Matt Luke is entering his first spring as the head coach of Ole Miss football, and his hopes are high for 2018.
Luke, who served last season as the Rebels’ interim head coach after the departure of Hugh Freeze, will finally get to coach Ole Miss as his own for a full year after his interim tag was removed in December.
“I’m really excited to get started,” Luke said. “We’ve got a good mixture, a lot of experience coming back. This spring, we want to focus on some of these young guys and get them quality reps.”
Luke has helped lead the Rebels through the tumultuous conclusion of a five-year NCAA investigation while securing six wins in his inaugural season at the helm of the program, capped with a win over Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl.
“I felt like our culture really improved from the beginning of the season to the end of the season,” Luke said. “We just want to keep building on that and the positive momentum of the Egg Bowl.”
Ole Miss had the No. 30 recruiting class in the nation in 2017, according to 247sports.com, an impressive feat considering the NCAA-related cloud that hung around the program in recent seasons. Luke is hoping to push the incoming freshmen and other young players to improve throughout the spring and build a foundation for future success.
“In the spring, you want to think about players not playing,” Luke said. “You really want to focus on these young guys getting better. We’ve got six days here before spring break that we really want to focus on getting these young guys reps.”
Now with a full season under his and his coordinators’ belts, Luke believes that this season could bring about an expansion of the Rebels’ offensive and defensive schemes, especially as the athletes on the team mature and gain a better understanding of the system.
“I think we’re already so much farther ahead now than we were going into fall camp last year,” Luke said. “Since we’ve got the same system on offense and defense, we’re going to be way farther ahead from a schematic standpoint.”
An interesting note heading into 2018 involves Walnut-native Armani Linton. The former safety will be making the transition to running back this year in hopes of earning more consistent minutes. Ole Miss’ leading rusher from a season ago, Jordan Wilkins, exhausted his eligibility in 2017, so the Rebels’ running back competition appears to be wide-open for the time being.
As far as changes unrelated to positions and schemes, Luke is hoping to see leaders emerge this spring and and wants his team to continue building strong chemistry in 2018.
“I just want to see the culture continue to change,” Luke said. “I want us to be a team. I don’t want us to be offense and defense. I just want to see the team. I want to see who the leaders are going to be.”
Schools have 15 days set aside for spring football practices, and Luke is taking advantage of every second.
“You only 15 shots, and you’ve got to make every one of them count, and I think that’s what we’re focused on,” Luke said.