Hibbler ready for start of final season as Rebel

Published 4:57 pm Tuesday, September 3, 2019

North Panola star close to Ole Miss business degree

By Myra Bean

Ole Miss senior inside linebacker Willie Hibbler of Sardis looks forward to his final season as a Rebel. He started the last seven games for the Ole Miss Rebels last year and played in all 12.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

This year his goal is to start day one and put up big numbers so that he will get some looks from NFL teams.

“The individual success will come from team success,” Hibbler said.

He is a former North Panola standout. Hibbler graduated in May and is now working on his business degree. He made the athletic director’s fall honor roll. He is the son of Gloria Henderson of Sardis and Eric Hibbler of Batesville.

Last year he was fourth on the team in total tackles with 50 and tallied 5.5 tackles for loss and three pass breakups.

The team opens the season tomorrow in Memphis which features another Panola County player, O’Bryan Goodson. HIbbler wears No. 17 for the Rebels while Goodson will be in No. 1 for the Tigers.

Hibbler talked about coming from 3A North Panola and playing on the SEC stage during Ole Miss Media Day last month. “I learned playing at the next level is about yourself. It was growing up fast, trying not to rush it,” Hibbler said.

He talked about being accountable for his own actions and owning up to his decisions.

“When you come to a place like this, being a football player and having a certain platform, and holding yourself to a certain accountability, you have to grow up pretty fast, own up to it. This is the life you chose. This is something we wanted to do. We just have to take what comes with it. That’s been the biggest thing to accomplish here is being an adult at an early age,” he said.

Hibbler felt like he was prepared to be a member of the Rebel squad when he came from North Panola. However, he said young players are never fully prepared to go from high school to college.

“It’s a difference so you will have to adjust anyway, to anything you do differently in college from high school,” he said.


gave former head coaches Derek King and Carl Diffee credit for getting him ready to play on collegiate fields. He said the teams run basically the same type of offense so he was fairly prepared, but most of his time has been spent on defense.

Hibbler admits it was hard at first. His first football camp was rough. “I didn’t know how to push through, didn’t know how to handle nagging injuries, didn’t know how to do a lot of things, wanted to give up on playing, thought about it. Did I really want to do this? Overcoming that, fighting that, it made me who I am now,” he said.

Because Hibbler had gone through that and came out stronger on the other side, Diffee asked him to speak to the current North Panola players who attended camp this summer.

Hibbler had a moment trying to find the words to say what that meant to him to be asked to speak to his former team.

“Just for him asking me made me feel kind of special. It makes me feel I had accomplished something even when I think I haven’t done something yet. Just for him to ask, just him being him, he’s a great guy and for him to ask it touched my heart,” Hibbler said.

Hibbler wanted the high school players to know he had been where they are now and went through some of the same things while in high school. Hibbler knows words coming from someone who they had seen play on tv or saw a Facebook post means something different than from people the players hear from everyday.

“I just wanted to deliver the message personally and let them know I been through what they are going through now. I am still going through it at a higher level and they can do the same thing I did,” he said.

Hibbler’s position coaches ares first year assistant coach/inside linebackers coach Jeff Koonz and first year assistant coach/defensive coordinator Mike McIntyre. He speaks highly of what they went through and has brought to the program.

Hibbler described Koonz as the toughest coach he knows, but in a good way. Koonz pushed Hibbler to do the small things right and consistently.

“He wants to make sure we compete against each other and not the opponent. We have to beat each other everyday in order to beat someone else. If we don’t win against ourselves, we are not going to win against no one else,” Hibbler said.

Doing the small things right, pushes Hibbler to bring the energy and focus on the small things that he has to work on to be a great player in his eyes. Koonz came from a 3-3 defense and Hibbler from a 4-2. Now they run a 3-4 defense, according to Hibbler. “It’s different for both of us. His learning curve is along with ours. He teaches us everything that he learned and how he learned. I think it is an impact on the other players and me. It is beneficial,” he said.

The players have bought in to the defensive scheme McIntyre has installed. Hibbler said they have a chip on their shoulder, and a desire to be great at running the defense. He talked about how the Ole Miss Rebels had low national rankings and were in a down period.

That chip comes from the players, according to Hibbler. “We know we’re not ranked a hundred and something. We know the talent we have in the room. We create our own chip. We don’t listen to the outside world. That is one of our big things. That’s one thing Coach (Matt) Luke always talk to us about. We are our own biggest critics. We have to look in the mirror and tell ourselves/ ask ourselves did you get better today? If you can’t answer that honestly, then you didn’t,” Hibbler said.

Hibbler is excited and ready to face every team on the schedule and go out with a bang his senior season. “I am looking forward to every single week in preparing and going through every battle with my brothers, focusing on how we can win each and every game,” he said.

He has three best friends on the team: #15 Octavious Cooley, #30 Zikerrion “Zi” Baker and #91 Hal Northern. He said they are good replacements for his other best friends who graduated – fellow Panola Countians Tony Conner, Isaac Gross and Temario Strong.

“I had to find three more to fit the personality of them. I think I found the perfect three,” Hibbler said.

Hibbler talked about the elephant in the room, the sanctions handed down by the NCAA. He said of course the sanctions played some type of role last year, but at the end of the day, he and the team had to own their 5-7 record last year.

“We take full responsibility for ourselves. We are not making any excuses. We just want to go out and work and show we can overcome anything and stick together as a team and a family,” he said.

He asked the fans not to give up on the team easily. “Every season will be different. We have been going through a rough spell lately. We really enjoy them coming to the game and supporting us. We would like them to come to every game and support us,” he said.