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From the Vaught to Swayze: Plumlee transitioning to baseball season

From the Vaught to Swayze: Plumlee transitioning to baseball season

OXFORD, Miss. — For the second straight year, John Rhys Plumlee has swapped his cleats for spikes, dropped the pigskin and picked up the horsehide, and made the trek from Vaught-Hemingway Stadium to Swayze Field.

Yes, it is that time where Plumlee steps over the goal lines and crosses the baselines.

Plumlee, who is known for his versatility and speed in both sports, finished up the football season as the Rebels beat Indiana 26-20 in the Outback Bowl. The sophomore stepped in for slot receiver Elijah Moore who opted out of the final two games of the season, and he simply shined in his debut as a wide receiver, impressing his football coach in the process.

“I think we were down to four scholarship receivers…so for a guy to only play one week at receiver, come in, dropped the first one — he’s right here, so we can make fun of him, but the third-down play was awesome,” Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin said. 

There was pass interference and he caught it, then obviously the big play after that. Just a remarkable kid to be able to do that. You just can’t do that; this isn’t like Pop Warner. We’re in major college football playing a top-10 team. To just go play receiver for one week and go in and make plays is really special.

Ole Miss head coach Lane Kiffin on John Rhys Plumlee

Plumlee caught five passes for 73 yards in Tampa, including a 44-yard catch and run to set up the game-winning score.

Time for baseball

The Hattiesburg native did not have a lot of time to celebrate the Rebels’ first bowl win since a Sugar Bowl victory over Oklahoma State in 2016 as he soon turned his attention to baseball.

“So we report for baseball January 3rd,” Plumlee said in the bowl postgame press conference. “I will have a couple of hours off really, be able to eat a good meal, you know, and we’re right back into it. I can’t wait to be over as Swayze for sure.”

Plumlee spoke last month with 247Sports about the difference he expects in his game this season.

“I think when I got out there I tried to do a little too much,” he said.

This year, I’m a lot bigger and stronger than I was last year, even though it doesn’t feel like it right now coming off the bat for me in the cage. But last year I was trying to do a little too much at the plate, trying to hit the ball out of the park every time instead of getting the bat to the ball and letting it work. So this year that’s what we’re really focused on — bat to the ball and let the ball do the work for me and then use my legs on the base paths.

John Rhys Plumlee to 247Sports

Another person anxious to see Plumlee at the ballpark was Ole Miss baseball coach Mike Bianco. He thinks he could see Plumlee roaming the outfield this spring along with a few other Rebels.

“But also look for John Rhys Plumlee, who I know you’ll talk about, the two-sport star,” Bianco said. “As many of you know, Jerrion Ealy will be out for the season because of the shoulder injury. But Plumlee is there, he’s done really, really well.”

John Rhys Plumlee (Photo credit: Ole Miss Baseball)

Ealy, another two-sport star, has been lost for the year after surgery.

Last season, Plumlee saw action in 13 games and started a pair of them. He earned one hit, scored four runs, drove in a run with a sacrifice fly and stole a base in his only attempt. He also made putouts in his only four chances in the field.

Bianco is expecting more production this season.

“(He) made some big-time improvements offensively and defensively,” Bianco said last week. “Even though he’s a tremendous athlete, he knows, we know, that baseball is a different game. Although he has a unique skillset, there are some areas where he could improve. One of those areas was defensively. Even though he’s a great runner, but to take better angles at the ball, to become a better outfielder. In just a few weeks, we could see that,” Bianco said.

So, I’m happy with that, but he made some great progress offensively with coach (Mike Clement), and he’s worked really hard and a guy I have to tip my hat to. Through the fall, when he could get over here, when he was available, he has worked hard to be a baseball player as well as a really good football player.

Coach Mike Bianco on John Rhys Plumlee

Plumlee is indeed a really good football player. As a freshman, he was an All-American and he set the Ole Miss freshman rushing record with 1,023 yards in just over eight games and 16 total touchdowns, another record.

With some additional playing time, do not be surprised if Plumlee’s gridiron success is matched on the diamond. His number will be. Following the departure of No. 10 Tyler Keenan to MLB, Plumlee, who wore No. 11 last season at Swayze, is now listed on the baseball roster as No. 10, the same one he wears in Vaught-Hemingway.

(Feature image credit: Petre Thomas, Ole Miss Athletics)

About The Author

Steve Barnes

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.

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