Strong makes his presence felt

It should come as no surprise that Mississippi's top '07 prospect is making an impact at Ole Miss, but did anyone expect Chris to becoming the leading candidate to fill Patrick Willis' spot after three days of practice?

"I am surprised I moved to 1st team MLB this quickly," added the always personable but humble Chris Strong. "Coming in with Tony Fein and so many big time linebackers from all over the country, I felt I needed to catch their eye quickly. I guess Coach O likes me, so he put me in the Red jersey (which represents you are a 1st string defender)."

Many people speculated that due to Chris' size, he was going to end up on the defensive line, but Strong said all along that he was going to stay at linebacker. It looks like he was right.

"Yes sir. I am happy I am going to stay at linebacker. I knew I was going to lose weight once I came down here because they run you to death. It is a whole another training level in college. I said from day one that I wanted to take Patrick Willis' spot, and that has been my only focus since I signed (with Ole Miss). I feel pretty good on my behalf."

What has allowed Strong to move to first team MLB so quickly?

"I came down here to hit. That is what I do best. I am pretty much the most physical linebacker we got. But you know, Coach Orgeron said that the spot is still not filled and there are no guarantees, so I am not looking at it like I have already earned the job. I am going to have to keep coming harder and harder everyday and see what the outcome is."

What has been the biggest transition for the former South Panola member?

"Really, just learning the plays. That is really it. Once I get that down, I will feel more comfortable out there."

One thing we have observed at the practices is the ability for all of the former South Panola players to battle the heat. Why is that?

"Well, our high school coach ran us in 100 degree temperatures every year. It really is not that big of a deal to us. We just go out and try and stay in shape so the heat is not a problem."

What are Chris' personal goals for his freshman season?

"Knowing that we have some good linebackers, I am just trying to do my best and trying not to mess up. I want to go out and play hard and do the best I can. But like I said before, my goal coming to Ole Miss was to take over for Patrick Willis. If you do not believe in yourself, nobody will."

The linebacker unit at Ole Miss is low on experience but high on talent. What are Strong's expectations for the unit as a whole?

"I am surprised at how much talent we have on defense. That did kind of surprise me when I got here. I had been over here for a lot of practices over the last few years, but until you get out here, you do not realize how talented everybody is. With all of this talent, I expect us to be really good this year."

Chris' track to Ole Miss is a well publicized one. After leading South Panola to four state championships, and being selected as Mississippi's only Army All-American, Strong transferred to Genesis One to complete his academic requirements. Chris missed the first week of camp while waiting to get cleared by the university to start practice. That request was granted on Friday and Strong was cautiously optimistic about the clearance.

"I have been waiting to hear from the clearinghouse for a long time. Finally I got cleared to work out, but I am still going through the process to try and get this out of my mind so I can keep on going."

It is obvious that Chris still feels like he has some weight on his shoulders while waiting on the clearinghouse.

"This has been very stressful. I am not going to lie. I feel like I still have a load on my shoulders until I hear from the clearinghouse. I just pray everyday that it is all going to work out. It is kind of frustrating. You know, you are trying to learn all of these plays and you are still worrying about the clearinghouse, but I feel confident that I am going to get cleared. I feel very good that this will all be over with real shortly."

And what will Strong do when he finally receives word that he has been ruled academically eligible by the clearinghouse?

"Well, I do not know. I am just going to be happy and feel like I have a load off of my chest and get back on the field and try to win us a championship. I told Coach Orgeron when I signed that I was not leaving until we got him his first SEC championship, so I have to live up to my part."

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