DE John Youngblood kept his nose to the grindstone and has made himself valuable to the Rebels

Arguably the most underrated player on the Ole Miss football team is senior Defensive End John Youngblood, who has quietly had a really good career for the Rebels despite being a lightly-recruited prospect from Crimson Tide territory.

In the past couple of seasons, perhaps no one player on the Ole Miss roster has been more undervalued as senior DE John Youngblood.

But it's not from his peers, nor for his coaches.

In a brief conversation with Ole Miss Defensive Coordinator Dave Wommack recently, this reporter made the mistake of leaving No. 47 (Youngblood) out of a line of questions about the Rebs' formidable defensive front.

"Why do people always forget about John?" Wommack asked. "He is way more valuable than he gets credit for. He's not a flashy player, but I guarantee you he's not going to make mistakes and what you ask him to do, he does. There's more value to that than people realize."

Youngblood takes the lack of attention in stride with a self-deprecating statement that, in a way, defines his career. Even he undervalues himself on the surface, but at the same time he takes pride in his accomplishments and knows great teams have players like him - guys willing to play a role effectively and not seek the spotlight.

"I'm not as good of an athlete as the other guys at my position, but I've worked hard to get on the field," he says modestly. "I've worked hard to get to this point of being relevant and it's been a blessing for me."

John came out of Trussville, Ala., as a lightly-recruited athlete who only the Rebels, in Hugh Freeze's time-shortened first recruiting session, took a chance on, at least in the SEC.

"Coach Freeze and Coach (Chris) Kiffin gave me a shot to play big-time college football and to come here. I was one of the last guys to get here, but I did what I needed to do to get a chance to show I can help the team," John stated. "I've been able to be a guy they can count on. They know that I will be the kind of role player that they need me to be. I'm going to make the plays I am supposed to make and I'm not going to make mistakes that allow big plays.

"I feel I have developed into a reliable player with value to the team."

Indeed.

He has had to play a little in the shadow of some very dynamic defensive linemen at Ole Miss - C.J. Johnson, Marquis Haynes, Robert Nkemdiche, et al - guys who do make the flamboyant, spectacular plays that get the attention and notoriety. 

The 2016 season promises to be no different in John's mind.

"Breeland Speaks and D.J. Jones are as dynamic as Robert (Nkemdiche). I don't see a drop off there now that they have a year under their belts. I expect them to be just about as good as there is," John explained. "I really believe our defensive line, with those guys in the middle and Marquis and Fadol (Brown) and myself on the outside will be a strength of our defense. It was last year and I see no reason why it won't be in 2016.

"For our team to win a lot of games, our defensive front is going to have to take on that leadership role like we did last year and come to play week in and week out."

While John's talents have grown consistently from year to year, he has seen the program grow at the same rate, a point which makes things a lot nicer when he goes back home to Alabama.

"When I first signed here, everybody back home just nodded and said 'whatever, but we beat you every year.' Now I go home and tell all my friends who go to Alabama how we have won the last two yeas and I get respect," he said with pride. "I wear my Ole Miss stuff around and people have a different look toward me now. We are relevant in the conversation over there now."

John Youngblood's story and the story of Hugh Freeze's program draw a lot of parallels. 

Neither John nor Freeze were really "hot commodities" when their Ole Miss opportunity came around, but both took advantage of the situation, worked hard and saw their stock rise steadily for four years.

Now, as Youngblood enters his final season, maybe he will be more appreciated by more than his peers and mentors.

He deserves it.


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