By Parrish Alford
OXFORD – Tis the season for weight gain and faster 40 times.
College football players take pride in their summer measurables, with hopes they’ll provide a competitive advantage when the games begin.
For Ole Miss, that’s the night of Aug. 28 against Boise State in the Georgia Dome. The Rebels officially check in on Friday as they come under the watchful eyes of Hugh Freeze and his assistant coaches.
Issac Gross will celebrate fitness with his teammates, but he’s no longer concerned with the idea of getting bigger. It doesn’t mean he won’t try, but as the clock ticks on his college experience he’s more focused on doing the best he can with what he has.
An All-American defensive lineman at South Panola, Gross was listed at 270 pounds the first time he appeared in an Ole Miss media guide as a freshman signee in 2012. The roster on the school’s website and this year’s media guide list him at 250 pounds.
Both are wrong says Gross, who lists his weight at 240.
“I’ve stopped worrying about my size. I’m doing my workouts the best I can. My body’s growing, but it’s a different shape,” he said. “When I line up I just play off what’s inside me. I might be 300 pounds with my heart. I just go out there and play ball.”
While size has occasionally been an issue for Gross as he bangs with offensive linemen who outweigh him between 50 and 100 pounds, size hasn’t kept him from being productive. He had nine tackles for loss and 31⁄2 sacks last year, 19 tackles for loss and six sacks over two years. He made the freshman All-SEC team in 2012.
Freeze wishes he could have redshirted Gross back then.
“He needed one. Not because he can’t play. He needed time to get bigger and stronger. It would have done him good to eat three meals a day and work out four times a week,” Freeze said. “We couldn’t do that at the time, and I don’t know that we can do that with him now.”
There’s also been weight loss for a newcomer, former Lafayette High School star Jeremy Liggins, whose weight was believed to be north of 300.
Freeze, at SEC Media Days, said Liggins was down to 280. Last week strength and conditioning coach Paul Jackson told The Oxford Citizen that Liggins’ weight loss has been around 15 pounds and that he currently weighs in at 290.
Regardless of Liggins’ weight, coaches are pleased with his conditioning.
“He’s done absolutely phenomenal work. I couldn’t be happier with Jeremy Liggins,” Freeze said. “He looks like a million bucks.”
Liggins was used exclusively at quarterback in the spring and will likely become the Rebels’ No. 1 short-yardage option. After spring, Freeze challenged Liggins to work on his conditioning and make that happen.
Liggins’ size, mobility and ball-handling skills make him a versatile athlete, one with no true position right now.
“I don’t know where I’m going to play him yet, but he’s going to help us,” Freeze said.