With Ole Miss right in the middle of their successful second quarter of offense Saturday, John Jerry was caught by the sound system. The on-field microphone picked up Jerry, in his distinctive voice, screaming at the rest of the Rebels on the field.
"Let's go, let's go."
However, unlike earlier in his career when the offense was consistently stagnant, Jerry wasn't urging for improvement and spark. The 350-pound lineman simply wanted the excitement to continue. Jumping around and sprinting to the huddle, Jerry didn't want the fun to end.
I couldn't see into his helmet, but my guess is he was smiling.
Fast forward a couple hours later.
When the 41-24 thrashing of Memphis was complete, Michael Oher detoured his stroll toward midfield and joined a group of his teammates some 10 yards away. Before he reached them, Oher simply rose up one finger and shook it toward those gathered.
"That's one, that's one." As in at least five more to go.
Oher has endured three years of disappointment on the team level ranging from sluggishness to outright ineptitude, but with NFL scouts drooling and front office executives prepared to reward the left tackle, the All-SEC lineman found reason to stay. His college career wasn't yet complete, and Houston Nutt's arrival meant things would be different.
Oher will head to the pros in April having never lost to Memphis. But unlike the past three seasons when the celebrations consisted of relief and thankfulness for the 1-0 start, Saturday was simply part of the plan – one that ends at a neutral site in the middle of winter.
The two moments just mentioned personify Nutt's method. Winning is fun, but you have to have fun to win. The players were loose and prepared. And they expected success. The words were the same, however, subtle changes could be seen in this preseason compared to the previous two that I have covered. The body language said more than anything that could have been said vocally.
Looking at these Rebels, they seem as though a basket of bricks has been removed from their shoulders. Trust is all around, and they are playing for one another. And they are playing for the coaches as well. There is trust, and there is respect. A good many on the roster would run through a wall if asked.
Nutt stepped into the Ford Center on Nov. 28 to packed crowd of boisterous exuberance. He spoke of the attitude that would surround his team, and after one week, the mission has been nothing short of a success.
From the introductory speech that last Wednesday in November:
"It's about having fun, it's about winning with the players you have on campus. You do what they do best."
"We're going to be honest with the players and be open. My door is never closed. We want the kids to want to be around the lockeroom. To want to spend free time here."
"We're going to have a great relationship, and it's going to go from daylight to dark. But you know what? We're going to make it fun. It's the greatest game in the world, because you're going to get knocked down, but that's OK. As long as you get back up."
Nutt gets another check on the first part. He is a tireless worker, and as already stated, everybody is on the same page. The final part hasn't yet occurred. It will, just not yet.
Adversity will appear, and that will be another test. But thanks to the foundation already poured and the belief in the process, I am undoubtedly certain that Nutt will steer through that with few hitches along the way. Changing a football team's mentality is difficult, but the Ole Miss staff has fully achieved it in nine months – if not sooner.
It's only been one week, and greater challenges are ahead, but those 60 minutes versus Memphis said a lot.
From Jerry displaying fun and excitement, to Oher pointing out his task of bowl eligibility, Nutt's plan is in place.
Spoken first in the Ford Center and repeated often:
"You spell fun W-I-N."
Fun and Won
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