With spring training in full swing, Ole Miss football is focused on football. Despite setbacks, primarily the NCAA’s notice of allegations regarding the university’s recruiting practices, head coach Hugh Freeze is looking to veteran leadership, alongside a few new arrivals, to forge a strong core for next season.
“This is my last year,” returning senior defensive end Marquis Haynes said. “There was nothing I could do to control [the ban]. The attitude on the team has been phenomenal, really, everyone staying positive and moving forward.”
Haynes, who ranks third in school history with 24.5 career sacks, is one of the veterans Freeze hopes will step into a leadership role in the fall. For Freeze, that starts in the weight room. Haynes, who weighs in at 230 pounds, hopes to gain 10 more pounds of muscle before the season starts in order to increase his strength and ultimately make him more NFL-ready.
“He’s got the speed; he’s got the tools; he’s got the pass-rush abilities, but I’d like to see him gain some weight,” Freeze said.
If Haynes can successfully bulk up, he could become an even greater asset to a team desperate for power and size. Yet his greatest contribution next season may not show up in the stat line.
With Wesley McGriff replacing Dave Wommack as defensive coordinator, as well as new linebacker and defensive line coaches, the Rebels’ sideline staff is going to be near unrecognizable next year. Not to mention, the Rebels are only returning six defensive starters. Without a bowl game to aim for, leading the defense in 2017 will be a challenge. Haynes and several other upperclassmen stand ready to shoulder that burden.
As for McGriff’s transition thus far, Haynes praised the new coordinator’s ability to motivate and lead the charge for a defense that ranked 111th in the nation last year.
“Having coach McGriff has been a big point for us. He gets the best out of us every practice and pushes us more and more. We really appreciate that,” Haynes said.
McGriff was a cornerback coach at Ole Miss in 2012 and was an important asset on the recruiting trail that year, as well, helping to haul in a class headlined by Tony Conner, Robert Nkemdiche and Laquon Treadwell. His contributions, like Haynes’ and Freeze’s, will be necessary to ensure the continued success of Ole Miss’ football program.
While the NCAA sanctions and self-imposed bowl ban certainly limit what Ole Miss can do in the years to come, veterans and newcomers alike are sure to be instrumental in ensuring the Rebels suffer a dent and not a defeat. With six new coaching staff hires, Ole Miss will be forced to embrace the new. And with returning seniors, including Haynes, eager to finish a job left undone, there will be plenty of veteran leadership to smooth over the transition.