Remembering Tony

Though a nationally televised matchup with No. 3 Alabama lingers just days away, daily football activities took a backseat to life Wednesday, as the untimely passing of former Ole Miss linebacker Tony Fein weighed on the hearts of players and coaches alike.

Fein, 27, was found dead Tuesday morning in his hometown of Port Orchard, Wash. However, details surrounding the Iraq war veteran's passing have yet to be released.

"A lot of our guys had a heavy heart today because of Tony Fein," Ole Miss head coach Houston Nutt said. "That was tough breaking news. Our thoughts and prayers are with the family."

With the Rebels in the middle of practice preparations for Alabama, Nutt said the death of a former teammate hung heavy amongst the team.

"I don't really know how it totally affects each of our guys. But they've been talking about it," he said. "They were talking about it at dinner for a long time. It's hard to believe that something like this could happen to a guy so young. That's why we tell our guys that every day is precious and you have to take advantage of every second."

A valuable contributor for Ole Miss during the 2007 and 2008 seasons, Fein earned two letters while playing middle linebacker, seeing action in 24 games and starting seven.

Fein was credited with 136 total tackles, including eight for a loss, during his two seasons. Fein's 84 tackles in 2007 ranked second on the team and 10th in the Southeastern Conference (7.6 per game), while his 52 tackles in 2008 ranked third on the team.

Shortly after the 2009 NFL Draft, Fein was signed as an undrafted free-agent by the Seattle Seahawks, but was then released. He was later picked up by the Baltimore Ravens and made it until the final round of cuts before being released on Sept. 5.

"Tony was a good friend of mine. He was my roommate for about two years," junior linebacker Allen Walker said. "We don't want to be sad, though. We want to celebrate his life instead of grieving his death. When he was here, we spent a lot of time together. We had great times and I have a lot of memories with Tony. It's a sad thing.

"But the grief is more for his family than for him. When you know a guy like Tony, you know there's nothing to be sad about. He was a great person and will always be around here. It's really sad for his family. That's what we prayed about before and after practice."

As one of the closest to Fein over the pair's time together in Oxford, Walker said he's remaining focused on all the fond memories shared throughout their respective Rebel careers.

"Tony brought a lot of energy every day. He was always a person who was up in the locker room," he said. "Whenever someone was down, he would have a joke. He was the creator of landshark. That was big for us. We actually had like a cult movement with it. He was the founder. He was just a great guy.

"Like I said, he was my roommate and we did a lot of things together. We had a lot of fun. All I can remember are fun things and funny moments. Just goofy stuff. Those are the memories you cherish. We'd argue over stupid stuff. In practice, we'd joke that it was the other guy's fault if something went wrong. You know, just pointing fingers for the hell of it. We'd do anything to get through practice and make it up to the stadium. Everything we had to do, we did it together. Ever since Coach Nutt got here, we've been a team that stuck together. We were one heartbeat. Me and Tony were here prior to that, but when he got here, we grew closer."

While an emotional leader for Ole Miss over his two-year career, the substantial growth of Fein over his senior campaign came with the arrival of Nutt in 2007.

Despite being demoted to third team the following spring for off-the-field issues, the 6-foot-2, 245 pounder emerged later in the year as one of more productive defenders for a stingy Rebel defense.

"I had a whole new respect for Tony after we got through with the Cotton Bowl. A whole new deal," said Nutt. "He invented the shark. He came so far. In academics, the weight room, his attitude, the team – he came so far. It was beautiful.

"He was really close to Ashlee Palmer. Ashlee was actually the first one to call Coach Nix with the news. Jerrell Powe, Kentrell Lockett – a lot of the guys on the defense – he stayed pretty close to them."

Senior defensive end Marcus Tillman, also a teammate of Fein, said the realization of Fein's passing is still on the minds of players.

"It was a shock. I wasn't with Tony all the time off the field, but I've been around him. He was the same guy on the field and at home," he said. "He was just fun to be around and always excited. He had a lot of energy.

"I don't know how everybody is taking it, but it made me stop for a moment. He just got off the team a little while ago. We were on the team two years together. It was just a shock. I never thought it would happen."

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