"Being here at the Cotton Bowl is big. I mean, this is my third year in the program and nothing close to this has happened in my time," said sophomore Defensive End Kentrell Lockett, who burst on the scene this year as a force of the rugged Rebel defensive front.
"This shows us all why we work so hard and that there are good things at the end of the rainbow if you reach down and go for a little more, if you expect to win and if you do exactly what the coaches ask you to do."
Kentrell's year has been special, but he feels he's just getting started.
He had 34 total ackles with nearly a third of those (10.5) being for losses, he sacked opposing quarterbacks twice, he recovered two fumbles and he blocked a kick.
Oh, yes, the blocked kick. You remember that one - a blocked extra point late in the game at the Swamp that helped lead to the Rebs' 31-30 victory over Florida, who is playing for the national championship, in the Rebs' first signature win in several years.
"I feel I had an OK year for a sophomore. We had a real good defensive end rotation with me, Greg Hardy, Marcus Tillman, Emmanuel Stephens and Chris Bowers," he said. "I think I did my share this year, but I want to do more in my final two years.
"Now that I have some experience and know what I'm doing, I feel very confident I'll just keep improving. Coach (Tracy) Rocker has brought me a long way and I'm just going to keep working to get better. This year, with a new staff, we all got a new lease on life and I think just about everyone took advantage of that opportunity."
Lockett and his teammates are now reaping the rewards of their transition, the fruits of an 8-4 season.
"The Cotton Bowl is treating us great. The hospitality, the rooms, the gifts, the activities - I don't know what could be better than this," said Kentrell. "We're having a great time, but we know why we are here and that's to win a football game and soak everything up along the way."
One of the keys to the game for the Rebels will be how much the Rebs' front seven on defense can pressure Tech Quarterback Graham Harrell.
To apply pressure, the defensive ends are going to have to overcome wider offensive line splits employed by the Red Raiders, which means they have a little further to go to get to Harrell from the edges.
But Kentrell doesn't think that is that big a deal.
"We still have to play with good technique, stop the run and rush the passer. I'm sur ethey have a reason for doing what they do, but I don't look for it to hinder us in our pursuit of getting to the quarterback," Kentrell noted.
Kentrell says the Tech offensive line is very good.
"They are big and they try to get violent, but that's just football. They are good, but we have faced good before. We just have to play our game," said Locket.
Lockett believes a successful pass rush is way more than sacking the quarterback.
"Sacks are nice, but what we will be trying to do is getting him out of his element and his comfort zone," he explained. "We want to make him move, get him out of the pocket, get him out of his rhythm, make him do things he's not used to doing, hit him while he's throwing, get him thinking about the rush. Those kinds of things will be just as important as the sacks.
"The sacks are flamboyant and are big plays for losses, but the other things are just as important in doing our part to slow down their passing game. We want Harrell to have his mind on us coming after him rather than being able to pat he ball and scan the field until someone comes open. We want to get in his face."
While the Tech passing game gets all the attention, the Red Raiders have put together a more balanced attack than in past years.
"We will always think run first, even against Texas Tech, who throws way more than they run the ball," Kentrell closed. "They pass, pass, pass and then pop you with a run for a big gain when you get back on your heels.
"We don't intend to be on our heels in this game."
Kentrell Lockett -
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