By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – Jason Jones’ final season of college football won’t be remembered with a championship banner.
He’s OK, though, if people just remember him and think of Bob the Builder.
Twenty-two Ole Miss seniors will be honored in a pre-game ceremony Saturday prior to a 6 p.m., kickoff against rival Mississippi State.
Only seven are signees from high schools who have been in the program for at least four years. That doesn’t devalue the contributions of the junior college transfers and former walk-ons – including a very accurate kicker like Bryson Rose – but it underscores the importance of the work done by Jones and other seniors.
“I’m very, very pleased with the progress and foundation toward our journey and process that we’re going through here,” Freeze said.
Jones, of Albany, Ga., was a true freshman and redshirt freshman on the back-to-back Cotton Bowl teams. He hopes to experience one more bowl game – that will happen if the Rebels end a three-year losing streak to rival Mississippi State on Saturday night – but for Jones, there’s reward in rebuilding.
“When we go out with a bang we’re going to be remembered as the foundation of bringing Ole Miss back to where it needs to be,” he said.
Jones, signed as a linebacker, sustained a torn ACL as a sophomore and later a position change before setting in at end.
His consistency in attitude and leadership helped make him the Chuck Mullins Award winner in the spring, and he’s proudly worn No. 38 this season.
“It’s been something special to me. It’s a tradition here at this university, and it represents Rebel Nation. People know about this all over the nation. It’s definitely a blessing to wear this jersey, No. 38,” he said.
Jones hopes the players who follow can be blessed with more wins.
On the surface the Rebels’ record is mediocre, but close observers know of player attrition and academic shortcomings that were rooted in Freeze’s “wilderness” theme for his off-season speaking appearances.
Ole Miss is 5-6 with a first-year junior college transfer at quarterback and freshmen sprinkled throughout the defense.
The bowl business would be solidified already had the Rebels successfully closed just one of three losses in which they led with less than 2 minutes to play.
“Last year we lost a lot of games getting blown out. Sometimes it shocks people that we’re in games this year. You’ve got to let people know it’s a lot of young guys out there. You’ve got to talk to them and just let them know, all you have to do is be able to finish, close out teams, and it will be a whole different season,” said offensive lineman A.J. Hawkins, a senior from Lithonia, Ga.
As Freeze worked to gain the trust of his inherited players, the seniors were the first to respond.
They were juniors on one of the most embarrassing seasons in school history
“Most of them, without exception, were the easiest to convince. They more than any others can attest to the disappointing times that they have experienced and know that they didn’t want this season to go like the others where you’re being looked at as getting beat badly in games and somewhat the laughingstock of the conference. They’ve done a lot to remove that stigma,” Freeze said.
From a 2-10 season a year ago and an average margin of defeat of 39.8 points in SEC games, the seniors have overseen growth regardless of Saturday’s outcome.
But there’s only one outcome on their minds.
“I have ex-players, former players that played here calling me and telling me how important it is. They were upset they couldn’t get it. You just want to leave with the Egg Bowl trophy,” Hawkins said.