Young Rebels making their mark on Ole Miss offense
OXFORD, Miss. – It is too early to predict where the Rebels will finish in the SEC West this season. But after three games, one thing is for sure – with the incredibly talented youth on the Ole Miss roster, if the Rebels fielded a freshman or JV team, they would likely win the national title.
Of the 120 players on the Ole Miss roster, 70 are freshmen or sophomores.
It wasn’t until 1972 that freshman players were even allowed to play on their college varsity teams. After football players on the Wichita State and Marshall teams were killed in separate plane crashes in 1970, the NCAA granted waivers to allow freshmen to play on varsity—or those schools would not have had enough players to field a team. The ruling was made permanent in 1972.[dropshadowbox align=”right” effect=”lifted-both” width=”350px” height=”” background_color=”#ffffff” border_width=”1″ border_color=”#3920a3″ ]On October 2, 1970, a plane carrying members of the Wichita State football team crashed en route to play Utah State. Thirty-one people died as a result of the crash, including 14 players, 14 WSU staff and boosters, and three crew members. Nine days after the crash, the players voted 76-1 to start what became known as the “Second Season.” The players said returning to practice gave them a sense of comfort and allowed them to honor their teammates.
On Nov. 14, 1970, a plane carrying Marshall’s football team home crashed near the airport in Huntington, W.V., killing 75 people. Thirty-seven Marshall football players, along with the team’s coach, its doctors, the university athletic director and 25 team boosters were killed in a crash that devastated the school and community.[/dropshadowbox]
Other schools fielded junior varsity teams to get their younger players some game experience.
Well, the Rebels are using younger players now — and most of them are going against opponents with two and three years more experience.
Yet, these Baby Rebels are holding their own…and then some.
Especially on the offensive side of the ball, where 14 of the 26 two and three-deep are freshmen or sophomores, these guys have talent that will shine in Vaught-Hemingway Stadium for seasons to come.
So far this season, several youngsters have contributed to the Rebels’ 2-1 start and a few made a big splash in Saturday’s 40-29 win over Southeastern Louisiana.
One of the young players seems as if he has been in Oxford for years. Redshirt freshman Matt Corral took over the reins of the offense this season, and the California native has completed 63 percent of his passes through three games.
Corral, who has thrown for 578 yards and four touchdowns with only one interception, was named SEC Freshman of the Week last week after his performance against Arkansas.
Helping protect Corral’s blind side is true freshman left tackle Nick Broeker, who saw his first action in the Rebels’ 31-17 win over Arkansas as he and senior Michael Howard alternated snaps.
Corral also has the luxury of throwing to an excellent young receiving corps.
Sophomore Elijah Moore has grabbed a team-high 18 passes and is averaging 15.44 yards per catch, and he has scored three times.
Redshirt freshman Miles Battle and true freshman Jonathan Mingo picked up their first catches of the season Saturday. Sophomore Tylan Knight and redshirt freshman Demarcus Gregory also each have a catch this season.
In the backfield, true freshman Snoop Conner has run for 92 yards and has a catch.
Senior Scottie Phillips leads the team in rushing, but other than him, the rest of the statistical leaders are either freshmen or sophomores.
Perhaps the most electric youngster thus far has been true freshman running back Jerrion Ealy.
In the Southeastern win, Ealy accounted for 273 total yards including a 30-yard touchdown run and a 94-yard kickoff return, as he broke Dexter McCluster’s record for single-game, all-purpose yards (268) by a freshman. Not bad for a kid who was playing at Jackson Prep this time last year.
“There are some good days and some bad days in practice,” Ealy said after the SELA win.
“First game for me was a lot faster than I expected it to be. By game two, it was slowing down a little bit, and then I was able to hit the holes faster and see things I hadn’t seen. Now at game three, it’s all starting to click.“
Ole Miss True Freshman RB Jerrion Ealy
Should the college game just be ‘starting to click’ for these young Rebels, the future is quite bright.
Of course, if a JV national title were awarded to Ole Miss, Demarcus Gregory would bring something to the table his fellow Baby Rebels could not – come October, he would be the only one old enough to buy the celebratory champagne.
Steve Barnes joins The Rebel Walk staff as a senior writer and brings a trifecta of journalistic experience. As a writer, he has covered college sports for Rivals.com, Football.com and SaturdayDownSouth.com as well as served as a beat writer for various traditional newspapers.
He has been a broadcaster for arena football and several national tournament events for the National Junior College Athletic Association as well as hosting various shows on radio.
A former sports information director at Albany (Ga.) State University and an assistant at Troy and West Florida, he has helped host many NCAA conference, regional and national events, including serving five years on the media committee of the NCAA Division II World Series.
Barnes, a native of Pensacola, Fla., attended Ole Miss in 1983-84, where his first journalism teacher was David Kellum. The duo has come a long way since that time.
He will bring a proven journalistic track record, along with a knack for finding the out-of-the-ordinary story angles to The Rebel Walk.
Barnes continues to reside in Pensacola a mere ten minutes from the beach because he does have taste and a brain.