By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – The time for making a first impression is past, and it didn’t go well for Randall Mackey.
Now a senior, the former Parade All-American is excited to have a chance for a second impression in more ways than one.
A lifetime quarterback, Mackey will figure prominently into the new Hugh Freeze offense at running back when the Rebels open play Saturday night against Central Arkansas.
Mackey’s new role hasn’t been a secret, but it may grow even larger than expected as back pain lingers for junior Jeff Scott, the Rebels’ most experienced back.
“I ain’t set goals. I just want to go out with my teammates and win ballgames,” Mackey says.
Being out there with teammates was not always a given in 2011. Mackey was set to become the starter for the Rebels’ opener against BYU but was suspended for the game following his arrest the week prior.
By the fifth week, he was the starter again, only to lose the job when he was suspended for the last two games. His absence did not go unnoticed.
“He surprised a lot of people. He made a reputation, but he’s really turned things around. He’s going to have a big year. I’m positive of that,” lineman Emmanuel McCray said.
When Freeze assembled his players for spring drills Mackey began at quarterback. Before spring was complete he was at wide receiver, and the day before camp began, Freeze announced that Mackey would move to running back.
The move immediately made deeper a position where Scott had the only measurable experience.
The emergence of freshman backs I’Tavius Mathers and Jaylen Walton since then has helped the Rebels create depth at the position.
Earlier this week, running backs coach Derrick Nix said as many as six running backs could get in the game.
That depth is a good thing, but Scott’s unclear status could also mean a larger-than-expected role for Mackey in his first start at running back.
Always labeled as a “running quarterback,” Mackey has adapted quickly to his new position.
He’s got great vision, great timing and balance. It’s an innate thing. It’s not like we can do a drill,” co-offensive coordinator Dan Werner said. “Somebody didn’t do a drill with Magic Johnson and teach him to throw no-look passes. He just had it, and we’re hoping that Randall just has it.”
Running backs coach Derrick Nix says Mackey has balance at the line of scrimmage, something that will serve him well.
Mackey was the team’s third-leading rusher a year ago, but that just meant 180 yards after sack yardage was subtracted from a gross figure of 360 yards. His longest run was 28 yards.
Running as the quarterback – when defenses are often dropping back on a pass play – and running as the running back are different things.
Priority No. 1 is ball-security.
“Mike Marry and Aaron Garbutt, the rest of those linebackers, after a month of hitting them, I think I’m good for contact in the SEC. All them guys bring it every day,” Mackey said.
Mackey has “brought it” with the attitude change.
Smiling when he discusses a team meeting room, he takes pride in the fact that the coaches are taking pride in him.
“I said when I got here I thought he could be a special player if he got his act together off the field. He seems to have done that to this point,” Freeze said. “I’m very cautiously optimistic that that will continue.”