HOOVER, Ala. – Opposing forces within the Ole Miss family were at work during the school’s SEC Media Days appearance on opening day.
Rebels coach Hugh Freeze in his second year changed his off-season message from “wilderness” to “journey.”
It’s been appropriate after a 7-6 season capped by a dominating bowl win over Pittsburgh. Not only did the Rebels win more than they lost, they left wins on the table against Texas A&M and Vanderbilt.
Now 19 starters return, and many Ole Miss fans are amped up and eager for much bigger things.
So the second half of Freeze’s message has been to slow things down.
“I told every group that I went to this spring, and I tell our team quite often, that unrealistic expectations … they always produce frustration,” Freeze said.
In one comment Mike Marry untied everything.
The Rebels’ senior middle linebacker gave fans who want to dream big a lot to reason to do just that.
The biggest name in Freeze’s top 10 signing class is defensive end Robert Nkemdiche, the nation’s consensus No. 1 player last year.
When asked to evaluate his new teammate, Marry didn’t hold back. That’s good news for media but not always good for message.
“I think he’ll be a great player. He’ll come in and help us a lot immediately,” Marry said.
But wait, there’s more.
“He reminds me of (Jadeveon) Clowney from South Carolina. I feel like he’s going to be a whole different type of player. Pretty soon people will be comparing other players to him and not somebody else.”
Any player added to a program represents some degree of risk. All newcomers have to acclimate to a new environment. Some handle that better than others.
Marry went on to praise Nkemdiche’s work ethic and attention to preparation. Those are important intangibles.
Robert Nkemdiche’s greatest challenge may be his outgoing personality. Look at the current headlines and use Texas A&M star Johnny Manziel as a glaring example.
Nkemdiche will benefit from having his grounded older brother, Denzel, on the team, but you can say this about the Nkemdiches: They do enjoy Twitter.
Coaches like to be in control and manage everything, but Freeze is right to try to manage expectations.
It’s possible, though, that he’s got an impact freshman who could make his fears unfounded.
If Marry’s assessment is on target that might not pave the way to the SEC West title, but it could turn close games the Rebels’ way. A well-timed sack and caused fumble could have done that against Vanderbilt and Texas A&M a year ago.
How different – and better – the season would have looked then when Ole Miss began 2012 a distant 14th in the expanded SEC.
Parrish Alford (parrish.alford@ journalinc.com) covers Ole Miss for the Daily Journal. He blogs daily at InsideOleMissSports.com.