Coach Freeze addressed the media on the fourth and final day of SEC Media Days Thursday.
He began his statements by mentioning young Chance Tetrick, an 11-year-old Ole Miss fan locked in a tenacious fight against a rare form of leukemia. Chance faced a setback in the early hours of the morning Thursday, so before Freeze began his football discussion, he wanted the family to know he and his team are thinking of them.
After he moved on to discuss football, Freeze started off by joking that he doesn’t believe Coach Spurrier is as eager to play the Rebels as he was in Freeze’s first year at the helm. Back then, Coach Spurrier told the media he wanted to play Ole Miss every year—as he considered them an easy victory.
After success turning the program around in his first two seasons, Freeze seems confident his team is ready for an even bigger year in 2014–and he even has a specific philosophy he hopes his team adopts. “All-in” is the team motto for the upcoming season, he said.
The fall camp will be about the team “being all in with relentless effort,” Freeze said. “I don’t know that anyone doing any job can have perfect execution all the time, but you can be perfect in your execution,” he added.
He went on to say the Rebels spring practices were indicative of this “all-in” attitude. “I couldn’t have asked for a better 15 days than we had. [We were] very physical, very competitive. I’m looking forward to how that carries over into fall camp.”
Rebels buying-in to Freeze’s philosophies
As any coach will tell you, getting the players to understand and believe in your system is crucial to the long-term success of the program.
Freeze believes the majority of his team is on board with what he and his staff are trying to accomplish. “In our three years here, two, going on the third, I think the buy-in percentage from our kids, staff, everyone in our building is at an all-time high,” he said.
Along those lines, he also stressed the importance of having leadership from some of his older players. “I think leadership will be the key,” he said, “and we haven’t developed leadership within our locker room to the point that I am totally happy with.”
He did point out that Bo Wallace “has matured nicely,” along with Laquon Treadwell and Laremy Tunsil—both of whom he considers as leaders on the offensive side of the ball.
He was also quick to add that he would like to see C.J. Johnson and Cody Prewitt “come on as great leaders defensively.”
One player, however, that Freeze knows can and will lead the team is Deterrian Shackelford, the Chucky Mullins Award winner who is in his sixth year at Ole Miss. Of Shackelford, Freeze stressed he is excited about the leadership the veteran brings to the team. “We got the right guy in D.T. Shackelford” as our Chucky Award winner. “One of the qualities he has is he finishes.”
Freeze turned his attention to the academic standing of his student-athletes, noting he “couldn’t be more proud of the progress that we’ve made in the APR.”
The APR is the Academic Progress Rating used by the NCAA to assess a program’s academic status. Teams scoring below certain thresholds can face consequences, including practice restrictions and playing season reductions. For example, in order to compete in the 2014-15 postseason, teams must achieve either a 930 multi-year APR or a 940 average over the most recent two years.
Freeze pointed out his Rebels have had two years in a row where they’ve scored 965 or better. “We were struggling some when I arrived there in that regard, so I couldn’t be more pleased with what’s going on with that now,” he added.
As for the nuts and bolts of what the 2014 Rebels will need improve upon, Freeze said they must: get better in red zone scoring on offense; come up with more takeaways on defense; and, improve on third downs.
When asked if the Rebel football program is where he expected it to be at this point, Freeze smiled and said, “Being specifically candid, I think we’re ahead.”
Rebel Nation is counting down the days until the 2014 Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game against Boise State on August 28th—41 days to be exact.