Ben Fleming, baseball’s strength and conditioning coach, said the Rebels had a strong fall, just like they needed after a successful 2014 season. The players are returning to Oxford, some here for Wintercession classes, as preseason practice begins later this month.

“The fall was actually remarkable,” said Fleming, in his second year with Ole Miss baseball. “In many ways it was a carryover of the great year before. Youngers guys (returning) got even stronger than they were. One of the biggest things we were excited about all fall was that the newcomers really increased the competition at all skill levels, all positions, and that was a good thing for a team that lost so many older guys that were key players.”

The Rebels had a significant number of players that left after last season, mainly through graduation, eligibility, or the draft. Players like catcher Will Allen, third baseman Austin Anderson, second baseman Preston Overbey, utility man John Gatlin, outfielders Auston Bousfield, Braxton Lee, Will Jamison, and pitchers Chris Ellis, Aaron Greenwood, Josh Laxer, Jeremy Massie, Hawtin Buchanan, and Austin Blunt

That’s quite a list of important players who helped Ole Miss get to Omaha and finish third in the College World Series that aren’t here anymore. Returnees and newcomers have already worked through late summer and then the fall ball sessions, and are now headed toward preseason practice.

“Finishing off the fall so strongly was in many ways a carryover of the year before,” Fleming said. “It made the older guys hungry to compete like they did as freshmen and sophomores, made them hungry and working for positions this year."

Fleming said the older guys knew what to expect and the newcomers had heard. He was happy with their efforts.

“In the weight room, in the training sessions, the Omaha Challenge, there was just a huge emphasis, just like last year, of toughness and guys competing. They went to Omaha, yes, but there was no jetlag from that. There was no honeymoon, and there was still that hungry attitude all fall long.”

Coaches don’t necessarily worry about not being around the players for four or five weeks during the holidays. But they know they could potentially backslide a bit in their workouts. Not the case for the Rebels, according to Fleming.

“Going home for Christmas break, we felt really good. And for me as strength coach, I believe I put them through things I’ve never put any other team through before. And I think I said that the year before. But when you do one thing and hit one level with a team, what they’re ready for the next year, they know it’s not going to be the same. They know it’s going to be more challenging.

“As a strength coach you’re proud of them, and you know they are going to be able to accomplish what you put in front of them. Once they do those tasks, it’s just so rewarding. So you feel very confident with them going home over Christmas break, that they’ll come back even more rejuvenated than at the start of the school year.”

Fleming said a lot of the players even checked in with him to let him know how their workouts at home were going, and also to ask any questions that they might need for him to answer.

“I think the culture has been great, and a month can be a long time,” Fleming said. “But one thing Coach (Mike) Bianco has always been positive about is that culture of our players and how they don’t take off when they go home. They text us or call and let us know what they’re up to. They get involved during the holidays if they live in Orlando or Mississippi or Memphis and get together, and they still train or hit together. The culture has been so good with that kind of stuff that you’re not really nervous. It’s been really good as far as those things.”

The carryover from the fall of 2013 workouts and training that was so documented as an attempt to make the team tougher was obvious last spring and summer. Now, once again, the program has been through a Ben Fleming fall session and offseason conditioning session. They’ve kicked it up another notch this time around, while still doing most of the same things from a year ago that worked so well.

“It was much the same as a year ago,” he said. “One thing this year is that I wasn’t new to the returning guys. I was new to half the team. You have to get those new guys to buy in to what we started last year with the toughness and what that means for Ole Miss baseball. The half that already believes that and was here last year, that’s the culture they live now. We got there a lot faster this time, because we had guys who already believed in it, and the newcomers bought in from all that. It made everything we were doing much easier as far as the flow of things, and it was exciting to see them move forward to this point.”

Fleming said the team is ahead of where it was this time last year because of how they approach things, with so many already having been through it, and also the mental edge of finally knowing they are truly an Omaha program.

“Physically and mentally I would say they’re 100 percent ahead,” he said. “Coach (Bianco) always talks about the talent we have. And the talent will prove itself to be that when we play. But Coach wants them to feel good about themselves when they put their uniform on. I believe they do that, and I think they are ahead of that this year. It’s just the nature of the beast with the program having gone through all that and ending up in the College World Series last June.”

(More from Ben Fleming next week)

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