All in Stride

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - Since reeling off six-straight victories to end the season, Ole Miss has seen its stock soar nationally. But during SEC Media Days Thursday, Snead and company took the hype in stride.

Before Ole Miss head coach Houston Nutt, quarterback Jevan Snead and free safety Kendrick Lewis could even step to the podium Thursday, the question was being raised.

Sure, Ole Miss shared the day with the likes of Alabama, Florida and Georgia. But unlike previous years, these Rebels weren't acting as the appetizer.

Instead, the almost 1,000 media members in attendance were eager to meet the team who has captured the attention of college football this summer.

"It's a little overwhelming," Snead said of the spectacle that is SEC Media Days. "It was great to do well late last year, and it's great to have our name back out there."

And with Ole Miss' likeness back in the news, media and fans alike are waiting to see if this team can handle the hype.

Thursday only proved how far the Rebels have come since totaling zero conference wins in 2007. There were no questions of Atlanta in those days, or Heisman queries for their starting quarterback.

"I try not to put too much into it," Snead said of the Heisman talk. "When you're a kid, you dream of stuff like that. I've had a rocky road getting to where I am. Just to be mentioned with all the great players and for the Heisman is a great honor for me.

"At the same time, I'm not focused on that. That's not my main goal. My main goal is to do everything I can to improve, so I can help my team get some wins."

With most preseason prognosticators picking the Rebels as a potential top-10 team, expectations have quickly been raised in Faulkner country. It's to be expected of course, as winning six-straight games to end last season can do that for a program.

"I think with our ranking comes a lot higher expectations," said Snead. "As far as the team goes, I don't think we're handling it any differently. People said we weren't going to do well last year. We ignored them and kept working hard. I think this year we're doing the same and working hard. We're going to follow that same formula and keep doing everything we can to improve."

"We need to be unsatisfied," Lewis added. "Everyone knows us. We have to stay humble. We know that we have a bullseye on our chest. We're going to get the publicity, but we can't buy into it. We have to keep doing the things we do to be successful and continue to work hard."

But staying focused can prove difficult when your name continues to be mentioned in national headlines.

Not only has the team been surrounded by constant media attention this summer, including various photoshoots and player features for nationally syndicated publications, but Ole Miss will be showcased in a reality show by truTV during training camp.

Questions echoed an "Atlanta-or-bust" theme Thursday, and even stretched to a possible semi-rivalry between Snead and 2008 Heisman winner Tim Tebow for First-Team All-SEC votes.

Through all the madness, however, Nutt has tried to keep his players levelheaded.

"I'm excited for our players," he said. "I'm excited for them because they're embracing it the right way. It's in how they go to a 5:30 workout, how they go to school, how they go to study hall, how they're doing things. Our antennas were up as coaches to how they would approach this offseason with all the pat on the backs. It's much different. They're in uncharted waters.

"Again, the way they're handling things, I love what they're doing right now. That's why we can't wait to get to camp and get back to work. We want to carry that over. But it's a lot different. Don't worry about the attention. Go play."

A key factor in avoiding the overconfidence bug has been the emergence of leaders amongst the rising senior class.

As Ole Miss' leading tackler in 2008, Lewis has quickly made his presence felt in the locker room. The New Orleans, La., native said he learned from former veterans such as Peria Jerry and Michael Oher on how keep his teammates focused on what matters most.

"I took a lot of notes from the guys in previous years," Lewis said. "Those guys were tremendous leaders. I saw where their leadership got us and took it upon myself to not let that go to waste. We can't take a step back. I want to build this team and keep it rolling.

"We try to just stay humble and stay hungry. Me being a leader, I try to tell the guys to not buy into the hype. We were ranked at the bottom of the map just a year ago. I try to tell the guys to keep working hard, because it's going to be even harder this season. We're not a team who is going to sneak up on you. That's what I've tried to install in the guys' heads."

With fall practice looming in August, the Rebels will be able to take a break from all the talk and predictions.

It will be a welcomed relief for Snead, as finally putting words into action is the first step toward proving this team isn't a one-year wonder.

"We're really not thinking about (expectations) that much," he said. "As a team, we're doing the same things that got us where we were last year. It was hard work that got us success. That's what we'll continue to do – prepare for success."

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