Stanley's shot comes earlier than expected

Nathan Stanley says he was as surprised as anyone when he got the news in January that Jevan Snead was turning pro.

He knew Snead was thinking about it, but like most people, felt like Snead would return to Ole Miss for his senior season.

“I found out when I got back from Christmas break,” Stanley said. “The first thing that goes through your mind is that you didn’t really see it coming. Then you think, ‘Wow, he’s leaving. This is my shot, my chance. I’m going to have to buckle down.’ ”

Stanley, a 6-foot-5, 215-pound sophomore, did just that for much of the spring and established himself as the clear-cut starter at quarterback. Redshirt freshman Raymond Cotton also played well, particularly in the spring game, but he’s got a lingering shoulder problem.

The Rebels are hopeful that Cotton will be able to make it through the season before having surgery, but there are no guarantees.

For now, Stanley is the only sure thing, although junior college newcomer Randall Mackey is set to arrive this summer.

“The main thing for me this spring was getting out there and earning everyone’s trust,” Stanley said. “Everyone looks to the quarterback to be the leader of the offense, and I knew I had to step up and prove that I was that guy.”

Snead threw 20 touchdown passes last season, but he also threw 20 interceptions. And 15 of those interceptions came in SEC contests.

When the Rebels got in trouble last season, they turned around and handed the ball to Dexter McCluster. They won’t have that luxury next season with McCluster gone.

That means Stanley will have to walk that fine line of producing enough big plays to jump-start the Rebels’ offense, while not trying to do too much and turning the ball over.

He feels like his strength is decision-making.

“I want to be real level-headed and real calm,” Stanley said. “My job is to put the team in a position to be successful.”

Not only is McCluster gone, but so is leading receiver Shay Hodge. Stanley thinks the Rebels will spread it around more next season and be even more diverse on offense.

“Dexter will be hard to replace, but we have guys who played behind him last year like Jesse Grandy, who’s definitely a game-breaker,” Stanley said. “All he needs is the ball. He’s got the speed, got the hands. He’s got it all. I feel like he will sort of take Dexter’s place.”

Stanley said sophomore Melvin Harris and redshirt freshman Ja-Mes Logan also made big strides this spring, and that junior running back Brandon Bolden looked like his old self now that he’s about 10 pounds lighter.

Senior receivers Markeith Summers and Lionel Breaux helped set the tone for the offense with their consistent play, and the most pleasant surprise was junior running back Enrique Davis, who looked like it was finally clicking for him.

“He makes us a whole different offense,” Stanley said. “He really seemed to perfect his craft. He’s big and fast and is really going to help us out.”

Stanley will take all of the options he can get on offense in 2010. The more, the better.

“We’ll all lean on each other,” Stanley said. “It’s going to take more than just one guy anyway, but I feel like we’re on the right track and have the time to get there.”