HOOVER, Ala. – Thursday was a day of business for Michael Oher.
Dressed for SEC Media Day battle in a grey pinstripe suit topped off with a red pocket square, the senior tackle strode into Meeting Room C of the Wynfrey Hotel with a confident smirk indicating that he just may be aware of a secret no one else has yet been privy to.
Confident and controlled, Oher constantly spoke of the Rebels' talent level and how improving from 2007's dismal 0-8 league ledger isn't the main goal – or the focus. Instead, Ole Miss is looking for bowl eligibility and salivating over the chance to shake up the SEC West. In short, the Rebels are looking for more than mediocrity.
The new coaching staff led by Houston Nutt has invigorated the roster and implemented a family atmosphere full of hard work and unity. Oher turned down the possibility of being a first round selection in this year's NFL Draft for a chance to spend one final year in college.
The Briarcrest High School product is expecting a turnaround, that much can easily be surmised. The media throng may not be convinced, but Oher left little doubt as to what he expects.
"There's so much talent there that I think the sky's the limit for us," Oher said. "People might underestimate us, but I know there's talent there, and Coach Nutt knows how to put talent in the right spots.
"My goal is to win, and that's what our team's goal is too. (The NFL) will work out as it goes. I'm just working extremely hard, this is my senior year. The NFL comes later, and it'll be there later."
Oher will enter fall camp leaner, faster and stronger than last season. Currently weighing 312 lbs., the All-SEC lineman credited strength coach Don Decker for the improved physique and even admitted that Thursday wasn't simply fun and frolicking amid the conference scribes.
Work had to come first.
Oher's day began with a full workout at 6 a.m. before boarding the plane bound for Hoover at 8:30 a.m. Even on a day reserved for marquee players to be displayed, Decker didn't go light on the conditioning.
"Today was actually a little tougher than normal," Oher said. "When we were almost finished, Coach Decker pushed us back two stations. The guys didn't complain though. It was like a penalty. We just had to fight through and get it done."
With Peria Jerry as his workout partner, Oher is being pushed on a daily basis. Jerry regularly pushes up 450 lbs. on the bench press, so trying to catch up to the defensive lineman has been beneficial for Oher, who has been working on improving his bench for quite some time.
"I don't want to talk about it," Oher said jokingly when asked about his max. "Peria is a strong dude. It takes a minute to catch him. In seriousness though, I can get my old max up six times."
The gains in the weight room and the collective attitude of the new coaching regime have Oher brushing off the bevy of preseason accolades. Team goals have been ushered to the forefront, while the individual accomplishments and looming professional career are squarely on the backburner.
"I am giving my all to Coach Nutt," Oher said. "I was planning on going pro, but as I was working out with Jamarca (Sanford) and Peria, I realized that I wasn't ready to leave. There are advantages to staying with Coach Nutt and this staff.
"At first, I wanted to go and kind of be in the same league as my best friend, Patrick Willis, but I talked to Patrick and other people. I can wait a year. The decision to stay is no doubt the right one. I realize that everyday."
Nutt describes Oher as his best recruit because of the necessity to keep him around for his senior season. The Rebels' head man first witnessed Oher on the basketball court at BHS. The athletic big didn't give Arkansas much of a look at the time, but Nutt is excited about finally having the opportunity to tutor Oher.
"Boy, I tell you, he brings a lot to the table for our football team," Nutt said. "We want him to be a little more dominant, little more physical. But he has everything, all the tools. He is in tremendous shape and is really committed."
Commitment is the term thrown around by everybody. Nutt committing to his team, on and off the field. The team rallying around and committing to Nutt. Committing to the idea of winning.
If possible, a swagger has already developed, and Oher is leading the movement. Nutt names the biggest hurdle as changing the mindset. From listening to Oher, solving that issue is close to accomplished.
"I am here today, but it could have been anybody," Oher said. "There are 10 to 20 guys more talented and more deserving to be here."
That may be an exaggeration, but the confidence is a positive for Ole Miss. From a proven head coach to an All-America selection displaying faith in his team, the Rebels seem ready for their opportunity to emerge.
"I'll put our guys up against anybody," Oher said. "We can do a lot this season. Getting to the (SEC) Championship isn't out of the question. I came back to improve individually and to win games."
Oher's first chance is just more than a month away.
One M(Oher) Time
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