When Kentrell Lockett reported to Ole Miss the summer of his freshman season in 2006, veteran Rebels were asking the gangly rookie if he was a wide receiver.
At 6-5, 211 pounds, he didn't have the markings of a defensive end. Playing on the defensive line in the Southeastern Conference is not for the rail-thin.
"I knew it would take time. I was a beanpole, all Adam's apple," he laughed.
But Lockett was, and is, a confident athlete who knew time and hard work would cure all his ills. After all, he was blessed with a prototypical frame that could easily be developed.
As he added pounds, some age and the fine-tuning of his craft, Lockett started sticking out some to the previous coaches.
When the "new" coaches came on board, Lockett started blossoming.
Many felt 2008 would be his breakout year, but not many predicted the evolution would include becoming one of the best performers on the team.
"We knew in spring training that Kentrell could be really good, but he was raw and needed to live in the weight room with Coach (Don) Decker and his staff," said Houston Nutt. "Kentrell did everything we asked of him. He worked hard and each week he got better."
Lockett is not sure when his transformation from aspiring player to big time player came about, but he could feel it happening.
"It just kind of happened," said Kentrell, one of the more affable players on the squad. "I really got comfortable under the new coaches. I got comfortable playing and with the defensive scehmes.
"The Auburn game was my best game when I had the most tackles, but maybe it was the Florida game earlier. I really don't know. I just started playing football like I know I can."
With his comfort level rising on a weekly basis, his belief in himself grew and grew.
"I got in a groove. I think before I got comfortable I would look across the line of scrimmage and give the guy I was going against too much credit," he added. "When I finally realized he was just another football player and I belonged on this level too, things just got better and better. I got very confident and it showed."
His goals for the offseason are fairly standard - bigger, faster, stronger.
"I want to come out of spring training as a dominant player, a force," he said. "I'm working on getting heavier and stronger. Those are my main issues. I am focused on those areas."
Kentrell looks nothing like the skinny freshman of three years ago. He is now up to 257 pounds and it's all good weight. Lockett played last year at 245 pounds.
"Coach Decker and Coach Nutt have stayed on me about gaining weight. They have challenged me to put it on and do it the right way and that's what I am doing," he said. "I have accepted the challenge. Coach Nutt called me out in a team meeting, so I had to get on it. I don't want to be put on front street anymore by him. I do not want to let my team down.
"I want to get to at least 260 for now. I want to play at 265 next season."
From a skill standpoint, Lockett wants to improve "everything" in spring training, but he has one specific area he will tune in on more.
"I have to become a more effective pass rusher. I'm going to try to perfect my style of getting to the quarterback quicker," Lockett continued. "I have to perfect my craft."
Lockett feels the Rebel defensive ends can be a unit as good as any DEs in the country.
"No matter who is on the field for us, we can be real good," said Kentrell. "There are weapons and talent across the board at DE. If we stay healthy, I will put our DE group against anyone's."
Lockett understands everyone is going to have to pitch in to overcome the loss of All-American Peria Jerry, but he believes all the candidates are up to the task and the challenge.
"Peria definitely made our jobs at DE better because there were times when he was taking up the center, guard and tackle on one side, which freed us up to make more plays," he explained. "Coach (Tyrone) Nix has challenged the inside guys and the outside guys to take up the slack and I think we are capable.
"We will all have to do a little bit more to make up the difference in him not being in the lineup, but we are up for it."
Even though Lockett will just be a junior, he's starting to take on a leadership role.
"You don't have to be a senior to lead," he closed. "Coach Nix called on all of us to lead. I'm going to lead by example and be more vocal. Marcus (Tillman) is kind of quiet, but he leads by example. Greg (Hardy) is out right now rehabbing. Emmanuel (Stephens) is also kind of quiet.
"That kind of leaves me in the DE group that doesn't mind speaking up and that's what I am going to do."
Kentrell made, arguably, the biggest play of the 2008 season when he blocked the extra point that ultimately defeated National Champs Florida in The Swamp.
A heavier, more experienced and confident Lockett expects to make many more plays with that type of impact in the future.
He's no longer mistaken for a wide receiver.
Kentrell Lockett -
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