published Sunday, July 29th, 2012

Ole Miss looks to rise: Donte Moncrief gives the Rebels hope in coach Hugh Freeze's first season

Ole Miss receiver Donte Moncrief scores a touchdown against Georgia.
Ole Miss receiver Donte Moncrief scores a touchdown against Georgia.
Photo by Contributed Photo /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

OLE MISS

Camp start: Thursday

Opener: Central Arkansas in Oxford (Sept. 1 on pay-per-view at 7 p.m.)

Fun fact: Ole Miss has won more bowl games (21) throughout its history than Florida (20), Michigan (20), Ohio State (19) and Notre Dame (15).

Monday's preview: Mississippi State

Ole Miss went 0-8 in Southeastern Conference play for the second time in five years last football season, and they lost seven league games a year ago by at least two touchdowns.

There was a 52-3 humiliation against LSU and a 52-7 humbling against Alabama, and there was even a 30-7 loss to Vanderbilt, which was the worst setback for Ole Miss in that series since 1930. Hugh Freeze was hired in December to resurrect a reeling program in college football's toughest division, and there are no true high-caliber players from which to build.

Except Donte Moncrief.

Rated by Rivals.com among the nation's top 20 receivers in the 2011 signing class, Moncrief led the Rebels as a freshman with 454 yards and four touchdowns on 31 catches. He finished second among SEC freshmen with 37.8 receiving yards a game and earned Freshman All-America honors.

"I think I did all right," Moncrief said at SEC media days. "I did the best I could. I was kind of young and didn't know much about receiver, but things kept getting better, and now I'm looking forward to having a big season.

"My goal is to get my team first downs and make big plays and try to be the receiver wherever they need me."

The 6-foot-2, 214-pounder from Raleigh, Miss., started all 12 games and caught his first collegiate touchdown on a 47-yard pass from Zack Stoudt in the third game at Vanderbilt. The following week against visiting Georgia, he had a 38-yard scoring reception from Randall Mackey.

"Most freshmen come in with the big head thinking they can do all this, but he came in humble and let his actions speak for him," junior linebacker Mike Marry said. "I was very impressed. He just dominated the field, basically."

By season's end, Moncrief had receptions from four different quarterbacks on an offense that was unstable at best during Houston Nutt's fourth and final season in Oxford.

"It was kind of hard as a freshman when you're trying to get used to a quarterback but they keep switching and switching," Moncrief said, "but now it's come down to two quarterbacks. Hopefully the leader of the Rebels will come soon."

Barry Brunetti, who completed just 19 of 35 passes last season for 144 yards, is competing with junior-college transfer Bo Wallace for the starting role under center. Freeze does not expect a verdict during the early stages of preseason camp and said the battle could carry into September contests.

Freeze has a background with up-tempo offenses, but he is being cautious in meshing his style with a fragile roster.

"I think that is going to be a juggling act in year one," Freeze said. "I don't know how many plays we can do of up-tempo without putting us at a disadvantage because of our lack of depth right now. That is something we have to weigh in on, and I don't believe that we can go into year one with the situation we have and sell out to that for the entire game or even long, consistent periods."

The Rebels have just as many concerns defensively after finishing last in the SEC in yards (419.3) and points (32.1) allowed per game.

Freeze coached tight ends and receivers and was the recruiting coordinator at Ole Miss under Ed Orgeron during the 2006-07 seasons. There was not a lot of success on the field, but the Rebels recruited very well, which was reflected by the 2008 and '09 teams that won the Cotton Bowl.

In his two previous stints as a college head coach, the 42-year-old Freeze guided Lambuth College to a 20-5 record in '08 and '09 and led Arkansas State to a 10-2 mark last season. He has lost seven times as a college boss but could be facing a year when he loses at least that many.

"Time will tell how I deal with that," Freeze said.

about David Paschall...

David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...

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