Ole Miss reeled in a top 25 recruiting class back in February, but it's a player the Rebels held onto thanks to Thursday's ruling by the NCAA who stands to be their most important recruit for the 2011 season.
Defensive end Kentrell Lockett was granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA and will be back in Ole Miss' lineup next season.
Getting him back was huge for the Rebels on so many fronts. For one, he's that proven pass-rusher Tyrone Nix's defense needs off the edge. Lockett, who had five sacks in 2009, is also that voice in the locker room that everybody respects and listens to, and the way he goes about his business on the field is equally infectious.
Ole Miss' defense, coming off a rough 2010 season, needed a player it could hang its hat on, a player it could lean on during crucial situations. Junior linebacker D.T. Shackelford is that type of player, and now he has company. Lockett is also that type of player, and he knows what a quality SEC team looks like. He was a big part of those 2008 and 2009 Ole Miss teams that each won nine games, including back-to-back Cotton Bowls.
Lockett's season a year ago ended in the fourth game when he tore his ACL. His injury, coupled with other injuries and the overall inexperience on defense, was a killer for the Rebels.
It was a long rest of the season for Lockett and an even longer offseason. He had no assurances that he would be allowed to play again for the Rebels while he rehabilitated his surgically repaired knee. But having redshirted his first year on campus in 2006 due to a shoulder injury and missing two-thirds of the season last year after blowing out his knee, Lockett won his appeal with the NCAA for a sixth season based on medical hardship.
The NCAA has been accused in the past of not having a heart, but got it right in this case.
"It’s really good news,” Ole Miss head coach Houston Nutt said. “I know that’s been a real burden on his mind and our mind. Now there’s no question what he’s going to be doing much harder and that is rehabbing, school and getting ready."
Lockett won't participate in spring practice while he finishes up his rehabilitation. But knowing No. 40 will be back out there in the fall is a huge boost for the entire program.
“It’s his experience, locker-room presence and confidence," Nutt said. "I hate to think of not having him next year. I’m just really glad they made the right decision.”
The Rebels now hope to win one more appeal with the NCAA. Quarterback Barry Brunetti, who transferred from West Virginia, has filed a hardship waiver to be eligible to play right away. The basis for that waiver is his mother, who was injured in a car accident last year and had difficulty traveling long distances to see Brunetti play. She lives in Memphis.