During Wednesday's scrimmage featuring freshmen and redshirts, quarterback Nathan Stanley dropped back inside the indoor practice facility and found E.J. Epperson for around a 40-yard gain.
Epperson immediately tossed the ball away and found a teammate to celebrate with in the back of the end zone. The tight end chest-bumped a couple offensive players and jogged briskly back to the huddle a few seconds later.
The play, like the week, was a glimpse of the future, but it was also a break from monotony. Epperson, a former finalist for Mr. Football in Tennessee isn't used to anything but the spotlight. The redshirt year is as much a mental test as a physical one.
"Everybody knows it is kind of hard, I hear about the pain from all the other redshirts too, going from Friday nights in high school to this," Epperson said. "It is hard changing. I look out there on Saturday, and my teammates are playing, it's hard, but I'm trying to get better. Next year, I'll be a more mature player and know what to do."
The Humboldt (Tenn.) athlete is using this as an opportunity to learn the system and better prepare without wasting eligibility. The switch from Class 2A high school football to the Southeastern Conference is exponentially more difficult. Epperson holds no illusions about the learning year and it being necessary.
"It is all about relaxing and being patient, getting better," said Epperson, who has added nearly 20 "good" pounds since enrolling at Ole Miss. "I know I'm not ready to play in front of 90,000. Real life you know.
"I've been working hard, just trying to keep going. It's all about getting better everyday. I'm getting closer each week, playing hard on the scout team. When the play's called, I have to know what to do. It is getting there."
Although the current year is trying, there is a light at the end of the tunnel for Epperson. With David Traxler graduating and Gerald Harris having just one year of eligibility remaining, playing time will be possible past this season. And after 2009, Epperson and fellow redshirt Ferbia Allen will be looked at to take over.
"Next year I plan on getting a lot of playing time, me and Ferbia both," Epperson said. (In 2010) me and Ferbia will be sophomores taking over the starting tight end position."
All the redshirts share a connection, but the two tight ends have become extremely close. Both Epperson and Allen have high ceilings and are leaning on each other to work hard and stay focused.
"He is my best friend," Epperson said. "We hang out all the time, help each other. Sometimes it's not about competing. We're both gonna play."
Head coach Houston Nutt agrees with Epperson. In fact, there has already been times when playing time was considered this season.
"My goodness they are special," Nutt said. "E.J. and Ferbia are both really special. We are going to be set at tight end for a long time."
"Very tempting to pull the redshirt, always tempting. But it's the right thing. I can't wait though, should be exciting."
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