Jamal Pittman came to Ole Miss in the summer of 2002 with a lot of hype and accolades. He had been an all-star player at Columbia High and was a highly-recruited prospect.
After redshirting his first year, Pittman was set to contribute to the Rebel offense in the fall of 2003. But that spring he suffered a non-contact injury to his right knee and had to undergo ACL reconstruction surgery.
That fall when he came back to play, he sustained a tear to the ACL in his left knee during the Rebels' home game against Arkansas State. The injury and the second reconstructive surgery of the calendar year for Pittman ended his season.
He had appeared in five games to that point in 2003 and had carried the football 42 times for 214 yards and a touchdown. He'd also caught one pass for 17 yards. But two years into his Ole Miss career, he was again watching from the bench, sidelined by knees that so far had betrayed him.
The 6-foot-2, 233-pound Pittman was held out of contact in the spring of 2004 but he did play in the Red-Blue game. In the season of 2004 Pittman, suspended the first six games of ‘04 for an off-the-field situation, played in only four of the Rebels' 11 games, participating the final four games of the season and earning his second letter.
His totals for 2004 were 86 yards on 17 carries. Through three seasons, Pittman's career had clearly not been what he thought it would be.
Under the new coaching staff this past spring, Pittman was one of the Rebs' most consistent tailbacks. This fall through the Rebels' first six games, Pittman has yet to make a huge impact.
He's played in four games with nine carries for 18 yards. He's actually caught eight passes for 48 yards this fall.
Yet Pittman maintains that he can help the Rebels and wants to do his share to contribute to the team's hopes of a winning season and bowl game.
"I can do better," he said, specifically mentioning his play as a fullback now. "It's not a hard position. If you really love football, you will not look at it as work but as a chance to go out and have fun. That's how I look at it."
Having fun is something Pittman hasn't always had at Ole Miss because of all his injuries and setbacks. But the fourth-year junior says he is doing whatever it takes to have more fun and to help the team.
Unfortunately one of the ways he is going to help the team now is because of injury to another Rebel. Freshman fullback Jason Cook, who started three games this season, was injured with a broken arm against Alabama. Pittman knows he must step in and step up now.
"I'm sure I will get more playing time since he's hurt," Pittman said. "But I wish it hadn't happened that way. He needs to hurry back, because he's a really good player. I will do the best I can."
Pittman says being a fullback is now a part of who he is, and he has embraced that as the season has gone on.
"I began to really get serious about it even more a couple of weeks ago when Coach (Noel) Mazzone said he had put in some plays where I could get the ball," Pittman said. "When you look at fullback, you know there's going to be a lot of blocking and I was more used to getting the ball. But he added to the playbook so I could get the ball more. Hopefully that would help the team by doing that."
But Pittman knows the fullback is indeed going to block. He says he has worked hard to become better at that role.
"I just have to stay more focused and really get in depth with the position," he said. "I came here to play tailback, but now I am focused on whatever it takes to help the team win."
Pittman says he enjoys his relationship with running backs coach Frank Wilson and that he feels there is a bond of understanding there between players and their position coach.
"Just to have someone in the meeting room that played running back, that's really good," Pittman said. "My first two years here I had Coach (Ron) Middleton. He played tight end but he was a great running backs coach. Last season we had Coach (Arlington) Nunn, and he had not played on offense. That was kinda rocky and shaky. This year we don't have to think as much and we can just sit back and listen and learn. (Coach Wilson) helps all of us because he knows and understands offense."
Pittman has continued to look forward and not back as he progresses through his college career. It hasn't always been easy, especially from a health standpoint. But now he feels he is moving ahead, and that's a good feeling for the veteran Rebel.
"I'm 100 percent now, knock on wood," he said. "I feel good and I'm a little bit lighter than I was last year. I'm at about 233 now, so like I said, I'm good. I hope to remain that way."
Pittman says it's been a lot about maturity, and rather than two or three years ago, he is able to handle more of what comes his way.
"I know I'm a better person now," he said. "I'm not going to brag about myself, but I'm way different from the old me. I think a year or two ago moving (to fullback) would have made me sick to my stomach. But it's not a Jamal thing. It's not about me at all. It's a team thing. I'm here to help the team win, and that is the most important thing. Fullback in this offense is a lot different than in the old offense. It's fine with me. I'm a better person for all I've been through."
Since it is all about team, Pittman says it's important that the Rebels come out and play well against Kentucky and get that first Southeastern Conference win of the season.
"Every day is a different day. Every game is a different game," he said. "We're looking forward to this Saturday. As Coach (Ed Orgeron) always tells us, it's never about them. It's about us. Everybody wants to win. We'll be ready Saturday."
Pittman ready to progress in new role
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