Thursday, October 23, 2014

I'm All In and I Want You With Me

Have you noticed that Ole Miss cornerback Mike Hilton arrives at the ball with a ferocity that's noticably more purposeful than ever before?

Does the LandShark defense seem more determined, more tenacious and more confident than any Ole Miss defense you've ever seen?

Ole Miss is a team on a mission. It's not satisfied with 7-0. These Rebels just want to win the next one, and that relentless approach has been an out of this world experience for most of us to witness. The Rebels are ranked No. 3 and widely considered favorites to make the first ever College Football Playoff.

What is happening?

Maybe this is just two years of experience and some great recruiting coming to fruition.

It could be that Hugh Freeze and Dave Wommack and their staffs are just really good coaches.

Maybe the stars are just aligned for that one in a million season Ole Miss fans have long desired.

All of that is probably true, but there's something more. There's just got to be. Most SEC teams have great coaches and rosters full of talent. They all want to win just as badly, and most of them have more resources that the Rebels to do it.

What makes Ole Miss special?

I submit that it just might be because this team really is "All In".

All In is a book by Mark Batterson. Hugh Freeze mentioned it in his "Aw shucks I read this book" kind of way in one of his preseason press conferences. He said he used the book in the preseason to shape his message to the team and give them a theme to live and play by.

You've probably heard some of those themes in Freeze's locker room speeches or seen them on Twitter.

"All In!"

"Burn the ships!"

"Pick a fight!"

Catchy phrases all.

But after you read Mark Batterson's book you'll find them to be so much more than just fun words to write on Twitter or Facebook.

All In by itself doesn't mean much.

Yeah, we're all in!

All in for what?

To be All In, you have to be all in for something far greater than winning football games, coaching or blogging. Otherwise, you're really right back where you started.

All In isn't about you, and it isn't about me.

All In means nothing less than giving yourself to God completely, holding nothing back, with all your chips at the center of the table. It's about following God with reckless abandon, and not following myself or yourself.

It's about chasing your dreams knowing that if the Lord is on your side, you can not lose. When you play as if you can't lose you take risks you otherwise might not take (maybe that's what's going on with those ferocious LandSharks).

Hugh Freeze's career path looks just like this book. He would be a great chapter if Batterson ever wanted to add one.

Freeze dreamed of being an SEC football coach for many years before he actually became one. His wife Jill told the story on television recently of Freeze sneaking her into Tennessee's Neyland Stadium on their honeymoon and telling her he would be an SEC coach one day.

But then real life happened, and Freeze found himself coaching girls basketball and high school football for twelve years. He was comfortable and successful, but coaching high school wasn't his dream.

In 2005, Freeze accepted a job as assistant athletic director for football external affairs at Ole Miss under Ed Orgeron. Writer Bruce Feldman described the position as being a gopher for Orgeron. Freeze was taking the coaching staff's lunch orders among many other less than glorious tasks. Freeze humbled himself to follow his dream.

Batterson writes that before God can use you to be something, you have to be willing to become nothing. Start at the bottom. To chase your God ordained dreams there is no room for "I". Freeze did that, and as his reward, after Houston Nutt took over, Freeze was let go.

Being All In isn't without setbacks. Batterson writes that before there can be a resurrection there has to be a crucifixion.

Freeze humbled himself again by taking the head coaching job at tiny Lambuth, a school that doesn't even exist anymore in a place far less romantic than Oxford. That could not have been a fun move for the Freeze family to make, but Lambuth is exactly where Freeze's resurrection began. You know the story. Freeze won at Lambuth, then Arkansas State and then in 2012 he took the stage as the new head coach at Ole Miss.

God has used Hugh Freeze, but before he could follow his dream he had to be willing to lose it.

All In is about devoting yourself to God completely, chasing your God-ordained dream with everything you've got and knowing that with Him on your side you can not lose. No matter what happens, you are loved by the Almighty, you are His treasured possession and you will be with Him forever. When you know that, and I mean really know that, you can not lose.

So what made me pick up this book?

Well, I accepted a new job that begins next week, and I have a little down time.

It's actually somewhat of a dream job for me. It's at a place where I wanted to work when I graduated 11 years ago, and, as far as my position goes, I am the lowest man on the totem pole. But that's okay, because the job is a dream come true for me, and an answer to prayer. I pray that I will attack it with as much vigor as Freeze pursued his dream.

I thought it would be a good idea to read something motivational before I started. Something to help me fire the engines, if you will, and avid Ole Miss follower that I am I remembered Hugh Freeze saying in the preseason press conference...."I read this book..."

Ole Miss is 7-0. I've watched the Rebels burn the ships, lock the gate and pick a fight all season. I thought it might be worth a read.

Understatement of my life.

I'm All In.

I want you with me.

Read the book.

ROMANS 8:31-32: What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?


Monday, October 20, 2014

Keep this Dream Alive

This is it. We're entering the most critical stretch of the season for Ole Miss, and it starts this week as the Rebels travel to Death Valley, that "place where dreams go to die," as LSU coach Les Miles once famously said.

That's scary stuff because right now we're dreaming big. 

This is uncharted territory for Ole Miss fans. Typically this is the time of year that we're hoping to find enough wins to get bowl eligible. LSU would be the heavy favorite, and we'd be excited about heading down to Death Valley and spoiling for that big upset.

Not this year. 

Ole Miss is 7-0, and as Senquez Golson said shortly after the Rebels beat don't mean nothing unless the Rebels keep winning. 

That's what makes this season so different. 

It's a feeling we've never felt before. 

A team hoping to get bowl eligible can afford to drop a game. There's always the next one, and six or seven is all it takes.

A team trying to go undefeated? Well, that's a different story altogether. Please, spare me the "one game at a time" cliche'. That's a point for Hugh Freeze and his coaches to hammer home. We're fans, we're allowed, and if you're not looking at that schedule right now dreaming of 12-0 and a trip to Atlanta then you are a robot. 

I can promise you that the players want to go undefeated. 

For the first time in my lifetime it's late October and the dreams of Ole Miss fans reach far beyond the Music City Bowl.  

Right now the dream is this:

Ole Miss, 11-0 in Oxford on November 29, hosting No. 1 Mississippi State with nothing less than an SEC West Championship and a ticket to the College Football Playoff on the line. And in that dream the Rebels win of course. We finish the season where we started it - in Atlanta, and then more wins, Jameis Winston getting attacked repeatedly by a ferocious group of hungry Landsharks followed by trophies and confetti. Lots and lots of red and blue confetti. 

That's the dream.

And that's what's on the line when Ole Miss travels down to Baton Rouge for a Saturday night dance with LSU in Death Valley - the place where dreams go to die. 

Only not this time Rebels. Don't let this one die. We're having way too much fun. 

Sunday, October 19, 2014

LandShark D Could Carry Rebels Far

Bone. Crushing. Defense.

The kind that doesn't give up touchdowns, creates turnovers and strikes fear in its opponents. 

That's what Ole Miss has in this LandShark Defense. Just ask its latest victim, the Tennessee Volunteers, who escaped the shark tank known as Vaught-Hemingway Stadium with their lives, but not much more, after falling prey in a 34-3 loss. 

Tennessee managed just 191 total yards, with 0 yards rushing. Zero. Zip. Nada. Nil. 

Poor quarterback Justin Worley was sacked 7 times, and was smelling the breath of Ole Miss defensive linemen for most of the night. Three of his passes went to Ole Miss defensive backs, including ball hawk Senquez Golson, who now leads the country with 7 interceptions. 

Worley actually had a relieved smile on his face as he nursed a sore shoulder on the sidelines during the 4th quarter, and that's not to make fun of Worley. Any quarterback in his shoes would have hoped for a similar fate. 

"Just hurt me a little, so I can sit. Please."

On Saturday night, Tennessee was the baby jungle animal and Ole Miss was the boa constrictor. The LandShark D just squeezed the life right out of the Vols. It was the same fate suffered by Alabama and Texas A&M.

A defense like this is a game-changer. 

Hugh Freeze doesn't have to wring his hands over his offensive playbook, trying to script the perfect gameplan. Quarterback Bo Wallace doesn't need to force throws into tight coverage to create scores. 

If there's anything we've learned about Ole Miss the last three weeks, it's that the LandShark Defense is good enough to win the games almost all by itself. All the offense needs to do is stay out of the way, don't cause problems, and await the next opportunity created by college football's best defense. 

This is what it felt like to be LSU or Alabama in those BCS Championship years. 

You can't be beaten if your opponent can't score. 

Ole Miss has allowed seven touchdowns in seven games. That's just one touchdown per game for the 7-0 Rebels. 

The Rebels will remain No. 3 tomorrow following No. 2 Florida State's narrow win over 5th ranked Notre Dame, but Ole Miss is quickly becoming a favorite to win the top seed in the 1st ever College Football Playoff, and that's mainly because of the LandShark D. 

Two huge games are coming up. LSU and Auburn. 

If Ole Miss wins those this could be one crazy season. We'll know in two weeks whether you need to start searching for hotel reservations. That's not to overlook No. 1 Mississippi State, but my guess is that if Ole Miss and Mississippi State could somehow stay undefeated, the loser of the Egg Bowl could still make the Playoff.

Crazy, but true.