Finish Strong

A crew from a television station had driven up from Mississippi’s gulf coast to Oxford Monday. One of their goals: talk to Senquez Golson.

The senior defensive back from Pascagoula, the eastern most major outpost along Mississippi’s southern shore, has had a huge impact on Ole Miss’ successful season.

His most memorable moment? The reviewed interception in the north end zone to seal a win against Alabama 23-17 and set off a wild celebration on Hollingsworth Field inside Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.

But there’s more. He actually leads the Southeastern Conference with nine interceptions this season. Nationally, that’s second best.

He’s made so many plays and drawn so much attention that Monday he found out he will play in the Senior Bowl. That long-running classic is played not too far from Pascagoula, just over the state line in Mobile, Ala.

Golson was proud of that. Some who haven’t made the trek to Oxford to see him play can do so then, which is after his Ole Miss football career is finished.

“It’s a privilege and I thank God for all the blessings,” said one of the Rebels’ team leaders. “I was talking to some friends that don’t really get a chance to come see me play up here. So that will be a good thing to get to play down in Mobile.”

Cody Prewitt, another defensive player for Ole Miss who is wrapping up a fine college career, is also going to play in the Senior Bowl.

“I’m going to compete. I’m a competitor,” Golson said of the event he’s heard of all his life. “I love playing football. I look at it as an opportunity to play some more football.”

The local media who are at Ole Miss practices and games throughout summer and fall already have a lot of sound bites and personal quotes from players like Golson. So the TV folks in town from several hours away asked a few more of them Monday.

“What have been the keys to your success this season?” they asked Golson.

“I would probably say just experience, and understanding football,” he answered. “Getting the reps in. Understanding personnel. Just understanding the game most of all."

And growing up even more as a man. It’s already been recorded many times before that Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze wasn’t sure a couple of years ago if Golson would make it to this point. Golson has responded that he agrees with Freeze, that he can understand how the head coach felt back then.

Then came more maturity and a chance to do something really special for Ole Miss before he’s done.

Like, as a program, win the next two games.

“It will be crazy,” he said of going 10-2, if that happens by virtue of wins over Arkansas and Mississippi State. “I came in at 2-10, and for me to leave 10-2, that would say a lot about where we came from over these few years and where the program is headed.”

Golson knows it won’t be easy. The Razorbacks are up first, this Saturday afternoon in Fayetteville, Ark. Their 17-0 win against LSU last Saturday was the Hogs’ first Southeastern Conference win in their last 18 conference games. A 17-game losing streak was stopped.

Just two years ago, Ole Miss beat Auburn at home to stop its 16-game SEC losing streak. That win seemed to spur Ole Miss to greater heights and a bowl win.

Golson knows Arkansas will be ready, a tough, hard-nosed, running style of offense for a Rebel defense that’s only giving up 11.9 points per game this season and has had only 13 touchdowns scored on it in ten games.

Both of those numbers lead the entire nation.

“We already kind of faced this style of offense with LSU,” Golson said of Arkansas.

And the defense played well enough to win it, holding the Tigers to ten points. But Ole Miss only scored seven.

“We didn’t really execute as well that game. But it’s getting better and better since then. We’re just trying to get back to the little things as far as fitting the gaps and being in the right spots. We’d just been missing those little things. That’s what I think has been having us on this roller coaster with the defense lately.”

How does the Rebel defense focus on a team that runs, runs, and runs some more, and then hits you with a pass? How will they handle that?

“You just have to stay disciplined,” Golson said. “Don’t fall asleep. Just stay focused and execute.”

Ole Miss is coming off an open date and before that a 48-0 win against Presbyterian College. They’re healed up and ready to go, as much as can be expected ten games in.

Golson said the break was much needed.

“Oh man it came at a perfect time. I didn’t even realize the stretch (of games) we had been through until after we had been through it. So it came at a perfect time. Our first practice (since having a few days off) was Sunday. Guys were flying around and had gotten their legs back. So we’re just trying to finish strong.”

Finish. Golson’s Ole Miss football career is almost finished. He finds that hard to believe. But there is unfinished business at hand.

“It’s kind of bittersweet that it’s coming to an end,” he said. “But we’ve got a chance to finish as one of the best in Ole Miss history. I’m ready to see what happens.”

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