Driving in Oxford is tougher today than it's been since early May. Doesn't feel that bad navigating it, actually. One more sign that football season is upon us.
Traveling behind Coulter Hall down to the UMAA building, still "new" from its renovation, the Vaught-Hemingway Stadium JumboTron or VideoBoard or whatever you choose to call it (looks as big as an old drive-in movie screen) dominates the sky from behind Coulter and as you move toward the Starnes Center/FedEx Academic Center.
I thought the excitement and enthusiasm for the new board was a bit over the top earlier this summer. Now that it's up and almost ready for use, I understand it. That thing is incredible. And that's before it's even game-ready, which it will be a week from Saturday when Memphis comes to town for the opener.
Most of you probably haven't been to campus since last school year, some of you not since last football season. You'll notice the changes. There's a large temporary building currently under construction between the Ford Center and the new Catholic Church, which is also still under construction. I believe its use will be as the media center for the Presidential Debate. Some 3,000 press members are supposed to be here.
There is temporary fencing all over the place surrounding the Ford Center. It stretches in every direction down to the depot area, even to the intersection of the Grove and University Ave. Security purposes for the Debate.
That event will be a world-wide stage. Not until its over will there be some sort of normalcy around here. The next month will be challenging for those of us who live here and those who visit, for football weekends or whatever reason they're in town.
If you get a chance, and gameday is probably not the best time, go in and take a look around the new UMAA building, in the renovated old physical plant offices. The pictures, murals, lighting, all of it Ole Miss sports related, make it a showplace. You can be proud of the home of your athletics department. It's quite a step up from the old place.
While I was in there today, what I assumed to be a new student and likely her mother and brother, came in and asked where to get the student season tickets they'd ordered. We directed them to Tad Smith Coliseum. Gave them directions and they headed on their way, through a lot of traffic and pedestrians as the place fills up again. The newness that is late August in Oxford. Rejuvenating.
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One former student who appears rejuvenated to be back is Kent Austin. There's always a comfort zone having someone like Kent, a former Rebel signal-caller, come back home and help out. Makes you feel good when that happens.
Like when Michael White came back to help in men's hoops, or Joe Walker, Carol Ross, Ernest Ross, Renee Ladner, Peggie Gillom, among others, returned to Ole Miss to coach and lead the student-athletes in their respective programs.
The new QB coach and offensive coordinator, Austin has a lot of fans at Ole Miss from his playing days and now his coaching days. Earlier this week, a couple from Saskatchewan dropped in for a visit. Kent said they'd been to New Orleans and were headed back to Canada. So they stopped in Oxford and went by to see their former quarterback and head coach, wearing Roughriders jerseys with Austin's number on them, of course.
"Saskatchewan's got the best fans in Canada," Austin said, smiling, Thursday after practice. "It was very, very kind of them to do that."
The comfort level is there just watching Kent work with Jevan Snead and Billy Tapp and Nathan Stanley. You can sense it. The QB's are in good hands.
Austin talked a bit Thursday about the starter and the backups.
"Jevan's come a very long way as have the rest of the guys on the offensive side of the ball," he said.
Austin said Snead making the right decisions is probably the most important aspect of what he needs to do as the season nears.
"He needs to make great decisions. He needs to put our offense in the best possible situation to have success. He does that by making sure he checks properly, by making sure he recognizes coverage properly before he delivers the ball, making sure his mechanics are good. All those things matter."
"The quarterback obviously has to be accurate in the passing game. He has to protect the football on the ball-handling side. Obviously we can't have turnovers. And when things break down, because everything's not going to be perfect on every play, he needs to be able to make plays."
Snead has made great strides since the two have been working together.
"He's a different guy than in the spring," Austin said.
Austin said Snead has all the tools to succeed, and he knows after sitting out a year since transferring from Texas that he's ready to play again. The Rebels and Longhorns have a series in 2012 and 2013, but the redshirt sophomore will miss out on that by a couple of seasons.
"Jevan's kind of wired that way a little bit," Austin said of the excitement Snead has shown as the days to kickoff get closer. "He's going to be excited and anxious all wrapped into one. But I'd be a little nervous if our quarterback wasn't a little anxious right now. I want him to be a little edgy. Jevan has that naturally. That's the competitive side of him, and that's a good thing."
As for the backups?
"Billy's doing really well. He's throwing the ball well right now. He's accurate and making great decisions. Nathan's got the physical tools, but Nathan doesn't have command of the offense right now from an understanding of the offense that Billy has. But they're both doing well."
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I honestly thought Brittney Reese, who finished fifth today at the Olympics, would win the gold, or at the very least finish top three and medal. She's now already talking about London and 2012.
What a great year she's had, winning the indoor and outdoor NCAA long jump titles and advancing to the finals in Beijing.
It's terrific for her that she was able to accomplish all the things she did this year, and it's equally great to see how she has lifted interest and increased the attention for the sport of track and field at Ole Miss.
Few individuals have come through here and accomplished what she has in any sport. Congrats to Brittney, her family, and to Coach Walker for quite a run.
On to London.
Oxford, Austin, Reese
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