Willie Hibbler

After a redshirt season, Willie Hibbler is eager to leave his mark on the Ole Miss defense

Sometimes a college football player has to give up catching touchdowns in order to help prevent them.

At least that’s Willie Hibbler's mindset.

Hibbler changed positions over a redshirt season in 2015. He was signed by Ole Miss as a wide receiver/tight end, but limited numbers at linebacker opened up an opportunity for the former four-star prospect.

A conversation with head coach Hugh Freeze was all it took to seal a switch Hibbler hopes leads to playing time on Saturdays.

“I kind of embraced it,” Hibbler said. Choosing to go to defense when they needed me, it was a sacrifice. But I took it head on, and I’m trying to give him my best at the position.

“Starting off, it was kind of tough. But once I got the plays down and got a chance to actually do it for myself instead of seeing it on the board, it started to get pretty easy for me. I’m still learning, but (defensive coordinator and linebackers) coach (Dave) Wommack will put me in there plenty of times to get more reps. I just try to give him a big play every time I’m in there.”

Willie Hibbler

The 6-foot-3, 231-pound Hibbler has aspirations of getting on the field as soon as the Rebels’ season-opening game against Florida State in Orlando, Fla., Sept. 5. However, he’s a realist when it comes to a potential starting role at Mike linebacker. 

Ole Miss signed one-year graduate transfer Rommel Mageo in March. Mageo was formerly a two-year starter and three-year letterman at Oregon State, where he compiled 157 career tackles. He led the Beavers with 87 total tackles last season.

“With the transfer guy we just got in, Rommel, he’ll probably be the starter, but he does have to come off the field at certain times,” he said. “I wouldn’t mind being a role player at Mike, Stinger or any position coach Wommack needs me to go to. Right now, we’re all competing for the job. Best man wins. If I win it, I’ll try to bring more leadership, even though I’m probably one of the youngest on the defense and pretty inexperienced. But I can still step up and lead by example.”

Hibbler was listed as the No. 2 Mike coming out of spring practices, and he’s continued to get rotational reps as fall camp pushes towards its third week. If nothing else, Hibbler is happy to be in the mix. A year of training and learning wasn’t the easiest for him.

“When I first got the word that I was redshirting, I was pretty frustrated by it. But once you get into it — working out and training and practicing with the guys — you understand you needed that year,” he said. “The coaches only want what’s best for you. It’s pretty frustrating at the beginning, but it was basically a blessing. I was able to get my body healthy coming from my bad car accident coming out of high school. I got a chance to get fully healthy. Now I get a chance to show that the redshirt and the time I had off really helped me.”

But will he stick at linebacker? That remains to be seen. Hibbler spent his entire high school career on offense. Defense is a brand-new world for him. Still, he’s embracing the move and eager for what the future might bring.

“You never know what might happen in the spring when (Ole Miss tight end) Evan (Evan) leaves,” he said. “We have some good guys that have come in at tight end and receiver, but we might need more depth over there. There’s a chance I could move back to tight end. Right now, I’m willing to be put in any position that the coaches need me to be put in.”

OM Spirit Top Stories