Ole Miss has had one of the stormiest offseasons in the SEC. Four players have been arrested, and a separate lawsuit was filed against the Nkemdiche brothers accusing them of battery in February of 2013.
Star linebackers Denzel Nkemdiche and Serderius Bryant were arrested the same weekend in February: Nkemdiche was charged with disturbing the peace, disorderly conduct and failure to comply with an officer. He has been suspended for spring practice and the first game of the season. Hugh Freeze also expressed concern regarding a profanity-laced video involving Nkemdiche last week. Bryant was arrested for disturbing the peace and public drunkenness.
Defensive back Bobby Hill was arrested for sexual battery and is not enrolled at the university any longer, and tight end Channing Ward was arrested for DUI, lack of insurance and improper equipment. The improper equipment charge was dismissed after he fixed his taillight, and he was fined $1,234 (DUI) and $216.50 (proof of insurance). Ward was sentenced to attend Mississippi Alcohol Substance Abuse Program and Victims impact classes.
So, it’s been a tough and very public offseason for the Rebels, and Ole Miss athletic director Ross Bjork expressed his concern about public perception, but he also expressed confidence in the future direction by the current coaching staff, according to InsideOleMissSports.com.
“You’re always concerned about how you run the program and what you stand for from a public perception standpoint. I’m always concerned, because it’s our job to run it the right way, but I’m also very confident in how we’ve dealt with it. I think that’s a sign of integrity and responsibility to do things the right way in athletics. You’re going to have adversity. It happens everyday, but how do you handle it, how do you follow up, what do you stand for, what do you act on? I think we have a very good plan in place for the athletes that are still here. I think we’ve dealt with the situation where athletes are not here any more in the right way.”
Bjork continued: “We live in an educational environment. It’s our job to help athletes. You look at what Serderius Bryant has gone through. He had a rough summer last year. He sits out the first game, but look at what he did during the season. Then he has a bump in the road in the off-season, but look what he’s done the last couple of weeks. I think we always have to be mindful that we’re helping young people. Yeah, there’s a concern, and there should be. We can’t just say everything’s great. Everyday we’ve got to make sure we’re doing the right thing, but I’m very confident in what our coaches stand for specifically football. Those are the high-profile ones that have bubbled up. I’m very very confident in what our coaches are doing, and we’ll continue to stay on this path of doing things right, talking about the right things, and if something happens, we’ll deal with it.”
Bjork also told the publication why he and Freeze backed the Nkemdiches so quickly after the lawsuit was brought against them. The brothers have since filed a counter-claim against the man who accused the players of assault last month.
“We were involved in this matter a year ago when it came up. We heard about it through a report from our campus police, and they wanted to talk to athletes who were there, so we made those athletes available. We cooperated with the entire investigation. They came down and said, ‘We can’t find anything.’ The reason we were so confident in 2014 is that we’d dealt with it in 2013. We had read reports, talked to our players directly about what had happened. Obviously it’s a police investigation. They’re responsible for handling that. They give us the information about next steps. That’s why we were so confident in what happened. Now it’s a personal matter for Denzel and Robert. We’ve all seen how they’ve responded. Everyone’s confident in the case. Now it just has to kind of go through the process.”
Ole Miss has one of the better overall rosters entering the 2014 season, and they are expected to be in the hunt for the western division, assuming they stay healthy and out of trouble. The Rebels are embarking upon an important spring season.
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