OXFORD, Miss. -- It’s been almost a month since Ole Miss self-imposed a one-year bowl ban for the 2017 season following a new notice of allegations from the NCAA. Head coach Hugh Freeze addressed it when the Rebels opened spring practice at the beginning of the month. But the players hadn’t been made available since the announcement.
That changed Tuesday when a trio of players spoke after practice. What was their reaction to the news of the postseason ban?
“Devastated,” offensive lineman Javon Patterson said. “I was devastated about it. But as a team, it was a real good wake-up call. The next morning we had a 6 o’clock workout, and everybody showed up with high energy. We had a couple runs, and everybody just got after it. That really showed a lot about our team.”
That energy and that drive have carried over to spring practice where the Rebels have moved past the bowl ban and are focused on improving every day.
The players know that they can’t play for a national championship or an SEC championship. They know that regardless of their record, there will be no bowl game at the end of this season. But that doesn’t mean the season is a lost cause.
“We have 12 opportunities, and those opportunities still have SEC teams -- Alabama, Auburn, LSU, Arkansas, all those teams,” Patterson said. “We have to play them just like they have to play us. We’re going out there to beat them.”
For Patterson, there’s also comfort in knowing that this might not be his last year. He’ll be a junior in the fall, and unless he leaves early or transfers, he can return to Ole Miss in 2018 when the self-imposed bowl ban will be lifted.
The same can’t be said for the seniors, who took the news a little harder knowing that this coming season will be their last in Oxford.
“It was tough,” senior running back Jordan Wilkins said. “Everybody has the vision of going to a national championship, an SEC championship. But it doesn’t take anything away from how hard we’re going to work and [how hard] we’re going to push to. I think everybody’s focus is to wipe the table, and that will take care of everything.”
Wilkins, in particular, has helped the team stay positive in light of the circumstances. He missed all of last season after he was ruled academically ineligible less than a month before the first game, and now he’s just ready to get back out there and play again.
Fellow senior Marquis Haynes had a chance to hear his name called at next month's NFL draft, but he opted to return to school before the bowl ban was announced. Rather than get down about it, he's using the upcoming season as another chance to improve his tape and impress the scouts.
“[The decision] wasn’t tough at all,” Haynes said. “I just know that I need to come back and work on my techniques and what I need to do to get better, and finish my degree here.”
The motivation is different for everybody. For some, it’s about improving their draft stock. For others who might have missed last season, it’s the chance to play again. For the younger players, it's about the future of the program and what happens after this season. And, of course, each and every player on the team wants to win regardless of what else is going on.
But the most important thing is that this Ole Miss team is still motivated. No bowl ban will change that.
“We’re going to give everything we have,” Wilkins said. “There’s still going to be a lot to watch because we’re going to put on a show for everybody.”