By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – Kentrell Lockett got a lot of things done on the football field for Ole Miss in 2009.
But it wasn’t Lockett’s constant pressure on the quarterback that Houston Nutt, at SEC Media Days, most discussed when reviewing the Rebels’ dismal defensive performance in 2010, a year without Lockett.
In their third season with Nutt as head coach and with Tyrone Nix as defensive coordinator, the Rebels gave up 35.2 points a game last – by a wide margin – in the SEC and 107th out of 120 major college teams.
“The first two years I really thought we played with that passion and energy to get to the ball. I just didn’t feel like we did that last year,” Nutt said.
Lockett showed that hunger for the ball as a junior two years ago. He led the team in quarterback pressures with 13 and had five sacks and 10 tackles for loss.
A Hahnville, La., native, his senior year was reinstated by the NCAA in the spring, a sixth season of eligibility since a shoulder injury cut short his freshman season.
Lockett sustained a torn anterior cruciate knee ligament (ACL) in the fourth game against Fresno State. He had already missed the season opener against Jacksonville State with an irregular heartbeat.
Lockett struggled in going from field leader to sideline observer – and the Rebels struggled without him.
“It was so much the attitude,” he said. “I know from the previous years, like the first Cotton Bowl year and the second Cotton Bowl year, if something bad happened, if they scored, if they got a first down, if they broke a long run, that was just that play. It was going to change.”
It was that strong will, combined with the ability to rally players around him – leadership it’s called – that Nutt says the Rebels missed most.
Lockett’s infectious personality, his excitement for 2011, has spread among his teammates, particularly the newer ones, Nutt said.
“It’s just him being in the locker room, him riding the bus, all those little things you take for granted. Eating lunch … those freshmen are already looking up to him.”
Leadership is big, but so are the field results for a defense that will count on unproven interior linemen and a junior college transfer senior in Wayne Dorsey, who will try to rise up from a disappointing first season on campus.
Many players bounce back from ACL and return to form, but there are other stories, too. Lockett – who was voted second-team preseason All-SEC by the coaches, first team by the media – is eager to get on the field and test the knee.
“When I play ball, everything else just completely goes. It just goes. Any worries, any problems, I’m not even worried about it, because I’m doing what I do best. I’m in the element, I’m in a zone. If any pain or anything or any worries, I’m not going to notice it until after the game’s over, after I watch film, if I’m slow getting off the ball. I ain’t too much worried about it.”