Ole Miss football

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Sanford welcomes challenge of tough schedule facing Rebels

By Myra Bean

Finish the game.

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That is the mantra the University of Mississippi Ole Miss Rebels are focusing on, according to strong safety Jamarca Sanford.

Sanford took time out from watching game films Wednesday afternoon to talk about the upcoming Rebel team and the schedule before them.

Sanford is a 2004 graduate of South Panola High School, where he played linebacker. He was redshirted his freshman year at Ole Miss under David Cutcliffe. He has played the past two seasons under Ed Orgeron.

He was moved from linebacker to safety last season and said he loves the position.

“I can be more effective in the pass,” Sanford said. “I can roam around a little better, make more plays. As a linebacker, you are more man-on-man or in the box.”

The Rebels are coming off a 4-8 season, and fans are looking for the Rebels to turn the last three losing seasons into a 2007 bowl eligible season.

Ole Miss lost four of those games by six points or less, and according to Sanford, that gives them hope they can pull out a win in the upcoming season.

Missing from last season’s team are two draftees Patrick Willis, now of the San Francisco 49ers, and Trumaine McBride, now a Chicago Bear. Rory Johnson signed with the  Green Bay Packers as linebacker.

Sanford speaks to McBride and said McBride loves the NFL.

“He says the speed of the game is different,” Sanford said. “Trumaine said since he played in the SEC,  it is not too much different because everybody’s fast. The NFL is more like technique.”

Sanford said it feels real good and is encouraging to have played with someone who was drafted into the NFL.

“You look at those guys and you played with these guys and went to war with these guys,” Sanford said. “You feel  you have a chance to go, too. They are telling me what it takes to get there.”

Speaking about the fire the defense has come under the past few years, Sanford said Orgeron was working on getting the team to play four quarters.

“We are encouraged,” Sanford said. “We look back at the games and we played hard, but just didn’t finish.”

Sanford looked at the upcoming schedule and was not intimidated by the teams the Rebels are slated to play.

“It’s just a schedule to me,” he said. “It’s tough. We have Florida, Auburn, Georgia, LSU, all the big time schools.

“That’s what you really come to the SEC to play for – the competition,”  Sanford continued. “We know the SEC is tough. We know we have to go out and play every game.”

As one of the starters on the team, Sanford said the coach asks him to lead by example.

“He asks us to be everywhere  on time, be a good leader, be competitive, just do the right thing because people look  up to me,” he said.

Sanford is confident of his abilities on the field, being the fourth top tackler last season with 63 total, but he said there is room for improvement.

“From what I see, I still have a lot to learn,” Sanford said. “I still have a lot to strive for. I’m going to keep working hard, keep studying film and trying to get better as a player.”

In addition to studying film, Sanford has been doing some conditioning work. His goal of benching is 400 pounds. He is up to 390. He is working to power cling 300 pounds. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.40 seconds flat, but he is trying to improve that.

“To me there is always room to improve,” Sanford said. “You can’t get comfortable with yourself.”

Sanford said he learned that from Willis.

“He had everything going for him but he always remained humble,” Sanford said. “He kept working hard. He never let anything get in the way. He never got big-headed.

“I talk to him all the time and he tells me what the NFL is looking for,” Sanford continued. “You can’t be loafing on the field.  They look for the small things.”

What to expect for the Rebels this fall?

“We  will go out and play hard-nosed football, finish some games,”  Sanford said. “We  have a  lot to do. We have a chip on our shoulder. We will go out and show the world, we will play hard and as a team, and see what the outcome will be.”

The Rebels goals include being the Sugar Bowl champs, according to Sanford.

“We just have to take it one game at a time,” Sanford said.  “You have to play hard every Saturday and give it what you’ve got, stay mistake free. If you give it all you’ve got and leave it on the field, the outcome will be what you expect.”

Sanford has a message to up and coming “student-athletes.”

“You have got to get in the books,” Sanford said adamantly. “No matter how athletic you are, if you haven’t got the grades your athleticism is nothing.”

The concept of “books first, football second” did not really mean that much to Sanford when he was in high school and to him that was a mistake.

“Coming out of high school, I didn’t really realize that,” he said. “I was one of the guys who made it. I see now what the coaches  are talking about. The books come first. You are a student first, athlete second.”

Sanford visits his high school alma mater and talks to the students about making sure they have the grade to go play Saturday football.

“I tell them no matter how good you are, if you do not get in those books, the athletic game will get you nowhere,” Sanford said. “You will have every team in the country that will want you, but if you don’t have the grade you are no good to them.”

Ole Miss opens the season Saturday, September 1 at Memphis at 2:30  p.m. on CSS.  The Rebels will play a 12-game regular season schedule which will end Friday, November 23 at Mississippi State in Starkville.

Fans will be able to greet the team during Meet the Rebels on Saturday, August 18 with time to be announced later.