Linton, a former four-star prospect, didn’t play at all in his freshman season at Ole Miss and was redshirted. He admittedly didn’t take the news very well when word came down in the final days of August, and it took some time before he embraced the plan the Rebel coaches laid out for him.
“It was kind of tough at first, pretty much grasping the fact I come out of high school where I’m playing basically every play to coming to college, a whole new level, and barely even playing at all,” Linton said. “It was tough at first. But once I pretty much grasped the concept of why they did what they did, it got a whole lot easier for me. I knew they wanted me to learn the defense more and just get faster and stronger and everything like that. Once I got that in mind, it got easier for me.”
Now he simply wants to get on the field, however he can.
“It was hard because every freshman in the country, when they’re getting recruited, they’re getting recruited to come in and everybody thinks they’re going to play,” Linton said. Ole Miss was 10-3 last season, including a Sugar Bowl win in January. “You go from working hard during the summer and going through fall camp, and towards the end of fall camp, they hit you with, ‘Yeah, we’re going to redshirt you.’ It’s hard at first. But after a while, you just learn to deal with it and realize it’s all part of a plan these coaches have for me and that God has for me. You just learn to roll with it.
“My goal is simple: I just want to play again. Sitting out for a whole year, you get so antsy to play. When you go to all the games and see all your brothers playing out there and having fun, you get an antsy feeling to where you get to the point where you’ll do anything to get on the field. That’s the biggest thing for me. Other than that, I’m trying to finish learning the defense as a whole — learning the concept of everything, learning the ins and outs of all the calls and all the checks. That’s really what I’m trying to get out of it.”
Once Linton allowed the initial disappointment of his redshirt to wear off, he committed himself to the weight room. He’s listed at 6-foot-2, 215 pounds, and he’s well-versed in the defensive playbook.
There’s opportunity aplenty for Linton and other safety candidates. Trae Elston and Mike Hilton, a pair of four-year starters, are gone, and the rotation is wide open for any and all comers.
Linton, who was ranked as the No. 190 prospect in the country out of Walnut High School in 2015, knows the time is now to make his case. Ole Miss opened fall camp Sunday in preparation for Florida State Sept. 5 in Orlando, Fla.
“Basically, in that room, everybody’s pretty much walking on pins and needles and everybody’s scared to make a mistake,” Linton said. “But at the same time, I feel like that’s a good thing because if you get all those guys and have so many guys back there that can play, the rotation should be really easy for the coaches. I feel like the competition is there and everybody sense it, but at the end of the day it’s a good thing.”
Linton was a successful two-way player in high school. As a senior, he totaled 204 carries for 1,532 yards and 20 touchdowns, as well as 15 two-point conversions and he twice scored on kickoff returns. He had 49.5 tackles and two interceptions.
The way Linton sees it, safety isn’t his only path to the field. He’s versatile enough to be a weapon on special teams, too. Whatever it takes. He wants to play, and he’s willing to do what’s necessary to ensure that he does.
“The No. 1 thing for me is I’m trying to basically just get into the mix,” he said. “I’m basically trying to solidify a spot on the depth chart, whether it’s special teams or back there at safety. Of course I want to be back there at safety with the rest of the guys, but if I can get on the bus by playing special teams first, that’s a big key point for me.”