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NEW ORLEANS – Several members of the Ole Miss offense met with the media in New Orleans Monday morning in advance of the Sugar Bowl on New Year’s Day. Chad Kelly, Laquon Treadwell, Jaylen Walton, Fahn Cooper and Evan Engram spoke about the importance of the game, how their preparation is going, and what it means to them to participate in the Allstate Sugar Bowl.
When Chad Kelly was asked if he feels he has been able to rewrite his story, the Ole Miss quarterback explained: “I feel like I have been able to…but I feel like there is still a lot of work to be done and it starts with this game.” Kelly reiterated the importance of the Sugar Bowl to the team, saying: “This is a big game for the University and us, as players. We are just thankful for this opportunity.”
Kelly is eager to play an Oklahoma State team that finished second in the Big XII:
Kelly knows he will need to keep an eye out for Oklahoma State defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah on the other side of the line of scrimmage. “He is a really good player and we have known that. We just need to go out there and execute. We need to make sure that we know where he is at all times on the field and have to account for him.”
To a man, the Rebels players appear to grasp the importance of preparing for the Sugar Bowl. They have waited a year to erase the memory of last year’s New Year’s Six bowl game–a 42-3 loss to TCU.
Offensive lineman Fahn Cooper emphasized his team’s preparation for the Sugar Bowl. “I feel like before we got here we were practicing at school and the standard was set,” he said. “Our guys were not going to be going and messing around and getting in trouble. Guys were going to follow the rules and when it’s time to work, it’s time to work,” he said.
Cooper says he began putting work in during the offseason in order to make sure he was physically ready for a demanding SEC season–and postseason:
So far it appears to be working for Cooper, the Kent Hull Trophy Award Winner for the most outstanding college offensive lineman in Mississippi. “I feel like right now, I feel even better than I did three, four, five, six months ago, so I feel good; I feel I’ll be ready to play. And not just me, a lot of the guys.”
Ole Miss running back Jaylen Walton, who has gained 690 yards on the ground for the Rebels and 166 yards receiving, is looking forward to the game against the Cowboys. “I’m ready for Friday,” he said. “I want to play a great game with my brothers in the Superdome.”
The senior from Memphis is eager to be on the Sugar Bowl’s stage. “We have come a very long way. From being at the Compass Bowl in Birmingham, Alabama to the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans, it is a big step and it is a pretty big deal,” he added.
It’s obvious Walton and his teammates have worked hard to get the Ole Miss program to where it is now. “It is a huge development and achievement for us. From having a 2-10 season to where we are now with a chance to have 10 wins in one season, it is a very big deal,” he explained.
Walton also discussed the Rebels’ offense since the return of left tackle Laremy Tunsil. “We have really balanced our offense,” he noted. “We have been able to run the ball and pass the ball. The running game is going to be there. We just need to make sure we are making explosive plays and taking shots.”
Walton echoed his teammates comments on last year’s bowl game against TCU and explained how they don’t want the same result to happen this season:
Laquon Treadwell was recruited heavily by Oklahoma State, and the Ole Miss wide receiver explained why the Cowboys were on his “short list” coming out of high school–with the main reason being the number of star receivers who played there. “The list goes on and on about the great receivers the coaches have trained,” Treadwell said. “The program speaks for itself. First class facilities, big fan base, history of good wide receivers. We are trying to make that our motto here and trying to get some of the best wide receivers to come play for us.”
Treadwell expects the Oklahoma State secondary to be a worthy opponent. “They are very athletic and mobile. They have great tendencies and great hips. They can run with about any receiver they guard,” he stated.
When asked about OSU cornerback Kevin Peterson, Treadwell was very complimentary. But he also made it clear where his own focus will be. “I just have to play my game. I can’t get into what I would do differently against him,” he said. “I have to attack his tendencies, of course, but I need to play my game. I need to know what I want to do on certain plays.”
Of course no media opportunity with Treadwell occurs without the receiver being queried about his NFL plans–and it was no different on Monday. When asked about entering the NFL draft, Treadwell replied:
Ole Miss fans may not know what Treadwell’s plans are, but they do know they’ll have star tight end Evan Engram back for his senior season. The Georgia native announced two weeks ago he will indeed return to the Rebels for his final year, ending speculation that he might declare for the draft.
It was a tough decision for Engram, but one that he is glad has been settled. “I’m at peace with it, and I can’t wait to win this ballgame and start preparing for next year,” he said. “It was definitely a tough decision but it feels good to get that weight off my shoulders.”
Now that he knows he will be returning, Engram explained what he expects to see from Ole Miss next year: “We still have a lot of guys that we redshirted that are young and will be ready to compete next year. We have a great recruiting class coming in with some guys that can come in and make some plays and step up and are big for us. We went through a lot this year and we did a lot of good by being here at the Sugar Bowl.”
Engram is proud of how his team continued to play hard and win games after a heartbreaking, last-second loss to Arkansas. When asked about the season, he was characteristically positive in his reply:
Engram believes the Rebels are taking this bowl game seriously and will be ready for kickoff come Friday evening. “The first day that we got back for bowl practice, Freeze set the tone of what our expectations are,” he said. “We’re here to have fun but we’re not here to walk around all big-eyed like we’ve never been here before. We went through all that last year and I feel like the message is clear and it’s resonated with us in our minds, how we’ve been practicing, staying away from distractions and getting locked in on what our goal is here.”
The bottom line is Engram and his teammates know they are in New Orleans for business: “There’s not a second that goes by that we don’t know we’re here to win the bowl game,” he explained. “Being one of only five teams that make a New Year’s bowl game is a big deal. We feel honored to represent our conference and it’s going to be a New Year’s night downtown game, the only game on. The stadium is sold out and we’re very excited about being here.”
On Tuesday, representatives from the Ole Miss defense will meet with the media, so stay tuned to The Rebel Walk for updates!
(Feature image credit: Joshua McCoy, Ole Miss Athletics)