The Hay is in the Barn

It's been eight months since the Rebels defeated Texas Tech in the Cotton Bowl to finish off a successful 9-4 2008 campaign. Chapter II of the Houston Nutt Era at Ole Miss begins Sunday at Memphis.

As the old song by Rare Earth says, "there's nothing left to do, there's nothing left to say."

After countless hours of offseason training, spring training, summer volunteer workouts and August camp since the last seconds of the Cotton Bowl ticked off, it all boils down to the coming three months and 12 golden opportunities for the 2009 Ole Miss Rebel football team to prove their mettle.

Are they a Top 10 team capable of running the table to greater heights than achieved by an Ole Miss team in decades? The pundits and fans think so, as do the team and coaches, but as Rebel Coach Houston Nutt says repeatedly, none of that matters. All that matters is what happens in the games.

What does matter, however, is the preparation the team put into the quickly upcoming season.

Motivated not only by the success of 2008, but from the feeling of being "unsatisfied," which is the team motto this year, it was easy to see this squad left no stones unturned in those critical times behind closed doors, where nobody but those in the inner sanctum saw the buckets of sweat shed with their goal still months away.

Strength & Conditioning Coach Don Decker called the offseason "as good as I have ever been associated with."

After the closed-door work was completed and the team was exposed to the media and onlookers, it was apparent Decker had reason for his statements.

The guys who needed to lose weight - John Jerry, Mark Jean-Louis, Jerrell Powe, to name some - did so and it reflected in their play during August practice.

The players who needed to gain weight and strength - Kentrell Lockett, Emmanuel Stephens, Bradley Sowell, et al - did likewise.

The members of the squad shooting for more speed and flexibility - Ted Laurent, Brandon Bolden, Enrique Davis, Markeith Summers, Johnny Brown and several more - got that accomplished.

There were even improvements in the minds of some of the younger players who needed to mature mentally and dedicate themselves more fully. Youngsters like Nathan Stanley, Craig Drummond, Gerald Rivers, and Justin Smith (prior to his broken foot) - have taken on a new, higher level of commitment.

From the time spring training ended until August practice started unfolding, all those elements - and more - were apparent.

This team means business. "Unsatisfied" is not just a catchy phrase. It became their way of life and the proof was in the re-sculptured bodies and minds.

"The team, from top to bottom, attacked the offseason the way we asked them to," said Nutt. "You can see the results in a lot of areas, across the board actually."

They have avoided one pitfall, so far, and that was not falling prey to the temptation of believing everything they heard and read about how great they are.

Sure, they have enjoyed being more recognized among their peers on campus, and the preseason accolades have been fun, but there are no swelled heads in that locker room. Nutt and his staff have made sure of that, cautioning them at every turn that pats on the back and favorable press clippings only last as long as the success continues.

And they understand, through experience, that just because someone says you are good, or as in 2008 - says you are bad, it doesn't make it so when the lights come on.

CB Marshay Green, voted one of seven permanent team captains, said it best.

"Memphis, LSU, Alabama and the rest of them don't care one bit that our fans, the media and the student body think we are good," he said bluntly.

With improved bodies, solid retention from spring training and down-to-earth minds, the Rebels went about the grind of August putting the finishing touches on the team.

In 30-odd practices, only twice did Nutt have issues with the effort. An early August practice, when the team was still getting their football legs under them, was below par and somewhat excusable. Then, earlier this week, Nutt had a tinge of disappointment in his post-practice comments, but he dismissed those in the realm of "we need to hit someone else; we need to play."

Point being, less than 10 percent of practice time, in Houston's eyes, was less productive than he had hoped for, and even it was not wasted.

"They gave us everything we asked for," Nutt stated, "and they did it with a great attitude and work ethic. For the most part, their goal every day was to get better. As a coach, you can't ask for much more."

The Rebels should be ready to get this thing known as the regular season going. They've prepared for it with everything they've got and kept a level head while doing so.

The bushel of turnip greens was picked and cleaned, the stems thrown out, during the offseason.

In August, it was put in the pot with a big slab of fatback and boiled down to the finished product.

Add a little vinegar and it's time to eat.

Everything smells savory.

We'll see how it tastes Sunday afternoon.

Bet it's good.

Due to proper care and handling, there's no reason it shouldn't be.

Let's eat!

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