For a couple of days when final exams were over, senior OLB Ashlee Palmer looked like he'd lost his best friend, and in a way, he had.
Ashlee was not allowed to practice after some exam results came in and it was determined he would probably not be academically eligible to play in the Cotton Bowl against Texas Tech.
"It hurt," said Palmer. "It hurt badly. Those were probably the longest days of my life. Something very precious to me was taken away, and it was all my fault."
Somehow, through a lot of begging and extra work by consenting professors, Ashlee earned a second chance.
"It wasn't like a second chance. It was a second chance," he said. "It was over. My Ole Miss career was unofficially over and it felt like my heart had been ripped out."
But all is well that ends well, they say, and Palmer was allowed to rejoin the team.
"Ashlee hasn't taken a lazy step since then," said Houston Nutt. "His motivation went way up and he was already a pretty motivated guy, on the football field."
Instead of sitting at home alone, Palmer is now enjoying the Cotton Bowl, and everything that includes, with his teammates.
"When something happens like it did to me, you realize what everything means to you and you don't take anything for granted. It wakes you up," he explained. "This trip has been great to me. Not for the gifts, not for the fun times, but for being allowed to be with my teammates one more time and be a part of finishing what we started together."
Due to the missed time, Ashlee will most likely yield his starting OLB status to Patrick Trahan, but they have been splitting time for several weeks now anyway.
That one-two punch has drawn the attention of the Red Raiders.
Texas Tech All-American Guard Brandon Carter gives the Rebel linebackers props.
"Number 11 (Palmer), number 9 (Allen Walker) and number 7 (Trahan) can all run and 47 (Tony Fein) hits like a truck on film," said Carter. "They are all athletic and active and they put in fresh guys all the time, just like they do on their defensive line.
"They want to wear you down by rotating so many people. I think that has been one of the keys to their success. Palmer and Trahan are just alike - they are big OLBs who can run and love to hit. We have our hands full with all of them."
A lot of talk surrounding the Coton Bowl has been centered around the Rebel secondary being able to cover the Tech wideouts and the pressure the DL can put on QB Grahan Harrell.
So where do the linebackers fit into the equation?
"We have to be a part of the coverage and the pressure, and we are a big part of helping to stop their run game," Ashlee continued. "We have to play our roles. We have to support the DL and the DBs and react quickly to whatever the situation requires."
Palmer knows Texas Tech is good, and different, but he says the Rebs have seen enough spread offenses that the Red Raider attack will not be totally foreign to the Reb defense.
"It's still football. You still have to cover, rush and tackle. The field is still the same size. Tech presents us big challenges, but it still boils down to us being disciplined, reading our keys and executing the way we know we can," Palmer added. "One of the big keys to this game is being physical. Texas Tech is going to make plays, but we want them to remember when the play is over."
Like all Rebels, Palmer has cherished this year.
"No disrespect to anyone, but now we have real coaches who know how to win and they have taught us how to win," said Palmer. "We are more organized and we are getting a lot more coaching this year.
"We all knew deep down we could get it done, but we just had to have someone show us the way, guide us in the right direction."
Palmer will take the field against Texas Tech with his Mother and daughter in the stands. It will be his last game as a Rebel.
It almost didn't happen.
He's grateful it did and doesn't plan on wasting a down.
"I've always played as hard as I can, but I'm going to dig down even deeper for this game," he closed. "It's amazing what a second chance can bring out in you."
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