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OXFORD, MS. – Not many student-athletes would still have a smile on their face after undergoing two surgeries to repair a torn medial collateral ligament (MCL), but Tony Conner does—in large part because of the support he has received from the people who love him the most.
Wearing his blue No. 12 Rebels game day jersey at Monday’s Ole Miss Media Day, the Batesville, Mississippi native opened up about what has helped him get through one of the most difficult times of his collegiate career, beginning with the support he received from his girlfriend Chasity Baker, who, incidentally, told Conner when they first met she would prefer him to quit the game he’s been playing since the age of eight.
Fortunately for Ole Miss, it was too difficult for the senior defensive back to walk away from a sport in which he has worked so hard to rise to the top. The Rebels will rely heavily on Conner’s leadership and presence on the field, especially after the losses of Mike Hilton and Trae Elston in the secondary.
Despite the fact that Conner continued to play football, Baker’s support has been steadfast—especially when he couldn’t play a single down for Ole Miss after suffering a meniscus tear in his knee last season in week three against Alabama. The injury forced Conner to miss six straight games.
“Ever since this injury has occurred, she has been there since day one, helping me with anything,” Conner said of his girlfriend. “When I had my surgery, she was there for me.”
Conner says he also stays in touch with his cousin, Roderick Moore, who provides another shoulder to lean on while Conner works to get back to his All-Southeastern Conference form of 2014 when he had 69 tackles (nine for loss) and was part of the Rebels’ talented scoring defense that finished that year No. 1 in the nation.
Last, but certainly not least, in Conner’s support team, is his mom, Mary Conner, who works long shifts at Tri-Lakes Medical Center but still checks on him whenever she has a chance to make a phone call or send a quick text message.
“It’s all good,” Conner said, seriously. “That’s family.”
Conner started five games at Huskie last season and had started 28 straight games at the position before his injury forced the six-game absence. He returned for last season’s Arkansas game, where he finished with four tackles (two solo). The three-year starter made his final appearance of the 2015 season against LSU, finishing the game with three tackles (two solo) with two tackles for losses.
Conner wants to pick up where he left off prior to the injury and hopes nothing gets in the way of his final season in Oxford. While in fall camp, he has been wearing a brace on his surgically-repaired knee, and it is clear the coaching staff is being cautious with certain drills he performs.
Mentally, Conner said he felt great in the team’s second day of camp and he is looking forward to what’s ahead for No. 12 Ole Miss on Labor Day—a top 25 clash against No. 4 Florida State in Orlando.
Conner is eager to come out of the tunnel in full pads with his helmet on when the Rebels take on the Seminoles and is working hard daily at fall camp to ensure it happens. Conner was asked if he could play in a hard-hitting football game if the season started tomorrow and his response wasn’t shocking.
“I may not be 100 percent, but I’m playing,” Conner said.
Ole Miss senior Tony Conner
But what if Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze didn’t want him to risk suffering another season-ending injury? “I’m going out,” Conner said emphatically. “I’m ready.”
Courtney is from Memphis and received his Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Arts from the University of Memphis in May of 2014. He began his journalism career covering the Memphis Tigers Men’s basketball team, which landed him an intern position on 730 Yahoo Sports Radio and a position with Rivals.com. A freelance writer for the Associated Press, Courtney is also a member of The Rebel Walk team and reports regularly on Ole Miss football and basketball. Courtney, the father of a six-year old girl named Soniyah, prefers to cover NCAA basketball and football, but is happy to report on any other sport that comes his way.