Tyrone Nix waited patiently for his fifth-year senior defensive end to regain his football legs.
Ole Miss’ defensive coordinator didn’t want to push him because he was less than a year removed from a major ACL injury. Nix expected a long recovery, so baby steps didn’t bother him.
However, that veteran was Kentrell Lockett, the self-proclaimed “Superman,” and his baby steps are sprints.
And he literally sprinted his way through Ole Miss’ first major scrimmage this preseason. Nix watched as the offense made play after play. His frustration was starting to build, until Lockett showed up.
With the offense feeling good about itself, Lockett jumped, batted down a pass, snatched the ball out of the air and then took it in for a touchdown. Nix could see Lockett’s confidence was back. His instincts were back at work, as he knew how to play the block, knew the situation and he didn’t panic.
“That’s what you expect from a leadership position. That’s what you expect from a guy that’s been through many battles,” Nix said.
“A guy like Kentrell, who’s been in many huddles, things like that don’t shake him up.”
Lockett, who was granted an extra year of eligibility by the NCAA, spent the spring rehabbing, though he assures he was fine once he dropped his crutches late last year and returned for preseason practice.
Lockett said this summer that he was excited to get back around his teammates and practice, but getting back into a game actually left the verbose Lockett speechless. Lockett finished Ole Miss’ opener with just two tackles and admitted that it took him some time to adjust to BYU’s tackles after facing his own guys in camp, but being out there was more than refreshing.
“It felt good to hit someone and actually hit them how you want to hit them instead of having to hold back and have the coaches say to stay up,” Lockett said. “I could actually play football.”
When Locket couldn’t play football, he met his own personal kryptonite. He couldn’t practice, couldn’t play and couldn’t celebrate with his teammates. So, why be around it? He distanced himself, only watching games from home, where he hid his pain.
“The days I did do that, I went home and cried to my wife about it -- just cried,” Lockett said. “Then, she was like, ‘Man, you gotta stop.’ It took her to get me out of that rut.”
Not having Lockett around also hurt the team. The mental edge was gone and the locker room’s most trusted leader wasn’t there for encouragement.
“Guys of that type of character help you pull through times and forms of adversity,” Nix said of Lockett.
It wasn’t until Lockett finally threw the crutches down and could walk up the stairs to the practice field under his own power that he felt comfortable around the team.
Now, he has a new outlook on his football life, as he’s no longer taking anything for granted.
“I’ve grown so much mentally since last year, since the injury occurred,” he said.
“This one play could be your last. I’m having fun. I’m giving it 110 percent no matter what because it might be one play away. I don’t know what might happen, just like what happened last time.”
Lockett might look at football differently, but the same goofy, loud, talkative, happy Lockett who was beloved by his teammates is still there. He hasn’t changed his personality and he thinks that’s added some juice to this defense.
His encouragement has gone a long way so far and his message to his team is still the same even after a heartbreaking opening loss: play your game and things will fall into place.
“All we have to do is come out, execute, play ball and have fun,” he said. “If you said you had fun and you gave it 110 percent, you’re all right. You’re OK.”