By Parrish Alford
NASHVILLE – There’s a quarterback who’s passed for more than 3,000 yards and a receiver who’s caught 67 of his throws.
But it’s another guy who touches the ball on every play – more plays than the quarterback himself – who is called the MVP of the Ole Miss offense.
Center Evan Swindall, in his final game, will make his 33rd consecutive start when the Rebels face Georgia Tech in the Music City Bowl at LP Field today.
Neither the biggest lineman nor the most decorated, Swindall is not the most recognizable of Ole Miss players. You won’t find him on All-SEC teams, his accomplishments instead marked by the gratitude of his teammates.
“You look at all the really good players we have athletically, but he’s the MVP of our offense, I’d say,” Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace said. “He’s the smartest guy on the offense, and I couldn’t imagine where we would be without him.”
Without him is where the Rebels will be in 2014 as they search for a center for the first time since 2010.
Sophomore Ben Still and redshirt freshman Robert Conyers – now listed as a tackle – are the top prospects. Together they’ve appeared in three SEC games this season.
“Ben and Robert both are really good candidates. They’ve both been working at it hard, and they’ve both been with me in the meeting rooms learning stuff,” Swindall said. “I don’t think they’re going to have a problem next year. There will be fresh, new faces.”
Justin Bell, a starter at guard and a third-year sophomore, may be a candidate to join the competition.
Swindall’s value to the team is less about pushing nose tackles off the ball and more about winning battles with his wits.
He’s also required to make the calls for the offensive line and set blocking matchups once he reads the defensive front.
“I’ve been best at just my experience on the field, making the correct calls and trying to get all my other guys on the same page and just working with everybody, because we have such a huge rotation now,” Swindall said.
That huge rotation has dwindled through the season. Aaron Morris, one starting guard, went down with an ACL tear in the season opener in this town.
An MCL sprain for freshman Laremy Tunsil makes him unavailable for today’s game leaving Ole Miss with only one experienced back-up as senior Patrick Junen will work at both guard and tackle.
Swindall’s field smarts are something you might expect from an honor roll student and the son of his high school coach in Lafayette, Ga.
The arrival of Hugh Freeze as Ole Miss coach helped make Swindall more comfortable at the position because the shotgun snap in a tempo offense is more similar to the offense he ran in high school.
The coaching staff has named Swindall the team’s most valuable senior.
“He battles through pain and injuries. He’s been a steadfast performer and is a great kid, a great ambassador of your program and university,” Freeze said. “We’ve struggled at some positions up there because of some injuries and other things, and if he’d have gone down that really would have magnified our problems.”