. It's the same - whatever is best for the team. . . .

Laquon Treadwell is one of the most gifted wideouts in the country. With that, comes extra attention from opposing defenses. He can't be the primary target as much as anybody on the team would like. What does he do? Blocks harder and plays without the ball as well as anyone in the nation.

Jeremy Liggins spent a whole spring at quarterback. In August, he was moved to tight end, a position, in this offense, that takes a lot of time to learn the nuances. He did it willingly and with no whining. His role has been minimal as he learns. Still, no complaints.

Daronte Bouldin spent the whole spring as the starting right guard. When Aaron Morris returned from injury and Justin Bell moved to RG, moving Bouldin out, his hope of playing much was diminished. After a game, check out who is one of the happiest Rebels with the team's success? Bouldin.

There is example after example after example of this same kind of team-first attitude.

It's part of being relentless.

And look what relentless has gotten them.

National attention, a high ranking, a chance for something special, a unity they will carry with them their entire lives.

Sure, there's unfinished business. Sure, there are tough roads ahead. Sure, anything can happen in this college football roller coaster.

But if they stay relentless, no matter what happens, they will gain the admiration and respect that type of approach deserves.

Treadwell called it "the new normal" for Ole Miss football.

So far, he's been prophetic.

If it continues, somebody better build a bigger stadium.

People love "relentless."

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