Staying Grounded

Ole Miss senior Kendrick Lewis has faced the pressure of expectations before. But after experiencing consecutive years of losing until a breakout year for the Rebels in 2008, the talented free safety won't allow outside distractions to alter his focus. Read about it inside.

As many of his fellow Rebels have said before, Ole Miss senior Kendrick Lewis hears the predictions.

The Rebels have been the talk of college football this offseason, with sports columnists and preseason magazines continuously showering praise with the 2009 season inching closer.

But like his teammates, Lewis refuses to get caught up in the hype. The talented free safety understands the work put in to get to this point and won't allow outside distractions to shift his focus.

"It's just because we had a successful season," Lewis said of the national attention. "Those are the same people who had us ranked low. But now that we're ranked high, they're going to come and want to talk to the guys who are leading the troops."

Akin with the team's motto "unsatisfied," Lewis is working harder than ever this offseason.

Head coach Houston Nutt has kept a close watch on the team's attitude this summer, but Lewis said he's taking lessons learned from failed seasons to curb overconfidence .

"It's still a grind for me," he said. "It's still like I haven't won an SEC game when it was the Coach O era. I treat it all the same because I want to be the best."

Entering his final year in Oxford, Lewis is pushing himself and his teammates this summer to achieve that goal.

The New Orleans, La. native had his most productive year to date in 2008, leading the team and ranking 14th in the SEC in tackles with 85. He also topped the squad in interceptions with four, and tied for the team lead in pass breakups with six.

Placing more emphasis on the weight room in the offseason, Lewis aims to top his output from 2008 next season.

"(The offseason) has been a grind. It's been tough," said Lewis. "But everybody has been making it. Everybody has been here. It's been good. Everybody went up (in numbers), so everything is going good for our summer workouts."

While the players won't be allowed to put on pads for a few more weeks, Lewis and his teammates have been working in 7-on-7 drills to stay crisp.

Lewis said the turnout has been far greater than any of his previous years.

"We've been doing 7-on-7 on Tuesday and Thursday, and everybody has been coming out there competing," he said. "It's been the most packed that I've ever seen as far as all the guys getting there. It seems like the guys are more dedicated and focused on this upcoming season."

The veterans aren't the only ones participating in drills this summer, as many freshmen have already arrived on campus.

A few have stood out to Lewis, who has tried to do his part in helping the newcomers get adjusted.

"There are a few guys in the defensive backfield that have caught my eye," said Lewis. "We have a safety, Dele Junaid from Texas, that can help us out this year. On the offensive side, Pat (Patterson) is a big time receiver that caught my eye. They're all competing and doing a good job.

"A lot of the guys come up, and with knowing the plays and everything, they ask me questions about certain defenses. With my knowledge, I'm able to help them. That's what I'm here for – to be a senior and be able to help guys and lead guys down the right path."

With the season just around the corner, Lewis is eager with anticipation.

Having experienced winning for the first time in his career a year ago, the three-time letterman is anxious to hit the field and better the success of his junior year.

"It's a sense of just getting anxious and impatient," said Lewis. "You want it to come around so bad that you can't wait for the first game. That's the feeling around everybody. The days are getting closer and closer, so we've just got to keep working and keep grinding to get there.

"The clock is ticking."

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