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Senquez Golson's long road well worth it

Senquez Golson knew the question was coming before he even heard the voice on the other end of the phone.

It was going to be about Trent Richardson. More specifically, it was going to be about what Alabama’s tank-like running back did to him on a mid-October night in 2011.

“Oh yeah,” Ole Miss’ senior cornerback said with a laugh before the Richardson question was completed. “No. 1 team in the country. I was probably the most nervous kid in the country.”

Before that nervous kid knew it, he was replacing starter Marcus Temple, who broke his ankle, only to be nearly shaken out of his own cleats by a dazzling run and cut from Richardson along the sideline during a 76-yard touchdown run.

The wide-eyed freshman made continuous highlight reels for all the wrong reasons on a play that once defined his career, but never broke him.

“I’ve seen it plenty of times,” Golson said. “I think it kind of helped me more than it hurt me, definitely.”

If only that freshman knew that almost exactly three years later, he’d be making his own highlight play -- against the same team -- that will carry legend-like status for years to come.

Golson helped change the narrative of his Ole Miss story with his game-clinching, tip-toe interception against the same team that victimized him in 2011. The play sent ripples through the Magnolia State and showed just how far Golson has come.

Golson, who admits he hasn’t seen the interception against Alabama, leads the SEC with five interceptions after entering the season with six-career picks. He was a forgotten player in Oxford before reshaping his life, on and off the field.

“It’s been a process for me, but it’s been a good one,” Golson said of his Ole Miss career.

Golson arrived in Oxford in 2011 as a highly touted football prospect who turned down a $1.1 million contract from the Boston Red Sox. The talent was there, but he was raw, which held Golson back early.

Like the athlete who played Wildcat quarterback, receiver, safety, linebacker and little corner in high school, Golson thought he’d get by on his athleticism. That didn’t exactly work out, as Golson struggled to learn the Rebels’ defense. He couldn’t process things fast enough. His study habits suffered and he basically just became another face on the team.

“It was frustrating at first when you know that you can do something, but you don’t see the results that you want,” Golson said. “I had to find myself, study the position and understand what I had to do to get better.”

Golson put baseball in his rearview mirror after his freshman year, but dealt with two average seasons of football, accumulating marginal stats and 16 starts in 24 games. He also dealt with working with three different position coaches in three years.

He sought advice from former NFL defensive backs -- and fellow south Mississippians -- Mario Edwards and Terrell Buckley to get his technique down, but it wasn’t until he began changing his preparation and his body following his sophomore year did he really start to take the game seriously, Golson said.

“I always knew that I could be a pretty good football player, but I just knew that I was going to have to figure it out,” he said.

Now, Golson says he can see things before they happen in games. He recognizes formations and tendencies from film in mere seconds on the field. His brain is buzzing in games, and his body follows.

Physically, he’s become a chiseled 176 pounds. His liquid intake is “straight water and juices every now and then.” He doesn’t drink alcohol or eat late. He went from inhaling McDonald’s to grilling lean protein at home.

Golson also made the weight room his sanctuary, taking workouts more seriously than ever this past offseason.

The transformation Golson has made is staggering consider where he came from. When coach Hugh Freeze met the sophomore version of Golson, he questioned whether he had the heart, drive and discipline to be good enough for his team.

Those thoughts crept back into Freeze’s head over the summer when Golson was arrested for disorderly conduct. Charges were eventually dropped, and it proved as yet another learning experience, but Golson's focus never wavered.

“Now that he has made the decision to be dedicated and to be a team player that buys into our core values and the way we want to do things, his talent on the field has really taken off,” Freeze said. “He’s just dedicated himself this year and during the offseason to be the best he can be. I’m thrilled that he’s getting the results on the field.”

Golson’s had a special start to his final year with the Rebels, but he’s far from done. He craves championships, is on track to graduate and is seeking to return to the baseball team next spring.

So much for squandering his talents.

“I’m trying to kill three birds with one stone in the same year,” Golson said.