Ole Miss

We've come a long way: Ole Miss' redshirt seniors reflect on road to Sugar Bowl

Mississippi defensive end C.J. Johnson (10) displays the land shark symbol after a play against TCU during the first half of the Peach Bowl NCAA football game, Wednesday, Dec. 31, 2014, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Mike Stewart)
Mississippi defensive end C.J. Johnson (10) displays the land shark symbol after a play against TCU during the first half of the Peach Bowl NCAA football game, Wednesday, Dec. 31, 2014, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Mike Stewart) AP

NEW ORLEANS -- Most observers would call moving from Arkansas State to Ole Miss a talent upgrade, and when Dave Wommack saw the first group of players he'd use to attack the SEC it stirred him emotionally.

"Granted, they'd had four or six weeks off, but I almost threw up," he recalled.

That was in January of 2012 as new coach Hugh Freeze and his staff were beginning the task of building trust and belief from strangers. Freeze had been hired in early December about the time of final exams.

Wommack wasn't around for the end of the 2011 season when a lot of folks felt ill.

Six members of the Ole Miss team that will take on Oklahoma State on Friday night in the Sugar Bowl were part of that team.

The end of 2011 was dismal for Ole Miss but draining in a different way for an Oklahoma State team that had a shot at a national championship derailed, in part one player says, by a tragic plane crash.

The Rebels capped a 2-10 season by being out-scored 113-10 in their final three games, losses to Louisiana Tech, LSU and Mississippi State after Houston Nutt's firing had been announced.

"I remember watching the Egg Bowl (a 31-0 loss at MSU) in disbelief of our players," said defensive back Chief Brown, one of six fifth-year seniors. He joins linebacker/defensive end C.J. Johnson, nose tackle Woodrow Hamilton, wide receiver Collins Moore and offensive linemen Aaron Morris and Justin Bell.

"It was awful. Those last three games were like torture," said Johnson, who will play both linebacker and end against the Cowboys. "I was about 70-30 transferring. I didn't think I'd be here at Ole Miss to be honest with you."

It was actually Nutt who convinced Johnson to go through the spring with Freeze with the promise that if he still wanted to transfer after that, Nutt would work to put him in touch with people.

It was a difficult time for the freshmen.

"People were focused on going to the NFL. I remember walking through the locker room, and one player said, 'I don't know about y'all, but I'm here to get this money.'"

Ultimately Donte Moncrief and Pascagoula's Senquez Golson would make it to the NFL but not until after making the decision to remain in the Ole Miss program under Freeze.

It was a question every player had to answer, and when the 2011 freshmen gathered in a dorm room after Freeze's hiring most talked about transferring.

It was Moore who stood up and suggested that everyone give Freeze a chance.

Cowboys' almost made 2011 BCS title game

Oklahoma State played at Iowa State in 2011 just a win away from a spot in the BCS championship game -- in New Orleans.

Players awakened that day to news that the school's women's basketball coach and an assistant -- along with two other people -- had died in a small plane crash on a recruiting trip.

The football team lost a 17-point lead and fell in a stunning upset 37-31 to Iowa State.

Quarterback J.W. Walsh was a freshman then.

"What happened that day at Iowa State, it was a very tough situation, very hard to win on that day," he said. "When we have a night game we normally have a very casual breakfast in the morning. We have a couple of TVs on watching College Game Day and the morning games. TVs weren't on. Nobody was saying a word. I had no idea what was going on. I sat down and asked Brandon Weeden. He tells me. The whole day was it was sickening."

For the Rebels, most of the 2011 freshmen hung around. They took Moore's advice and dealt with their trust issues.

"We went from not being able to beat Jacksonville State (in 2010) to beating Alabama and LSU. People started believe, and we started getting recruits," Brown said. "It's pretty special."

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