'We'll Be Fine'

It wasn't your typical Tuesday of game week. The season opener is supposed to be much anticipated as everything builds toward kickoff.

Oh, everyone still looks forward to Ole Miss hosting Jacksonville State at 2:30 p.m. Saturday. But there have been a few twists and turns, not only today and this week but all month. There may never have been an August like it for the program.

On Tuesday it was revealed the NCAA would declare transfer quarterback Jeremiah Masoli, a graduate student with an undergraduate degree from Oregon, eligible to play for the Rebels – in the fall of 2011.

Certainly that wasn't the news anyone in the Ole Miss camp wanted to hear.

Nathan Stanley

Then more bad news. Senior defensive end and one of the team's captains, Kentrell Lockett, will miss Saturday's game with a heart situation that is being evaluated by specialists at The Cleveland Clinic in Ohio. Lockett experienced a fluttering of his heart, a change in heart rate, during last Saturday's practice.

Two key players in all this, another team captain in Jerrell Powe, who has his own story of life with the NCAA, and starting quarterback Nathan Stanley, spoke to the media after what Coach Houston Nutt himself called a difficult day.

"It's been tough," said Powe, a senior defensive tackle. "We lost a starter (on defense). We lost a potential starter on offense. It's very hard when you take a blow like this right before the first game."

Powe said the Rebels will bounce back.

"We'll be fine," he said. "We've got guys we believe in. We've got guys we can trust. Those guys will have to step up and we'll have to press on."

Optimism from a guy who has always displayed that in his years here, both before he became eligible and since.

Stanley, by all accounts, was going to start Saturday anyway. Nutt had said they were preparing as if Masoli might not be able to play against the Gamecocks. The appeal to the NCAA by Ole Miss could be heard as early as Friday but perhaps not for a week.

Stanley, a third-year sophomore, will take the first snaps of the game, with junior transfer Randall Mackey his backup.

"It's a long, drown-out process," said Stanley of Masoli's situation. "In the end, I hope it goes in our favor. But we've got to get focused on Saturday."

With all the ups and downs of an August camp to remember, Stanley said his approach has remained constant.

Jerrell Powe

"I'm just worried about the team right now and just going out and getting better every day, using every day's practice to get ready for the game," he said.

Stanley said he felt Masoli accepted that while the situation isn't over, with an appeal remaining, keeping the faith is important.

"He's handled it well," Stanley said. "Jeremiah's a really good leader. He's still preparing as if he is going to go out there Saturday. He's getting in guys' ears and being a good leader, just like he'll be ready for Saturday."

Powe said he continues to encourage Masoli as he walks a different but familiar path with the NCAA in a quest to play for the Rebels.

"You've gotta press on and keep your head up and put it all in God's hand," he said. "We trust they're going to make the right decision. It's very important that he just keep a positive attitude, come out here and work hard every day, and just put it in God's hand. There's nothing else you can do."

While that is clearly experience speaking when it comes to the NCAA and dealing with decisions that take longer than one wants, Stanley deals with another form of experience – the lack of it. He has seen action in five college games, all last season, and all non-conference contests – Memphis, Southeastern Louisiana, UAB, Northern Arizona, and Oklahoma State, a team from his home state.

Now it's his team to lead, and Stanley says he's ready for the task at hand.

"That's just kinda the nature of the game," he said of the twists and turns since the Cotton Bowl victory over the Cowboys last January. "Nothing's handed to me. Whether I was announced the starter last spring or today, I'm just going to go out there and do what I have to do to be successful and make this team better."

Powe and his teammates are concerned about Lockett, and they want him back with them as soon as he is able to be.

"We thought it was a minor situation, but I see it is very serious," Powe said. "The D-line plans to get together and call him to say some words of encouragement. He will be missed a lot. He's a leader. He's a captain. But we've got to press on.

"We'll miss his motor on the field and his motor off the field and getting us ready and pumped up," Powe continued. "So we definitely want him back in that locker room on Saturday."

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