By David Brandt
Hugh Freeze says that in his days on a high school sideline, he wore a visor because he wanted to be like former Florida and current South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier.
Now the second-year Mississippi coach is trying to win like him in the Southeastern Conference.
Freeze certainly had a good debut season, reviving the Rebels' program by finishing with a 7-6 record that included a win over Pittsburgh in the BBVA Compass Bowl.
It wasn't necessarily a Spurrier-level of success, but Freeze's wide-open offense has turned the Rebels into one of the trendy picks to compete in a Southeastern Conference Western Division loaded with traditional powers like Alabama and LSU.
And Freeze is already starting to get respect from his peers — including Spurrier.
"He plays golf, he wears visors, he calls plays," Spurrier said. "How can you not like Hugh Freeze?"
Freeze spent most of his appearance at SEC Media Days on Tuesday discussing expectations, especially after Ole Miss signed one of the nation's top recruiting classes in February.
"I'm very careful," Freeze said. "I told every group that I went to this spring — and I tell our team quite often — that unrealistic expectations always produce frustration."
Ole Miss will certainly be more experienced than a year ago. The entire starting defense returns and so do eight starters on offense, including quarterback Bo Wallace, who threw for 2,994 yards and 22 touchdowns last season.
Wallace is recovering from offseason shoulder surgery on his throwing arm. He missed all of spring practice after the January surgery, but has resumed throwing this summer and says he expects to be at full health for the beginning of preseason practice.
"The first two months, I couldn't do anything," Wallace said. "I couldn't stretch or anything. Those were some depressing days ... But I'm very happy with the way things have turned out."
One of Wallace's favorite targets last season was Donte Moncrief, a 6-foot-3, 216-pound junior that had 66 catches for 979 yards.
Moncrief said Wallace looks better than ever during informal summer workouts, and the added expectations are a good thing for the program.
"The feeling is great — knowing that our fans expect more of us," Moncrief said. "The big thing is just staying focused and listen to coach Freeze and stay on the same page with him because (if we do that), it will be hard to stop us."
Freeze agrees, as long as the Rebels are aware that year two will be just as difficult as year one.
"Our task in year two is to maintain the enthusiasm and energy from both our fans and our players and everyone that is involved in our program as we continue to strive to be relevant in the SEC West," Freeze said. "We have made strides."