Maurice Miller, a sophomore offensive guard from West Helena, Ark., has - surprisingly - a sprinkling of grey in his closely-cut hair.
"That's my trademark," smiled Miller, a personable bear of a man at 6-3, 330 pounds. "It was my trademark, I should say. I hope football will be my trademark from this point on."
Midway through spring training, Miller has been - to the outside world of Rebel fans - one of the pleasant surprises on the team. He's currently the number one right guard and is thriving under new OL Coach Art Kehoe after a two-year struggle to get his mind and his body ready for Division I football.
The rise up the depth chart does not surprise "Mo," but to understand why someone who hasn't shown a lot of promise to this point suddenly blipped on the radar, you have to go back to the beginning of his career.
When Miller came to Ole Miss in 2004, he was, in his words, a "mess."
"I weighed almost 370 pounds, I was in terrible shape and my asthma condition was awful," he reflects. "I had no idea what it meant to play on this level in terms of the intensity, work ethic, conditioning, everything."
Maurice floundered around for most of his redshirt year trying to figure everything out and trying to decide how badly he wanted to do what he knew he had to do.
"My first season was a real struggle. I spent a lot of time looking in the mirror, so to speak. I wasted some time, to be honest, because I hadn't made up my mind to do what I knew I needed to," he explained. "I regret that, but I had some growing up to do."
Mo can't put his finger on the exact time when the light came on for him, but some time during the 2004 season, when he was redshirting, the reflection in the mirror looked back and neither liked what they saw.
"Man, I was way too heavy and my weight was hurting my conditioning and my conditioning was affecting my asthma. I knew I couldn't stay on the same path I was on - I had to either get on the bus or get off," Maurice noted.
Miller became dedicated to changing not only his body, but his mindset.
"Dedication, discipline, effort - those aren't just catch words," he declared. "On this level of competition, you have to have those things, but nobody can force you to do it. You have to want to."
When Mo's "want-to" got going, he never looked back, but the process was a long one and is still ongoing.
"First, I knew my body weight was an issue. I went to work on my diet - staying away from carbs and other stuff not good for me. Then I doubled up on my conditioning and started working harder in the weight room," he explained.
The weight started peeling off. 370 to 355, then 335, then 315. Meanwhile, other areas of his football life were improving.
"(Football Trainer) Tim Mullins and the team doctors put me on some stronger asthma medication which helped, but everyone told me that once I got in better shape and lost some weight that my asthma would improve naturally. They were right," he noted.
Even with the body transformation, Miller was still behind the curve.
"Let's be honest - I fell way behind my redshirt year. I had a lot of catching up to do last season," he continued. "By then, though, I had changed my thinking and was upbeat about what was ahead of me."
Part of the process was proving to the Rebel coaches he had changed. That took time as well.
"I had to show the coaches a different side of my football personality - the aggressive side," he said. "I think they started seeing some of that at the end of last season. I'm way more competitive now than I have been in the past."
And that has struck a good nerve with Kehoe, who is demanding aggressiveness from his OL and has elevated Maurice to the number one slot at right guard.
But Mo is taking nothing for granted.
"I'm surprised I'm number one right now because I believe I'm only tapping into about half of my full potential and I'm still working on my transformation. I look at myself as an average SEC football player right now. I want to go way beyond that," he said.
All the ingredients are there for him to blossom even further.
"Coach Kehoe is a great coach. He's straight forward and will tell you like it is without a lot of nonsense. He's a great teacher - he's so sharp on the details of being a better offensive lineman," Maurice said. "Also, the schemes he is introducing are my kind of football - right at you. It's smash mouth football and I love that.
"It took me some time, but now that my head is on straight, I expect to improve daily with Coach Kehoe teaching me."
Miller said his next step is to stay focused and learn.
"My drive blocking is pretty good and my attention to detail is OK. I've got to keep working on being more technique sound in pass protection and in run blocking and keep working on the concepts of the offense, but I'm feeling pretty good about myself now," he closed.
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