There were two paths facing junior Middle Linebacker Tony Fein after the Louisiana Tech game, in which he did not play a down.
"I could either feel sorry for myself and let it get the best of me or I could work hard in the weight room and get in my playbook to prove to the coaches I should be in the lineup," said Tony. "I realized I had worked too hard to get here and I had to be a man about it. I went back to work. I took that fork in the road instead of the wrong one."
The result was some playing time against Alabama and then extensive playing time against Arkansas.
Even though the Rebels were defeated soundly by the Hogs, Fein emerged as one of the few bright spots, registering 13 tackles.
"I think I have turned the corner. I made a step in the right direction. I worked really hard the last week or so and it paid off, individually," Fein noted. "I want to keep doing what I did to get in the lineup against Arkansas and do what I can to help the team put things together to get wins."
Tony said, in retrospect, he put too much pressure on himself early in the season and it backfired on him.
"I put too much on myself. I knew there were expectations for me to come in here and replace the best player in the country and I tried to do too much. It took me a while to figure out that in big-time football there are Xs and Os, responsibility, gaps you have to fit, instead of just running to the ball and making the tackle," he explained. "It was a learning process. I came to the realization that if I am where I'm supposed to be doing what I'm supposed to do, I can still make plays within the system."
In junior college, Tony said things were much different.
"It was 'Tony, go make the tackle.' Here, it's 'Tony, get in your gap or come stand on the sidelines with me.' I was trying to do too much, so I took a step back and evaluated everything. I realized what I had to do and was able to get on the right path toward doing it," Fein added.
Fein admits his expectations for himself were too high when he got to Ole Miss.
"They were really high. I wanted to come to the SEC because I know I can compete on this level, but I guess I thought I'd just step in and start making plays. I put a lot on my shoulders, but I felt I could handle it. So far, it has not turned out like I wanted it to, but I can now see some positive things happening and it feels good," he said. "I had to face reality that I wasn't going to come in here and physically overwhelm everyone like I could in JUCO. This is the SEC - they are the best in the nation.
"The SEC is even better than I anticipated and I thought it was the best in the country before I got here. It's a man's game in the SEC. The OL are 6-6, 300-plus. Bull rushing and dominating, even at 250 pounds, doesn't work in this league. It's more mental. I can compete physically, but if you are a half-second behind mentally, you are beaten when you are trying to tackle guys like Darren McFadden or Tim Tebow. The mental aspect of the game is where I have improved the last couple of weeks and the results were apparent against Arkansas."
Fein admits the adjustment for him has been much more difficult than he imagined.
"I cannot imagine being 18 (he's 24) and doing this. Whoever is doing that, I am very impressed with them mentally," he stated. "It's a man's game and if you are able to compete at this level, more power to you.
"If I were younger and less mature, I might not have come through on the other side this quickly. I probably would have dug a hole and climbed in it. Fortunately, I have been able to work through my slump."
Fein says he will compete for a start against Auburn and after his Arkansas showing he is more excited about his chances to see substantial action.
"I'm going to prepare like I am the starter. If I am, great. If not, I will be ready to help, but my game against Arkansas let me know I can compete at a high level and I'm at the right place to do so," he closed. "It gave me a shot in the arm I hope to expand to bigger things."
Tony Fein -
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