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“Smile because it happened:” Twenty Ole Miss seniors leave a legacy of winning

“Smile because it happened:” Twenty Ole Miss seniors leave a legacy of winning

The great Vince Lombardi once said, “It is time for us all to stand and cheer for the doer, the achiever — the one who recognizes the challenges and does something about it.”

Nowhere is this spirit more evident, nor will the cheering be more deserved, than for the 20 proud, strong “doers” we will see for the last time at home today. They recognized the challenges of resurrecting a program and did something about it. Rebel Nation, it’s time to stand and cheer for them.

Today is the final home game for 20 seniors on the Ole Miss football team—20 young men who have helped create the “new normal” for the Rebels and renewed the tradition of winning. The list of seniors includes:

DB Justin Anderson
TE Dillon Barrett,
OL Justin Bell
DB Chief Brown
TE Matt Brown
WR Quintavius Burdette
OT Fahn Cooper
WR Cody Core
TE Dylan Dyer
S Trae Elston
DT Woodrow Hamilton
DB Mike Hilton
LB C.J. Johnson
WR Collins Moore
OG Aaron Morris
LB Denzel Nkemdiche
LB Christian Russell
C Ben Still
RB Jaylen Walton
DE Channing Ward

“We’ve got to leave with a bang”

CJ Johnson throws up a Landshark in the 2014 win over Memphis. (Photo credit: Bentley Breland, The Rebel Walk)

CJ Johnson throws up a Landshark in the 2014 win over Memphis. (Photo credit: Bentley Breland, The Rebel Walk)

While it is difficult for most of us to fathom our football Saturdays without these familiar names, imagine what it will be like for these players as they run out onto the Vaught-Hemingway field for the last time today. They will be cheered on by the friends, families, and fans who have supported them on their journey. They will watch the clock tick down on their final home game at Ole Miss, and they will remember how far they have come.

Some may reflect on their schoolboy days and the excitement they felt knowing, when their high school or junior college careers were over, they were going to have the opportunity to play for the Ole Miss Rebels. Some may think back on the highs and lows they have managed and the incredible sacrifices it took to get where they are at this one final moment.

Many will just be focused on the task at hand–beating LSU. Senior defensive end Channing Ward explains that when he runs onto the field for the final time today, his thoughts will be on LSU: “I will be more focused than anything. We’ve got to leave with a bang.”

The 20 players honored today will be leaving with a bang–regardless of what the final score is today.

They leave an incredible legacy for those who come after them. With a bowl appearance this season, the Ole Miss senior class of 2015 will be the first to go to four straight bowl games since the class of 2000 seniors. This year’s seniors’ four-year win total of 31 (and counting) is the best since the 2003 seniors had 31 wins from 2000-03. Let that sink in!

Accomplishments of this year’s seniors

o    Appearance in inaugural New Year’s Six Bowl (2014 Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl)
o    Highest national ranking (No. 3) since 1964
o    First win over No. 1 team in program history (Alabama, 2014)
o    Back-to-back wins over Alabama for the first time in program history (2014, 2015)
o    Wins at Alabama and Auburn in the same season for the first time in program history (2015)
o    Nationally ranked for 27 weeks (longest streak since 1957-62)
o    No. 1 scoring defense in the country (2014)
o    School record for total offense in a season (2013)

Never again…..

Mike Hilton hammers Auburn QB Sean White. (Photo credit: Bentley Breland, The Rebel Walk)

Mike Hilton hammers Auburn QB Sean White. (Photo credit: Bentley Breland, The Rebel Walk)

After four years of watching and rooting for these young men, it is hard for us to say goodbye—hard to wrap our minds around the fact that we will never again see these players on the field in Vaught-Hemingway, giving everything they have for the Red and Blue.

We will never again see Jaylen Walton scamper down the sidelines in the Vaught, outrunning State defenders en route to an electrifying touchdown run–while Dan Mullen can only stand there helplessly as it happens.

We will never again see C.J. Johnson close in on his prey and throw up the Landshark once he’s made the stop; never again see Trae Elston intercept a ball with the speed and gracefulness of an attacking jaguar; never again see Mike Hilton flying around the field in the Vaught, wearing the sacred No. 38 that his leadership and heart earned him the right to wear.

A celebratory lift in the air from Justin Bell. (Photo credit: Bentley Breland, The Rebel Walk)

A celebratory lift in the air from Justin Bell. (Photo credit: Bentley Breland, The Rebel Walk)

We will never again watch as big Justin Bell joyously lifts his teammate over his head in celebration following a touchdown; never again watch versatile Fahn Cooper shrug off defensive linemen from both the left and right sides of the offensive line; never again see Aaron Morris personify guts and heart as he runs onto the field after suffering through and recovering from so many knee injuries.

We will never again watch high-flying Cody Core make an acrobatic leap in the air to spectacularly catch the football; never again see Ben Still anchor the offensive line from his spot at center, always as sure and steady with the snap as they come; never again watch Christian Russell raise his arms in triumph after dropping the opponent for no gain; and never again watch as Channing Ward charges off the edge to harass a hapless quarterback.

“Smile because it happened”

Though it is difficult to bid these players farewell, we wish them all a lifetime of success and achievement. We offer them our sincere gratitude for all they’ve given–their bodies, minds and hearts–to the school we so love. We will remain forever grateful for their sacrifices and achievements, and, as we tell them goodbye for the last time at Vaught-Hemingway today, we will reflect on the great memories they leave behind for us all.

As the late, great Dr. Seuss once said, “Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.”

Hotty Toddy and Beat LSU! 

About The Author

Evelyn Van Pelt

Evelyn has covered sports for over two decades, beginning her journalism career as a sports writer for a newspaper in Austin, Texas. She attended Texas A&M and majored in English. Evelyn's love for Ole Miss began when her daughter Katie attended the university on a volleyball scholarship--and continued as she watched Katie receive three degrees from Ole Miss, culminating with her Pharm D. in 2012. Evelyn, a member of the FWAA, USBWA and the NCBWA, has covered Rebel sports for numerous outlets. In addition to working for The Rebel Walk, Evelyn is a sports writer for a newspaper in Texas.

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