Issac Gross and Tony Conner were sorely missed last season for the Rebel's defense. Conner went down with a meniscus injury during the Alabama game. He returned six games later against Arkansas but had to hang up the cleats for the remainder of the season after giving it a go. Gross missed the entire 2015 campaign after having neck surgery last spring.
The 6-foot-1, 265-pound defense tackle Gross played in 12 games his junior season. He was tied for third on the team with 8.0 tackles for a loss while also posting 37 tackles, a sack and a forced fumble. He helped Ole Miss lead the nation in scoring defense (16.0 ppg) and lead the SEC in tackles for loss (7.6/game).
Coach Lance Pogue believes his former Under Armour All-American will be back better than ever this season for the Rebels.
"Issac was here this past Friday and watched us practice," South Panola head coach Lance Pogue said. "He and I talked for a long time. He looks really good. He's gained a lot of weight and feels really good about where he is right now. I'm expecting him to have a phenomenal senior year and then maybe have a shot to get into the pros. I think for the first time he's been at Ole Miss he's fully healthy. He's got the weight where he wants. He says he's 265 and wants to get to 270 to 275 by the time the season rolls around. Boy he looks good. Really trim and looks like he's in the best shape of his life. I can tell you this; you want see a hungrier football player out on the field than Issac this season. It's absolutely driven him to get into this kind of shape. I really believe he'll have his best season yet this year."
Issac reported to Ole Miss coming out of high school at 235 pounds, and truth be known, he's played at that weight all three years in the SEC. The added 30 pounds of muscle could be huge for his game.
"It's crazy. He's a strong kid. In the weight room he's a man. He has always been in a unique situation that he could never hold weight. If he gained any weight he would lose it. I'm not sure now that he was kind of put on the shelf, so to speak, for the year. Maybe that had something to do with it. I just know that he's really beefed up and looks better than I've ever seen him. If he can sustain that weight and maybe add to it the SEC might better watch out for him. I mean at 235 to 240 we all knew he was always making plays and so quick off of the ball. Now he has some size and punch to go behind it. Boy, I'm excited for him to see what he is going to do this year. I think with that added weight and strength and being fully healthy he is going to take his game to a level that it probably he's never been. You know he played so hard but at that size in the SEC, but he would get really worn down by the middle of the season. The SEC is just such a grind and especially playing at 235 pounds in the trenches. I think now with basically a redshirt year it could end up being a blessing in disguise for him. Again, I'm high on what I think he can do for his senior year. I think he's going to go out with a bang for that Ole Miss defense."
The 6-foot-1,223-pound Conner was named All-SEC in 2014 and was a freshman all-american in 2013 after started every game at the Huskie safety position those two seasons. He tied for the team lead and topped all SEC defensive backs in 2014 with 9.0 tackle for losses. He was second on team with 69 tackles.
The South Panola head boss coached Tony from 7th grade through his senior season. He believes Tony is in line to bounce back with a big senior season as well.
"Tony was by here not too long again. But again, I think he's going to be fine. I understand that he's about to start running again. Those knee injuries are tricky. My own son had one here at South Panola back in the spring. Some kids respond differently to them, but the technology in today's time, more times than not they come back stronger than ever so I fully expect him to be ready to roll. Like Issac, he's in really good condition and has kept himself in great shape."
Yancy Porter is the recruiting analyst for the Ole Miss Spirit and he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org