Ole Miss senior Middle Linebacker Tony Fein is formidable in his own right.
Fein, one of the most physical players on the team, "brings it" on every play, always looking for the big hit and the brutal collision.
Even though he got off to a slow start and split time with starter Jonathan Cornell all year, Tony ended up as the third-leading tackler on the team with 51 stops, five behind the line of scrimmage.
"All things considered, I felt I had a pretty good year. I slumped early in the year trying to do too much, but even A-Rod has a slump," Tony noted. "Slumps happen in sports, but you end up digging out of them."
Tony gives some of the credit for snapping out of his funk to senior DT Peria Jerry.
"Peria was our leader on defense. His will to win inspired me, it inspired us all," Fein added. "When you see the effort he givs and the way he plays the game, you can't help but follow his lead."
Fein says he is constantly amazed with Jerry.
"Sometimes, if you aren't careful, you can catch yourself watching him and not doing your job," Fein smiled. "But most of the time you get caught in the wake of his momentum and go along for the ride.
"Peria is a really special player, in all phases of the game."
What makes Jerry a First-Team All-American? Fein explains.
"He's quick enough to be a two-gapper. He eats blockers up and reacts so quickly to what's happening that he can go sideline-to-sideline to make plays despite being doubled a lot," Tony stated. "You won't see many DTs make plays at the line of scrimmage all the way to the sidelines. Most take angles and try to limit the gain to four or five yards. Peria's angle is for no gain or a loss. He has something like 17 tackles behind the line of scrimmage.
"A lot of people talk about Greg Hardy being an athletic freak, and he is, but to me Peria is just as freakish, if not more. To be able to play with high-caliber athletes like that motivates me and it certainly makes your job as part of the defense easier."
Fein says Jerry's presence gives the linebackers more opportunities because the concentration of the opposing OL is always on Peria, freeing up the LBs.
"He makes it easier on us because he is occupying blockers. The OL cannot concentrate on getting to the second level as much when they are having to deal with someone like Peria right there in their faces," Fein continued.
Fein is very excited about the Cotton Bowl.
"We have a couple of regrets about a couple of the games earlier in the season, but the way we eneded the season put some salve on those wounds," he noted. "We want to go out on a winning note. We've won five in a row and we want to keep that going.
"Texas Tech has a great offense, anyone can see that, but I think we proved at the end of the year that we can play with anyone. That will be our intention in the Cotton Bowl."
After a slow start, Tony is proud of the way he turned his season around.
"The way things started for me, I could have gone two different ways. I could have tapped out or I could have kept working hard, which is what I chose to do," he explained. "In the end, I felt I helped the team win and that's what it is all about.
"If I get my chance on the next level, I think I can help someone win. That's all I'm about and all I think about."
Tony Fein -
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