No one had as much fun as Peveto, who was hired by Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze in December as a part of a complete overhaul of the Rebel defensive coaching staff. In all, Freeze made three new hires in the offseason, including a change at coordinator. Wesley McGriff replaced now-retired Dave Wommack.
Ole Miss closed out the spring with the annual Grove Bowl game April 8.
“I’m proud to be here. I’m still pinching myself,” Peveto said. “Working for coach Freeze has been unbelievable. Wesley McGriff’s done a great job coordinating our defense, and we’ve got a great staff. Oxford’s as good as place as you’d want to live. I’m loving meeting all the people. It’s just been a blast. I’ve really, really enjoyed it. It’s just a great, great place.”
Peveto, a high-energy type, brings to Ole Miss an accomplished coaching resume. He spent seven seasons at LSU — his second stint at the school ended with the 2016 season — and the Tigers posted a 59-19 mark and won five bowl games. They claimed the 2007 BCS national championship.
But don’t expect a renewed sense of purpose from Peveto simply because he’s made a jump within the SEC West. He’s always had a pep in his step everywhere he’s been.
“That’s kind of how I’m geared,” he said. “I’ve got a lot of energy, and I still love the game. I like getting up early, working out and I love a good work day. We work hard here. But there’s always new energy when it’s new.
“The thing about this profession is you never get tenure. Your resume doesn’t really mean anything. What you’ve done in the past and where you’ve been, I don’t even talk about it. I’ve got a national championship ring and I don’t wear it here because it doesn’t mean anything here. It means a lot to me, I was a part of a team that won it in 2007, but that’s behind me. It doesn’t have any relevance to Ole Miss football. Every time you make a move, especially a move at a place that’s so prestigious and has the great tradition of Ole Miss, it puts a little pep in your step.”
Peveto admitted, however, the opportunity to work for Freeze has been everything he could have hoped for and more.
“It’s humbling when a guy like coach Hugh Freeze wants to interview you and then calls and says, ‘Hey, you’re my guy. I want to hire you,’” he said. “That’s a great feeling. I’m still an old-school guy. I’m just proud to be here and proud to be part of a great tradition and a great staff. Hugh Freeze has absolutely blown me away. He doesn’t get enough credit for the man he is and the job he does. He is really, really special. (McGriff) is the same way. We’ve got a great staff all across the board. I’ve enjoyed it. I’m very fortunate and very humbled to be here.”
Peveto is tasked with fixing a linebacker corps that was nothing short of abysmal last season. Ole Miss tried various combinations at the position in an effort to improve, but with little by way of success. The Rebels were 119th out of 128 Division-I teams against the run.
Rising senior DeMarquis Gates led the team with 79 tackles. Detric Bing-Dukes — who was named the most improved defensive player of the spring — was second with 41 tackles. Ray Ray Smith, Willie Hibbler and Tayler Polk all saw time, too.
Peveto believes the 15 practices over the last month-plus were positive. The linebackers were bolstered by the additions of junior college transfer Brenden Williams and Donta Evans. Evans redshirted in 2016.
“I thought we had a real productive spring,” Peveto said. “I thought we got better on all fronts on and off the field. I really like the room of linebackers. They worked extremely hard. We had 15 really good practices and rotated a bunch of guys. Had some guys we swung positions with them, but I really like how our guys worked. I really liked our progress. We’ve come a long ways in 15 practices.”
The linebackers will try to carry over that improvement once fall camp rolls around in August. For now, though, Peveto is enjoying his time at Ole Miss and embracing each day.
“I’ve just always tried to be who I was in (coaching),” he said. “There’s a lot of different ways to do it, but when you’re at a place like Ole Miss and surrounded by a great staff and a great head coach that really works at it and they know what they’re doing, it makes it easy. We recruit here as a staff and everybody pitches in and nobody’s worried about the credit. It’s a bottom-line deal. Let’s get the best players and let’s all work together. It’s fun to be a part of it. Coach Freeze is such a refreshing guy to work for, and you can’t get enough of Oxford. You can’t really describe it until you get here. Everybody’s so friendly and so lovely. You can’t get enough of it. It’s been a blast, man. I’m still pinching myself, hoping I don’t wake up and it’s a dream.”
On Detric Bing-Dukes at MIKE and staying in the box: “We felt like that played to his strengths — the way we’re adjusting things and keeping that box tight and letting him play tackle-to-tackle. And of course there’s times he’s got to get out in space, but he’s made plays when he’s been out there. But he doesn’t have to do it every down. He’s a true inside ‘backer, a true MIKE and he played extremely well. Picked up the defense, and he’s been a real good leader for us. I’ve been real proud of him. He’s been very productive, had a really good spring.”
On Donta Evans: “He had a little (injury) issue early and we held him out. He’d missed a couple of weeks and we got him back the last week there. He was really coming along and really making a lot of great strides and then he got the concussion early in the spring game and we had to hold him out. He’s a twitchy guy, he’s a smart guy. He showed signs and did some really good things for us. He’ll be our guy that’ll be in that rotation for us in two-a-day camp.”
On DeMarquis Gates: “I thought he did a lot of good things for us this spring. He’s a guy that’s been around a long time. He’s a senior. He’s played in a lot of football games, a lot of SEC games. Two years ago I was at LSU and we came in here and played and he had a great game. We, Ole Miss, played great defense that day. He was a big part of that. We’re working very hard with him to be consistent. He was coming off that knee injury and showed a lot of toughness. At times I saw him limping and I’d say, ‘Hey, man, you OK?’ He’d say, ‘Yeah, why?’ He doesn’t even know he’s limping. It’s just part of getting back and fighting through that knee. But it was healthy. When he got back on the field from that surgery he wasn’t in as good a shape as you need to be, but he fought through it and he pushed through it and really worked hard to learn the defense and play tough and get in there and scrap. I was real pleased with him with that. He’s going to be a good player for us.”
On the other linebacker options: “We’ve got to keep working to get better. It starts now. We can become a better linebacker group between now and the start of two-a-days. A lot of players are made during that time. They’re a real smart room. They’ve done a real good job of handling things. It’s a really, really good group of guys. Another guy at the MIKE ‘backer was Tayler Polk. Played really good for us. Brenden Williams, Willie Hibbler and Ray Ray Smith, they’re all guys that’ll be in the thick of it. Brenden Williams came in and we used him as a swing guy. Overall, very proud of that group. They’re doing all the right things. All that gives us a chance.”