Rarely do we see such excitement for spring football.
Usually these practices don't carry much meaning, as a bulk of next season's roster hasn't even arrived on campus. Sure there are storylines, but spring results are typically taken with a grain of salt.
That is, until this year.
"You could sneak into the Swamp, get a victory and get out. But you can't this year," said Ole Miss head coach Hosuton Nutt of the team's expectations for 2009. "You are on the radar and you will have to work a little harder. You think you are working hard now, but you have to work even harder. That has been our theme. Our antenna has been up to see how they would respond and it's been very good."
With one of the most anticipated years in Ole Miss football history on the horizon, Nutt and staff are faced with a spring of epic enthusiasm.
Fans and players alike can feel it, with the Rebels returning most of their major contributors from a 9-4 season. Having defeated Texas Tech in the 73rd Annual Cotton Bowl Classic has only added to the hysteria.
Junior defensive end Kentrell Lockett said the team is focused on not allowing the expectations to get the best of them.
"We've been waiting to get out on the field," said Lockett. "It's kinda been a building anticipation from the Cotton Bowl. We need to see if we're going to take the spring head-on or if we're gonna take a step back. I don't think we will. We just can't wait to get started."
It's been years since spring drills have felt like this.
Ask anyone around the Indoor Practice Facility and they'll tell you of weathering the media storm come practice time. Over the following weeks, all eyes in Oxford will be fixated on Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.
Lockett said every player understands what's at stake.
"It's exciting. People are just anxious," he said. "I don't know who's more anxious, us or the fans. It's the whole community. We're all ready to get on the field and get back at it."
Before 2008, Ole Miss wasn't met with much success over four consecutive losing seasons. The Rebels were victorious in only 14 games combined over that span, with a 0-8 mark in SEC play over a year ago.
But in Nutt's inaugural season as leader of the Red and Blue, the team flourished. They won six-straight games to end the season, dominating the likes of LSU, Mississippi State and the Red Raiders to do it.
It would seem natural for the players to get a little big-headed. But Lockett said the resounding cry from top-to-bottom has been to stay hungry.
"I think we've handled (success) well," said Lockett. "We've just been level-headed like the coaches have said. It was one season. We really haven't done anything. If we go out and have a similar season, we'll be successful. We shouldn't just take what we did last year and get a big head. We need to feed off it and have another successful season."
A key to that success will be the play of the defensive line.
While losing senior staple Peria Jerry in the middle is a blow for the club, the front returns many talented players with starting experience.
Included in the mix are Lockett, fellow defensive ends Marcus Tillman, Greg Hardy and Emmanuel Stephens, as well as tackles Lawon Scott, Ted Laurent, Jerrell Powe and Justin Smith.
Lockett said it will take everyone to make up for the lost production in Jerry.
"With our depth, we be should able to stay healthy and have a good rotation," he said. "Everyone is going to get a chance to play. Our depth is going to strengthen the team. To replace a guy like Peria, it's going to be a group effort. It'll take all defensive ends, tackles, just everybody.
"Peria was a force in the middle. He would do things ends are supposed to do, but from the inside. So it's really everyone that will have to bring something to the table with him gone."
While he remains atop the depth chart at one end spot, Lockett said there is plenty of competition this spring.
"I feel good, but nothing is really etched in stone," he said. "We control the depth chart by production and how well we do in practice. If coach sees something different, then he sees something different. It's whatever they see."
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