Mississippi started 2014 like gangbusters, rolling over Boise State and Alabama among others to a 7-0 start.
Things unraveled midseason with a tight loss at LSU and a demoralizing defeat against Auburn at home.
Rebels wide receiver Laquon Treadwell was doubled-over on tackle at the goal line that prevented the game-winning touchdown in a 35-31 loss to LSU, suffering a broken fibula and dislocated ankle on the play.
Demoralizing losses against Arkansas and TCU in the Peach Bowl followed, sandwiched around a victory in the Egg Bowl against Mississippi State.
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“We have to handle adversity in difficult situations and be willing to take a stand, which will be our motto this year,” Mississippi coach Hugh Freeze said Thursday at SEC Media Days.
That means battling through tough losses and grisly, gut-wrenching injuries, but it also extends beyond the field.
The Rebels brought in a financial management team from a local bank to teach the basics of budgeting and financial literacy with players set to receive cost-of-attendance stipends.
“Our theme this spring was chasing greatness,” Freeze said. “I think our young men that we coach these days, they’re not sure what that means or what that looks like. What does it look like in how you treat a female and how you go about in a relationship and the things that we all can do better? What does it look like as a student? What does it look like as an athlete? What does it look like in society?”
Freeze stressed that it starts with his staff, who are tasked with modeling the Rebels’ core values of faith, attitude, mental toughness, integrity and love on a daily basis.
Over the long term, those things will matter more for his players, Freeze said, but continuing to build a winning program is the short-term goal.
“We know what success tastes like coming out 7-0, but we’re ready to take that next step and hopefully get to the SEC Championship and national championship,” senior defensive back Mike Hilton said.
Fortunately, Treadwell will be part of that quest again.
“All signs point to him being fully recovered,” Freeze said. “He even looks a little different. I think he lost a little weight, feels a little more explosive. I’m anxious to get pads on him and see how he responds when the ball’s a little high and in traffic. That kid is extremely determined to make a full recovery, and I think he has, so we’re excited.”