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OXFORD, Miss. — Possibly the hottest passing attack in the Southeastern Conference in the 2021 season will be able to trace its roots from the Pacific Ocean.
During the summer, the Rebels’ passing combination of Matt Corral to Braylon Sanders relocated from the Mississippi Delta to the climate of southern California. The duo, along with other receivers, headed to Corral’s neck of the woods.
And that atmosphere created a bit of a culture shock for Sanders.
“It’s different for me coming from the country going out west,” the Hogansville, Ga., native said after practice Friday. “But it was fun, we did a little work on the field and in the gym training, so it was fun.”
While the location may have been new to Sanders, his relationship with Corral had already been long-established, and the trip out west helped cement the pair’s connection.
“Actually, Matt and me have been close since his freshman year. We all had a mutual friend in (former Ole Miss wide receiver) DaMarkus Lodge, so we all used to hang out together,” Sanders said. “And this offseason me and a couple of other receivers went out to Cali with Matt just to get the chemistry right.”
The ingredients are in place for that chemistry.
— TJOxley1 (@TJOxley1) November 15, 2020
Last season, Corral threw for 3,337 yards while completing 70.86 percent of his passes. Sanders caught 15 passes for 376 yards and four touchdowns in just nine games. He was hampered by an injury a year ago and that served as motivation for him to return to Oxford, a decision he made after the LSU game.
“It wasn’t a good moment for me (being hurt during the game in Baton Rouge). But once I found out everybody got an extra year, I already knew then and there that I was going to come back and hopefully win a championship and just be the next big receiver coming out of here.”
Ole Miss WR Braylon Sanders
It is an impressive list of receivers who preceded Sanders at Ole Miss. He hopes to follow in the footsteps of D.K Metcalf, A.J. Brown, Laquon Treadwell and other players he looked to for guidance when he was still inexperienced.
“Coming in as a freshman and seeing all those guys who were in front of me, I knew I was going to have to wait my turn, but I knew I just had to keep my head down and keep fighting, keep pushing and keep working,” Sanders said. “Hard work pays off all the time.”
Another look at that first Ole Miss TD
Great grab from Braylon Sanders pic.twitter.com/e48eVg27dV
— Reggie Chatman Jr. (@ReggieChatman) December 19, 2020
That hard work has led to Sanders’ success and now he wants to pass what he learned to the new crop of receivers. “Having those guys when I first came in, it was a blessing,” Sanders said.
“For these young guys as they come in, I’m just trying to do the same thing those guys did for me. I’m just slowing the game down for them some and just show them tips on how to get off press what to do when a guy’s in what position and those things like that.”
Sanders looks to lead by example as he becomes one of the main targets in the Ole Miss arsenal, a position he believes he can occupy.
“I’m going to always have that confidence that I can be that guy, but we also have other guys in the room who can also be that guy,” Sanders said. “So, anyone can be the number one but if it’s me, God bless, and I’m going to be ready for the opportunity.”
Sanders’ coach, Lane Kiffin, also believes the senior can ascend to being one of the best receivers in the country.
“I think Braylon can play all over the place, I think he’s extremely talented,” Kiffin said.
“He had a good (last) year from a height, weight, speed, ball-skills standpoint; he’s a potential first-round draft pick. You saw the explosive plays he made a year ago. He just didn’t have that many opportunities with injuries and other situations, so I look for him to have a really big year.”
Sanders and the Rebels get their first opportunity to impress on a national stage Sept. 6, when they take on Louisville in Atlanta’s Mercedes Benz Stadium.
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.