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OXFORD, Miss. – Evan Engram had grown accustomed to Ole Miss quarterback Chad Kelly throwing the football to him. The senior tight end was comfortable with No. 10 in the pocket, always ready for Kelly to launch a pinpoint strike his way.
But those days have now come to an end following Kelly’s season-ending injury Saturday.
At Monday’s weekly Ole Miss football press conference, Engram reminisced on all that Kelly has meant to him.The senior tight end said he will always cherish the moments he and Kelly experienced on the field together in the two seasons they were teammates.
The Kelly-to-Engram connection was almost unstoppable this season. With three games remaining on the schedule, Kelly ends his season as the leader in the Southeastern Conference in passing (306.4 ypg), total offense (343.3 ypg), and passing touchdowns (19).
With Kelly at the helm this season, Engram marched to the top of the list of the league’s premier tight ends. The Powder Springs, Georgia native currently leads all tight ends in the country with an average of 5.9 catches per game and an SEC-best 86.1 receiving yards per game.
“He’s crazy on the field, just his drive and competitiveness. He’s so relentless in wanting to go score,” Engram said when asked what he will remember most about the senior quarterback.
“He wants to score every play. He wants the big play every play. The one thing I’m going to miss the most is his drive, his mentality, his energy and just wanting to be great.”
Evan Engram on what he will miss most about QB Chad Kelly
The entire Ole Miss Football team has understandably been a little dejected since news broke on Sunday that Kelly will miss the remainder of the 2016 season after suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament and a torn lateral meniscus in the Rebels’ 37-27 win last Saturday against Georgia Southern.
But Engram believes both Kelly and senior defensive end John Youngblood, whose season is over, as well, after suffering a leg injury against the Eagles, can still contribute to the team’s preparation for game day—starting this week against No. 10 Texas A&M (7-2, 4-2 SEC). The Aggies are coming off a 35-28 loss at Mississippi State.
“You don’t imagine your last moments as a college football player to go like that,” Engram said about his fallen teammates.
“It’s tough, but everything happens for a reason. Those two know that. They still have a role for our team. They are huge vocal leaders, especially with Youngblood on the defensive side.”
Engram on the role of Kelly and Youngblood
Evan Engram discusses the injuries to Kelly and Youngblood and expresses confidence in the Rebels’ freshman quarterbacks, Pellerin and Patterson. (VIDEO CREDIT: Andy Hodges, GameDayMiss.com)
With Kelly out of the lineup, Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze has been tasked with deciding who will replace a guy that led the program to a Sugar Bowl-winning season in 2015. Last season, Kelly became the first quarterback to lead the Rebels (4-5, 1-4) to wins over Alabama, Auburn and LSU in the same season.
At Monday’s weekly press conference, Freeze said redshirt freshman Jason Pellerin, who stepped in and quarterbacked the team to victory after Kelly left Saturday’s game, will get most of the reps with the first team this week in practice. Other names such as Markell Pack, Jeremy Liggins and Engram have also been mentioned as potential options at quarterback.
Freshman quarterback Shea Patterson, a five-star recruit in the class of 2016, had by all accounts been set to redshirt this year; however, Freeze said Monday he would weigh all options in deciding whether or not to pull the redshirt. But regardless of whether it’s Pellerin or Patterson at the helm, Engram has confidence in both quarterbacks and believes each would be prepared to lead Ole Miss to an SEC road win against the Aggies.
“Seeing Jason come in Saturday, unexpected. You would think that we would run the score up—and then they would get some time, but it was still a 10-point game when he came in. I was really impressed with how he came in and managed, wasn’t panicking. He settled in the moment and got it done.”
Engram on Jason Pellerin
Engram is certain Patterson could also run the Rebels’ offense if Coach Freeze makes that decision.
“…Watching him make plays in practice and all through camp—if I didn’t watch a play of football and watched Shea play, I would not think he’s a true freshman. I have the utmost confidence in the both of them.”
Engram on Shea Patterson
Wide receiver Van Jefferson has a hip pointer, but it’s not a fracture according to Freeze. The Rebels’ coach said he will monitor Jefferson’s progression as the week goes.
Senior center Robert Conyers will travel with the team to College Station, Texas and will play if he’s needed. Right tackle Sean Rawlings and left tackle Rod Taylor will be day-to-day as Freeze mentioned “they are definitely not well.” Freeze added if the game was today (Monday), neither Rawlings nor Taylor would be on the field.
Ole Miss and Texas A&M will kick off at 6:30 p.m. (CT) this Saturday in College Station. The game will be televised by the SEC Network.
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.