By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
HOOVER, Ala. – Hugh Freeze has spent his first summer at Ole Miss coach talking about a program in the “wilderness.”
It was amid those low expectations that he hiked to the podium at SEC Media Days to represent the Rebels for the first time.
Earlier Thursday morning, Ole Miss had become the first team to be projected No. 7 in the newly expanded Western Division by the SEC media.
Freeze continued to sound the warning signals while insisting the repetitive theme of danger in the rugged outdoors isn’t a message that will cause his players to believe they can’t win in 2012.
“I think they hear the consistent message we give them every single day about winning the day,” Freeze said. “It’s the process of getting out of the wilderness, and that’s what they’re focused on. They’re position coaches and accountability coaches are focused on how we win today. We’re not talking about the negatives of where we are, but everybody knows that. It’s documented all over ESPN.”
Coming off a 2-10 season the Rebels open the Freeze Era on a 14-game SEC losing streak.
A schedule which includes a non-conference home game with Texas, has been rated the toughest in the SEC.
Ole Miss had one player mentioned on the media’s preseason All-SEC squads – defensive back Charles Sawyer made the third team.
Freeze and his coaches themselves spoke of openly in the spring of a thin number of players they viewed at the time as major SEC contributors.
That being said, Freeze isn’t writing off the coming season.
“I know this. The kids we’re coaching here are no different than the kids we coached at Lambuth or Arkansas State. They run a little faster, they’re a little bigger, but they have the same desire to compete. I know that if we have that and somehow create some chemistry and accountability, we might pull a few surprises.”
Sawyer, who accompanied Freeze to Media Days along with wide receiver Donte Moncrief and linebacker Mike Marry, says chemistry is light years ahead of where it was before Freeze arrived and is getting better.
Sawyer described last year’s team as “very divided,” but says that’s changed.
“You had one group here, one group there, one group there. We all played on Saturday, but at the end of the day, there were still groups. Now, you see the team, and it’s not groups. It’s the team. Even when you go out to eat. You would go out with a couple of people, but now it’s like all of us going out to eat. It’s coming together.”
As Ole Miss approaches the season with few known advantages over SEC teams, it may be turning chemistry into one.
The Rebels aren’t approaching the season by hearing a “wilderness” message intended for the fan base then backing down.
“That makes us think the harder we work the better we’ll be,” Moncrief said. “We’ll work hard now, through the summer, learn the playbook and come out and show everybody.”