Unlike past, more "open" football programs, it was hard to develop a personal relationship with many of the football players in the previous regime.
But most of the seniors, who were here before the Ed Orgeron era began, were already "friends" and, by osmosis, we got to know the rest fairly well.
And I can say without hesitation, for the most part, they were a group who strived to give us their best despite enduring a lot of setbacks during their careers.
Losing can take its toll, unless you are a strong-willed person, and even then you eventually "crack." While the 2007 seniors were not able to reverse the losing trend, they did not wilt under the scrutiny and, in my mind, they set a tone for future senior classes to go by.
TB BenJarvus Green-Ellis was not here his entire career, but in the three years he was at Ole Miss - one redshirt and two seasons playing in games, he set a pace of how a college football player is supposed to do things.
Ben worked as hard as anyone on the team, during the season and in the offseason, and his toughness was evident to all. He played hurt both years and never complained. Unbeknowst to most, he spent as much time in the training room as he did in the film room, but you'd never know it when Saturday rolled around.
Only one other back in Ole Miss history has broken the 1,000-yard rushing barrier twice in his career - Kayo Dottley. Some will say Ben's mark is watered down some due to a 12-game regular season, but I submit their carries were roughly the same (Ben carried the ball a few more times than Kayo).
Regardless, Ben needs to go down as one of our better players of the past decade. Tough, reliable, a quiet leader, a guy who came to work every day and didn't wait until the lights came on in games.
QB Brent Schaeffer was an enigma who was thrust into a ridiculous situation, partly by his own doing. As a junior, despite not showing up on campus until the day before August practice began, he was guaranteed the starting spot. By itself, that's not doable at the QB position.
Brent did not have good work habits, on or off the field, and flashes of brilliance his first year as a Rebel gave way to too many mistakes on the field and a carefree lifestyle off the field.
But during his senior year, Schaeffer grew up. He did everything the coaches asked him to do, and some, and evenutally earned some playing time toward the end of the season. While some would suggest his Rebel career was wasted, I would beg to differ. Brent became a man. Brent learned about hard work. Brent learned about the ups and downs of life. Brent figured out what he was doing before was not working and he changed it. Brent became a better person because of his Ole Miss experience. That is, after all, what it's all about. I'm sure he has some regrets on not learning those lessons sooner, but I have no regrets for him having been a Rebel.
TE Robert Lane, what can you say? He worked his butt off to be the best tight end he could be, accepting the coaches' decision that his QB days were over, even though he felt - and I feel - they gave up on him way too quickly at the signal-caller position. If ever someone's talents were wasted, I think it was Lane's. But guess what? He didn't pout about it or run his mouth about it. He just did what he could for the team, even when he knew becoming a great TE was probably not likely. Tells you all you need to know about his character. Foret stats - if we had a roster full of Robert Lanes, we'd be talking about the great season we just had.
TB Bruce Hall signed as a stop-gap QB out of JUCO and was changed to tailback fairly quickly. He showed a knack for the position and gave us a few thrills along the way. His only problem was that he played behind Green-Ellis. Bruce is a personable, quiet guy who, like BJGE, went to work every day and gave us all he had.
QB Seth Adams is a Cinderella story that defied logic but made your heart swell. Great kid who had a dream and worked until he reached it. I'm positive he would have liked for his final season to have been more productive, but he's got some memories 99% of us would love to have. Talk about rags-to-riches. It doesn't get much better.
CB Nate Banks was abused his junior year as a starting corner. Playing opposite Trumaine McBride, now with the Chicago Bears, Nate was picked on frequently and burned often. Then he went through some academic problems as he headed into his senior campaign and lost his starting berth. Some seniors would take that as an insult and would drop their heads or become a bit unruly or bitter. Not Nate. It challenged him to work harder and he eventually won back his job. He was better for having approached things that way and actually played decent football most of his final season.
OL Darryl Harris was injured most of his senior season and had a journeyman's career overall, but it would be hard to find someone you like more than the quiet Clarksdale native. Darryl was not a star, but he certainly was not a wasted scholarship either. Every team needs guys like Darryl and he will be a productive person in life. He will make Ole Miss proud in the long haul.
C Corey Actis ended his career on a sour note, getting benched for most of the game after a personal foul penalty in the Egg Bowl. That was a shame, to me, even though he had been guilty of those types of infractions several times in the past. Some say it was dumb play. They could be right, but I prefer to look at it another way. Corey played until the whistle blew. Sometimes he just didn't hear it. Or didn't want to. I realize that's a reach, but we all want our big guys to have a little mean streak in them. Nobody can ever say Corey didn't have that ingredient. Personally, I like Corey as a person and a player and hated his career ended the way it did.
DT Jeremy Garrett was/is one of my favorites. You never had to question anything about JG except would he be healthy enough to play. Outstanding human being who just couldn't hold up physically his final year, but that's what happens when someone undersized tries to play in the trenches - it finally takes its toll. No doubt the best choice for the Chucky Mullins Courage Award.
DE Viciente DeLoach was the forgotten man after knee surgery between his junior and senior seasons, but the Columbus native kept working and rehabbing until he got it right and finished his career on a good note. Good kid who will end up as a contributor to society as an engineer.
OL Thomas Eckers was undersized and undertalented. He was usually an afterthought when discussing the big bulls inside, who dwarfed him. But when one of them went down, Thomas was there to fil in and compete, usually successfully. He'll get a degree and apply his never-give-up attitude to life. He will most likely be a huge success in whatever field he chooses. Underdogs usually are.
OL Marcus Cohen never achieved the on the field status he, and everyone else, was hoping for, but you will go a long time before meeting a better young man. Not many knew that Marcus worked at Wal-Mart - even during the season - to make ends meet. I'd hate to try having a job, having a full school schedule and playing collegiate football all at the same time. He's the kind of guy a corporation could hire and get a lot of mileage out of. Book it.
TE Robert Hough - Little Charlie (Anderson) to me - was not a prototype tight end at 235 pounds, but you got all his 235 pounds had to offer. Quiet young man who gave us a day's work for a day's pay - every day.
DT Brandon Jenkins might be considered an underachiever by some. He certainly looked like Tarzan in a football uniform, but he was more steady than spectacular, which belied his hype and his appearance. I always thought Brandon did a good job and played to his capabilities. I just thought the expectations the fan base put on him were too high.
In a closed environment it was hard to get to know the walkon seniors - Christian Albarracin, Ryan Favret, Kyle Hill and Josh "Z" Zettergren - on a personal basis, but from people I know and trust inside the program, they are fine youngsters who loved the game and the Rebels. You'd have to in order to remain a walkon that many years, which says a lot in itself. It's hard enough being a scholarship athlete on the collegiate level. The passion involved to be a senior walkon is immeasurable. Kudos to them for the fortitude to stick it out with little reward other than self-satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment only they and their families truly appreciate.
While that is not a list of players that will go down in the annals of Ole Miss football as "greatest ever," my memories of them will be very positive, individually and collectively.
I thank them for being Rebels.
Belated thanks to 2007 seniors
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