Rory Johnson

Ole Miss junior Will Linebacker Rory Johnson earned his first Division I start against Georgia two weeks ago and did well enough to earn another against Vandy. His game improved by leaps and bounds as he ended with 16 tackles against the Dores. Read about it inside.

The late Warren Zevon was known for his "eccentric" songwriting.

Werewolves of London (". . . and his hair was perfect. . . ") is his most well-known tune, but he had another hit with a title that reminds one of Ole Miss Will Linebacker Rory Johnson.

"Excitable Boy" has dark lyrics that certainly do not remind anyone of the smiling, affable linebacker, but the title of Zevon's song does.

You will not find many football players who approach the game with as much enthusiasm and sheer joy as the always-exuberant Johnson. When you mention football, he's an excitable boy.

After the Georgia game, Rory confessed to not being able to sleep - the night before or the night after the game.

"I was so excited to get my first start and then after the game my adrenaline was pumping. I didn't get any sleep," Rory laughed. "The game of football is what I love - every part of it.

"There's is nothing better than putting a hard, clean hit on a ballcarrier."

LB Coach David Saunders appreciates that attitude and believes Johnson's enthusiasm has been a major factor in his meteoric rise to Rebel stardom, if two games can be labeled as such.

"It's apparent Rory likes to play the game. He loves the contact part of football - loves it," Saunders noted, "and we know his physical ability is very good, especially from a speed perspective. That's a pretty good combination to have - enthusiasm, aggression and speed."

It came as no surpise to Saunders when he was told Rory's 16-tackle performance against Vanderbilt in the Rebs' 17-10 SEC win earned Johnson the SEC Defensive Player of the Week honor.

"If anyone in the conference had a bigger, better game than Rory, I'd have to see it to believe it," David said. "He was everywhere."

Rory was pleased with the honor, but said he was just doing his job.

"Linebackers have to be playmakers. The plays were there to be made and I did my job," Rory said of the performance. "Vanderbilt kept coming my way and I kept hitting them.

"To get 16 tackles on homecoming in my second start was special, but I've got to keep pushing and get better."

Rory also recovered one fumble and stripped the ball from the Vandy QB deep in Rebel territory.

"Again, the plays were there to be made and I just made them. Coach O always talks about going for the ball when you have a chance to and I got a couple of chances and capitalized," he continued. "I was just doing what I was coached to do - playing aggressively and watching out for opportunities to get the ball.

"We saw on film all week long that Vandy ballcarriers were kind of loose with the way they carried the ball, so we were aware we might have chances to get it. We did."

Saunders said Rory was just as impressive on film as he was during the Vandy game.

"During the game, he stuck out because he made a lot of tackles and made big plays at critical times, but until you look at the film, you really don't know how someone played overall in terms of assignments, techniques and alignments," David continued. "Rory looked just as good on film as he did during the game. He wasn't just showing flashes, he was consistent.

"The fun part is that there are a lot of ways he can improve his game with better technique and getting more and more familiar with the system. He also needs to work on his pass coverage skills, but the film showed his big day was not a fluke. He was playing solid football throughout the game and that resulted in him making a lot of plays."

The Rebels now travel to Tuscaloosa to take on the 4-2 Crimson Tide of Alabama.

"I don't know any of the players there - maybe one or two, and I never wanted to visit there or go there when I was growing up," he said, "but I do know their tradition and understand it will be a big challenge.

"The good thing is this is not our first road game. We have been in hostile arenas before, so we know what to expect. We will accept the challenge and go in there with the intention of winning."

Johnson hopes to make another leap in his progress and development as an SEC linebacker.

"It's all about being prepared and being excited about playing. I'm always excited - I probably won't sleep again this weekend," he closed. "My biggest challenge is to get mentally prepared to carry out my assignments. I don't have any problem getting up for games - they are what I work so hard for."

After all, when it comes to football, Rory's just an excitable boy.

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