Although he went through spring drills, Cornell hasn't played a down since leaving the Rebels' home game against Missouri, the second contest of 2007, with a shoulder injury that proved to be season-ending. He wasn't ready to go again until the spring.
The Rebels went on to lose the game against powerful Mizzou and eight more after that. Cornell is anxious for a new start for himself and the team.
"I'm very excited," said Cornell, who played seven games in 2006, starting one vs. LSU. "It was very tough (last year) knowing I wasn't contributing. Now I'm back on the field and doing as much as can and working diligently."
That's been a Cornell trademark. He recorded 105 tackles along with 12 quarterback sacks and 21 tackles for loss as a high school senior in Azusa, Calif., on his way to being named a prep All-American by several publications. He played tight end and running back in high school in addition to linebacker.
Cornell says he doesn't think about the injury any longer, and the spring helped him put all that behind him.
"I got all of that out during the spring," he said. "I felt I had a few things I needed to work on (in the spring), and I got that corrected. So I feel good about things right now."
And he should. He currently appears to be No. 1 at middle linebacker for the Rebels, and preseason camp has done nothing but to apparently solidify that.
"Last year during the injury, I lost a good bit of weight because I couldn't work out or lift or anything," said Cornell, who had eight total tackles against Memphis last season, including four solo stops. "Once I got cleared, I hit the weight room as hard as I could. Now my speed's good. My flexibility's good. I feel like everything's 100 percent for me now."
He feels good about the talented linebacker corps of the Rebels as well.
"I think we'll be good. A lot of guys have experience from last year. I'm returning so that gives us added experience. It's a talented group, and we have good depth there. Fein, Palmer, Trahan, Walker, Brumfield. There's a lot of competition going on, and that will bring out the best in us. We look to do well and play good defense."
And he feels the defense picked things up well from the new staff in the spring. But he says it isn't that much different than what they'd been doing.
"I think schematically it's all the same thing," Cornell said. "It's just different terminology. The approach is similar."
Cornell said the Rebels have high hopes for 2008. They believe they can win, but they are only concerned with one game currently.
"Our goals are to work hard and do as well as we can," he said. "We haven't talked about specific goals. We're focused on Memphis right now, and we're really just trying to make it through camp, to tell you the truth. All the other stuff, we'll deal with it as it comes."
It's the approach Cornell has had for much of the past year while his football career was momentarily sidelined. He's learned a lot through it all.
"Persevere through whatever life throws at you," he said. "Not just football but life."
Through the tough times of injury and losing and coaching changes and being far from home, Cornell said there was never a question about whether he'd stick around or not. He always knew he would remain a Rebel.
"When I signed here, I was sold on a dream that we're going to build Ole Miss to a championship level," he said. "What kind of a man would I be if I left that dream? I'm committed to this program, and I'm sure everyone else feels the same way."
Cornell ready for healthy season
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