Ryan Olenek (Associated Press)

Ryan Olenek is an old head for an otherwise young Ole Miss baseball team

Ryan Olenek arrived as a freshman at Ole Miss in the summer of 2015 and wound up as a contributor on a NCAA Regional team that won 43 games the following spring.

This year he’s already one of the older guys on a young team and will see a lot of playing time, most likely in the center field. The Winter Springs, Fla., native said this preseason has been all about continuing to get comfortable in his role in center and improving as a veteran of college baseball.

“I’ve been having a really good time out there. Been playing with a lot of the new freshmen, and there’s the senior leadership. It’s been a fun time.”

He likes playing center field. But he’s open to any place the coaches need him.

“Obviously I just feel comfortable wherever they put me. I’ve taken so many reps, it’s just second nature to me.”

Last season Olenek played in 53 games with 48 starts. He made 36 of them in right field and seven in left field. He was at DH three times, once at third base, and another time at shortstop. His versatility and athleticism showed up throughout his first season at Ole Miss.

Olenek hit .265 with 31 runs and 28 RBI. He had five doubles, two home runs and stole two bases. Showing his arm strength and accuracy, he recorded four of the Rebels’ 17 outfield assists last year.

He also arrived at 6-foot-5 but only weighed 150 pounds in the summer of 2015.

“I gained 25 pounds and played at 175 last year. I’m about 190 now. Everything seems a lot easier. I feel more powerful, a lot stronger. Even when I run, I feel faster. When I hit, the ball just travels further. Everything is enhanced with the weight I’ve put on.”

As for the large and talented group of newcomers, Olenek likes what they bring to the program.

“They’ve done a very great job. They’re really impressive. They came in with a lot of hype around them. Sometimes kids like that can feel like they’ve been given things. But they’ve earned everything they’ve gotten. They wanted to learn. They came in and were asking questions. They just wanted to know what the Ole Miss Rebel way was.”

So Olenek, the veteran if only for one year, helped lead them as they moved through fall baseball and the preseason.

“(Offensively) I feel like we’re better than we have been in the past. I just feel like there are not really any holes. You can’t really pitch around anybody in the entire lineup. If one guy doesn’t get the job done, the next guy will. We just pick each other up.”

Olenek should be in center field when East Carolina comes to Oxford in a week. But judging from his versatility last season, he can move wherever needed. And that’s perfectly fine with him.

Said Olenek, “Wherever coach wants to put me in the lineup.”

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