The constant improvement of the Ole Miss Rebel football team has gotten the attention of the Ole Miss faithful and the college football world. Former Rebel LB/DL C.J. Johnson gives his opinion on the upcoming season and his views on the NCAA.
The start of the 2016 Ole Miss Rebel football season is just a few weeks away. The rise of the Rebel program has led to fevered anticipation from the Ole Miss fan base. No one has experienced the ebb and flow of the program quite like C.J. Johnson. In his career as a Rebel, C.J. has seen the program go from 2-10 in his freshman year, to a Sugar Bowl victory in his final season.
C.J. took the time to talk to OleHottyToddy.com about the upcoming season and his views on the NCAA and its investigation of the Rebel program.
OHT: Tell us, what have you been up to?
C.J.: Just trying to stay in shape and get my body prepared for training camp, coming up shortly. I’m trying to make an NFL roster. I’ve currently signed a free agent contract with the New England Patriots.
OHT: What will the absences of leaders like you and Mike Hilton mean for this year’s team?
C.J.: I think they have a tremendous group of leaders, particularly on the offensive side of the ball that will fill the void. In year’s past we had a lot of great leaders on defense. This year’s team have a lot of leaders on offense like Quincy (Adeboyjo), Evan (Engram), Chad (Kelly) and Robert Conyers and guys like that. Those guys are leaders in the locker room, on and off the field. And they do it the right way.
OHT: How good can this year’s defense be?
C.J.: Man, I think they have a chance to be really good. The key to our defense will be our secondary. They have a lot of guys who will be sleepers. A lot of guys that no one really knows about that will have a bunch of chances to make plays because our defensive line will be one of the best in the country in putting pressure on the quarterback. Our secondary will be really key and a lot guys will have the opportunity to make plays and get turnovers.
OHT: Tell us the name of a key player on the team that doesn’t get the notoriety as other well-known players.
C.J.: John Youngblood. He does the best job of anyone I’ve played with when it comes to being disciplined within the system. He definitely doesn’t get the credit he deserves. He’s always where he is supposed to be. He rarely makes mistakes. He deserves a lot more credit as a pass rusher, even though he’s known for stopping the run.
OHT: Now that you are removed from the program, what are your thoughts on the negative view of the school and the NCAA investigation?
C.J.: I thinks it’s not fair. A lot of it has to do with our success. There is nobody in the SEC, that if you had the NCAA investigate their program for a couple of years, wouldn’t get caught without several violations. There are so many silly rules in the NCAA that some of that stuff needs to be redefined.
I honestly think that the Big Five conference schools could do without the NCAA. By doing that, they would obviously create more revenue. And also they will be able to govern themselves better. You are talking about an NCAA that roughly manages over 1100 or 1200 colleges.
Where as, if the Big Five govern themselves it would be easier to oversee. They could eliminate silly rules like if a recruit is stuck in town because his car breaks down and he can’t afford a hotel, a coach can’t let him crash on his couch or get him a room.
That’s not even a moral thing to do. There’s no way a coach would make that child sleep in a car simply because he can’t afford a room. I don’t care if the kid is a five-star recruit or a two star recruit, that’s just morally wrong.
OHT: What are your thoughts on Hugh Freeze?
C.J.: He’s one of the greatest men I’ve ever met. He doesn’t get a lot of credit for the things he does, but he is not the kind of guy that looks for a lot of credit. Every time he is in the light he tries to reflect it on other people. That’s the kind of person he is. I was fortunate enough to have him as a coach. Throughout my career I’ve had some personal things going on, I would go talk to him and he would help me get through it.
And his faith is real. A lot of people try to question that, but I guarantee that if you spent a good day with this man you would understand that his faith is more important than football.
That is what attracts people to him because you see it in his walk everyday. He does a great job of not forcing his religion on anyone. But his faith is the thing that carries him. That’s why I believe he is so successful. Because his faith is strong.
OHT: Finally, what is your expectation for this year’s Ole Miss Rebel football team?
C.J.: Man, I’ve been around Coach Freeze for a long time and I know how he handles expectations. Last year our expectation was to get to an SEC Championship game. I will definitely say that is the goal again this year. Their expectation is SEC champs or bust.