Hayward Howard & Corey Actis

Amidst all the hoopla about true freshmen playing in their first collegiate games, it's easy to forget that Ole Miss Defensive Tackle Hayward Howard was one of last year's signees too. Even though he's a sophomore, last Sunday was his Division I debut too. Read about it inside.

Lost in the excitement of SEC Freshman of the Week Dexter McCluster's scintillating coming-out party against Memphis, where he accounted for 268 all-purpose yards, was the Rebel debut of a couple of non-freshman who were also signed in Coach Ed Orgeron's highly-touted 2006 class.

Sophomore Defensive Tackle Hayward Howard and junior Center Corey Actis also earned starts in their first time to don the Red & Blue.

Howard responded with five tackles and Actis got kudos from OL Coach Art Kehoe on his performance.

"I was pretty nervous at first," smiled Howard. "It was my first time in front of a big crowd like that and playing on TV. It was pretty special - the adrenaline rush was something else."

Howard, a New Orleans native who was displaced and kind of lost in the shuffle during Hurricane Katrina, landed at Eastern Arizona CC last season for his freshman campaign.

But being a full qualifier out of high school, he was able to sign with a Division I school in December of 2005, come to Ole Miss in January and participate in spring drills with the Rebels, where he quickly won favor with the Ole Miss coaches.

"Hayward is big, strong and athletic and he showed a good work ethic in spring," said DL Coach Ryan Nielsen. "All he lacks is experience."

After a few snaps Sunday against the Tigers, Howard said he settled down and played his game, collecting his five hits on Tiger ballcarriers.

"We didn't play well as a group. We have to step it up, but it was a good learning experience for all of us," Hayward continued. "Even though I practiced last spring and all summer with my team, the speed of the game and the no-huddle offense Memphis ran took some adjustments.

"The good thing is that we got this one behind us with a win and we didn't play very well on defense. We can see what we did wrong on the game film and correct our mistakes from there."

Howard said his results were about what he expected.

"I had plays where I did pretty good and I had plays where I didn't, but as I said it's all a learning experience right now," he commented. "We are all kind of in the same boat on the DL. None of us, even Peria Jerry, has played a lot on this level.

"I think we will just get better as we learn more. My biggest concern is our depth. We just don't have a lot right now. We are doing the best we can for now, but we'll get better when we get some players off the injury list and we gain more experience.

"We have guys like me and Greg Hardy and Marcus Tillman who will be good once we get the hang of everything. I think we are all good enough athletes, we just have to keep working hard until everything we are supposed to do comes natural to us. Things just aren't second nature to me yet, but I'm getting there."

Hayward said he'd give himself an "OK" grade for his first effort.

"I made a few plays and didn't feel like I was getting pushed around a lot," he closed. "And like I said, I can see on film the mistakes I made and I don't plan on making them again."

Actis didn't know he would be the starting center for the Rebels until Tuesday of last week.

All spring, he had backed up Thomas Eckers and admitted during the summer that he was "overwhelmed" by his new environment and the transition to Division I football after two years of California JUCO ball.

During most of fall camp, Corey had worked at both guard slots and some at center until early last week.

"On Monday, the coaches had me running first-team left guard and had moved Andrew Wicker to center," Corey explained. "The next day, they flip-flopped us. I was happy to be with the starters, and I had a whole week to prepare for the game, so I felt I was ready."

Kehoe had already expressed that Corey had worked his way up the depth chart to his number six guy on the OL - first off the bench - at both guard slots and at center. The being a starter part was his next step.

"I wasn't shocked, but I was a little surprised," Actis said. "I had worked hard in camp and knew I was moving up the ladder in Coach Kehoe's eyes, but I didn't now I was going to take over at center. I worked hard enough for it, but everyone else was working hard too. I guess Coach Kehoe just saw something he liked late in the process.

"I felt myself getting better since spring - in the weight room in the summer and during fall camp. I knew I was making progress and I learned how to finish. It's all about finishing a block, a drill, a play on this level. For me, it was also about being stronger than I was in spring, too."

In his first Division I game, Corey thought he did "alright."

"It's really different. I was flabbergasted with the atmosphere. I had never played in front of a crowd like that," he commented. "It was exciting, but at first I was nervous. Then I realized it's just football, just more people watching and cheering.

"Once I settled down, everything went OK. I felt myself get real comfortable in the third quarter. I was into the groove in the second half after a half of getting my bearings. I started playing free then and it felt good."

As the center, Corey has to make line calls. He was pleased with most of that.

"For the most part, I thought I did good with the line calls. As a unit, I thought we all communicated very well for our first time out and our first time to play together," he evaluated. "There were times we could have communicated better, but we see those things on film and will correct those mistakes one at a time. It's all about practicing and preparing and learning from experience. I think we are off to a good start as a unit."

Now that Corey will concentrate exclusively on center, he expects results more quickly now.

"I probably worked more at guard than I did center the first three weeks of fall camp. Now I can concentrate on center, which will help me," he closed.

While the debuts of QB Brent Schaeffer, WR Dexter McCluster and TB BenJarvus Green-Ellis got the most media coverage and ink, the coming-out parties of Actis and Howard were just as critical to the Rebs' success.

Hopefully, with a game under their belts, things will just get better and better for two key inside players.

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