The post-practice interview with Ole Miss Middle Linebacker Tony Fein started innocently enough. Fein had put up double-digit tackles against Florida, and talked about "doing it for the team."
But it was apparent Fein wanted to get something off his chest and then move on.
"I'm glad I could help the team. I worked hard in the offseason and I got the opportunity to show what I can do against Florida," said Fein. "I was proud I could help the team."
Fein's biggest play was running down Florida's Brandon James on the Gator sidelines, stopping him a yard or two short of a first down on Florida's last drive. The Rebs ended up stopping Florida on fourth-and-one to effectively end the game.
"Ever since I have been here, I have heard how I was too slow to play in this league. I got trashed pretty hard by you guys (media) and the message boards. I'm glad I had the opportunity to show what I can do," Fein continued. "I lost some weight in the offseason. I was 260 last year and now I'm 245. I'm in the best shape of my life and I want to silence my critics."
Tony admits he's been hurt by some of the reaction he got last season.
He came to Ole Miss from the JUCO ranks last season as the heir apparent to Patrick Willis, a hard, if not impossible, act to follow. The transition to Division I took some time, but he closed the season strong, registering double-digit tackles in a couple of games.
"If I couldn't make plays, I wouldn't be here. I'll admit I've got a little chip on my shoulder. I feel a little abandoned. Maybe that's too strong a word - forgotten might be better. I was the second leading tackler on the team last year and I was kind of treated like I wasn't even here in spring and summer," Fein noted. "This is a team game. I want to help my team win - period. But I also feel like I have some things to prove.
"People turned on me a little bit. Everyone loved me at first and then I was forgotten about. It motivated me this summer and has continued to motivate me. The good thing is that my teammates stuck by me the whole time."
Tony said he can tell the difference in his play having lost the 15 pounds.
"I'm quicker and faster. I know what I'm supposed to be doing now," he added. "People do not realize how hard last year was, how hard the transition is, but I'm ready now."
Fein and the new coaching staff did not get off on the right foot in spring. Tony did not agree with his second-team status in spring ball and he was vocal about it. There were other personality clashes as well, but that's all water under the bridge now.
"I've always been a team player, but I thought what was best for the team was me playing," he said. "I just had to continue to practice hard, prove myself and when I got my chance I had to capitalize."
Fein wants to put all that behind him now. He said what he felt he had to say. He's finally in a good place and is relishing the win over the Gators.
"I still pinch myself. It was huge for Ole Miss, for the team, for our fans. I feel a great vibe and energy out here now," he said. "I'm glad to be a bigger part of that now."
Tony Fein -
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