Editor’s Note: Amanda Swain, photographer for The Rebel Walk, attended Pro Day at Ole Miss on Monday. She captured the images of players reaching for their NFL dreams, but she also reflected on how this group of players, many of whom are her friends off the field, captured her heart during their time at Ole Miss.
Exiting the Manning Center Monday, I was filled with many emotions. My very first Ole Miss Pro Day was complete and that was exciting. However, it was also bittersweet because it was my last sideline opportunity with players who have blessed my own journey more than they will ever know.
My sports photography career launched at the same time as their college careers. We have walked the field together, and being there for the final part of their Ole Miss journey means more than I can ever express.
As a photographer, my personal goal is to use the lens to capture not only the talent, but also the heart of the athletes I cover. I appreciate the privilege of witnessing moments others do not always have the opportunity to see. And in return, I make sure to truthfully share what emerges from behind the lens.
On a personal note (tears are flowing now!) I want to mention my favorite gentle giant, Robert Nkemdiche. Just the name, alone, likely sends all kinds of thoughts running through your head, but if you’re one who is honored to know him, I am sure those thoughts make your heart smile, too. His transformation in a very short period of time has encouraged me to continue to face my own fears and failures head on, and I’m forever grateful for that.
Rob’s determination ‘to be 100%’ was evident to me today, from start to finish. Trust me when I say there was a lot of sweat (I know because I hugged his neck and didn’t care)! There were moments when he would stop to redo a drill, wanting to do better and perfect himself.
I saw his many focused facial expressions, as well as plenty of smiles. And there was also honesty and sincerity when he answered all questions asked of him, some of which were personal and not related to football.
I felt truly honored to witness this powerful man successfully complete his Rebel mission there inside the Manning Center. Robert has shown courage and strength in the midst of adversity, and I am blessed to call him my friend. I look forward to what’s ahead for him.
“Trust the Process”
Laquon Treadwell prompts another smile and another tug on my heartstrings. With the huge number of scouts and NFL personnel in attendance today, my view of the field was somewhat limited; however, my sideline view for the past few years was not.
Laquon, with his huge heart, is another player we’ve all grown to love–and one who has inspired many of us. The game of football—especially “that” game in 2014—changed this man. “Trust the process” seemed to become part of his personal testimony and mission. His hard-fought recovery, steadfast faith and remarkable triumphs were evident throughout his process.
While it was wonderful to see Laquon on the practice field again, so close to fulfilling his NFL dream, watching him only drove home how deeply he will be missed–not just for his football acumen, but for his character. I have no doubt this determined Ole Miss Rebel will make us proud and inspire us for years to come as we watch him excel at the next level.
Showing up and showing out at Pro Day
Though I’ve only mentioned these two players, please know there were many more proud Rebel moments at Pro Day.
Trae Elston’s determination to show teams why he should have been invited to the NFL combine was evident; he has the heart of a lion–and ran the 40 like a gazelle (4.46).
Mike Hilton’s incredible work ethic was front and center as he skillfully completed drills, his leadership evident to all those watching. (He ran a 4.55 40.)
The blazing fast 40-yard dashes from players such as Chief Brown (4.60), Channing Ward (4.74), and Quintavius Burette (4.45) were testaments to their hard work, pride and desire.
The offensive linemen–Justin Bell, Fahn Cooper, Laremy Tunsil and Aaron Morris–went through individual drills, but they did so with a spirit of love and support for one another that was obvious.
These were just a few of the moments that made this Rebel’s heart swell with pride.
There were moms, dads, family, friends and legends amongst the encouraging crowd in attendance at the Manning Center. The cheers and chants for all our REBS were priceless, and every athlete who took the field did so with the same goal:
Rise above their college ball days and prove they are REBEL READY for the NFL.
Next season, I’ll be watching with pride from a different angle, on a different game day, while these names hopefully run their new fields:
Barrett, Bell, Bennett, Brown, Bryant, Cooper, Core, Elston, Hamilton, Hilton, Johnson, Morris, Nkemdiche, Russell, Sanders, Treadwell, Tunsil, Walton, and Ward.
“Hold the vision” and “trust the process,” guys. Thank you for what you will always mean to me and to Ole Miss Rebels everywhere.