September 14, 2009

'Resilient' Snead back to work with heavy heart

Jevan Snead can take comfort in a couple of things as he deals with the loss of his beloved grandfather.

The last time Joe Long Snead Jr., saw his grandson playing in person, the Ole Miss quarterback was leading his team to a convincing win over Texas Tech in the AT&T Cotton Bowl Classic in Dallas on Jan. 2.

The last pass Snead's grandfather, nicknamed "Smokey" by his friends and "Daddy Joe" by his 10 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren, ever saw him throw was a 17-yard touchdown to Dexter McCluster in the fourth quarter of the Rebels' 45-14 win over Memphis earlier this month.

Joe Long Snead Jr., was dying of cancer as he watched that game on ESPN. He died Thursday at the age of 79 in his hometown of Stephenville, Texas.

"We thought he had a little bit longer, and then we realized he didn't," Jevan Snead said Monday, one day after returning from Texas to resume practice. No. 5 Ole Miss (1-0) plays host to Southeastern Louisiana (2-0) Saturday at 6:30 p.m. in Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.

"Anytime something like that happens, it definitely distracts you," Snead said. "I love my granddaddy very much and I miss him. He did love football and he wanted me to do my very best and that's what I'm going to try to do."

Snead, who began his college career at Texas before transferring to Ole Miss, said his grandfather would look forward to seeing Rebel games last season. Led by Snead's accurate arm, the Rebels rebounded to win their final six games and vault into the top 15 in the national rankings.

"He got to see a couple of games," Snead said. "Unfortunately, his health started declining and he didn't get to see as many as he'd like. He got to see a few and he got to watch a lot on TV. I know he really enjoyed that and I'm glad he was able to watch them."

Snead, who was one of 31 Ole Miss players sidelined for part or all of last week due to a flu virus that swept through the team over the Labor Day weekend, said he's back to full health and eager to get back on the field.

"I know that we can play better," said Snead, who was 12-for-22 passing for 175 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions against Memphis. "I expect to get better. I expect to get better every week as an offense and as a team, and I think we'll do that."

Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt said Monday he's been impressed with the way Snead has handled the adversity of the past week, noting that his behavior under duress matches his resilience on the field.

"He's always a guy that comes to work," Nutt said, adding that Snead's struggles at Memphis could be boiled down to three second-quarter mistakes. "I thought his second half was outstanding. He checked very good throughout the game. …I think with the pressure, the new (offensive) line, especially on the left side, the things that he was dealing with, I think he's handled everything really good.

"He came right back yesterday, comes right back to work (with) just a tremendous attitude. He's just a super person."

Snead, who passed for more than 2,700 yards and 26 touchdowns last season, said he's not one to beat himself up over mistakes.

"I just try to see what wrong on that play and try to not let it happen again," Snead said. "You have to have a short memory as a quarterback and be able to move on to the next play. That's what I try to do."

"He's the same guy," Ole Miss running back Brandon Bolden said. "To me, he hasn't changed at all. He has more confidence. I'll say that about him, but he hasn't changed at all as a person."

Nutt said he expects to open up the offense more as the season progresses, noting that he's really emphasized execution in the eight days since the Memphis game.

"We didn't throw everything," Nutt said. "It was overall conservative. It's execution, execution, execution."

Snead put the blame for that on his shoulders. The first interception against Memphis came with Ole Miss holding a 10-0 lead and driving near midfield. The Tigers converted the overthrown pass into a touchdown, cutting the Rebels' lead to 10-7 and changing the tone for the rest of the half. Snead said once the Rebels open things up more, it's up to him to direct things effectively

"I can't say enough about our receivers," Snead said. "They've really done a great job stepping up, (including) some of the younger guys. There's no limits to what they can do. We've got a lot of talent, and as long as I get them the ball, I feel like they can make big plays."

REBELS RETURN TO PRACTICE: Wide receiver Shay Hodge returned to practice on Sunday for the first time since falling ill on Labor Day.

"I feel 100 percent," Hodge said. "I feel fresh. I was ready to go the first day back. I felt a little tired. I have to get my endurance back."

Nutt said all but two or three of the affected Rebels practiced on Sunday. He said that while there were some "lingering effects" during the 90-minute session, he expected they would "turn it around quick. We'll be OK. We've just got to get them going this week."

"It was just another day at the office," Bolden said.

Ole Miss will have full practices Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday before a walk-through on Friday.

REBEL RUMBLINGS: Nutt said defensive end Greg Hardy's injured right ankle is swollen and discolored, adding that he's "very doubtful" for Saturday's game. In a related matter, Nutt said the SEC's director of officiating, Rogers Redding, confirmed that Memphis wide receiver Duke Calhoun's injury-causing block on Hardy, a crack-back block that wasn't called a penalty at the time, should have been flagged. …Nutt said no final decisions have been made regarding which freshmen will and will not redshirt, adding that that's still a work in progress. …Nutt said freshman offensive tackle Bobby Massie has gotten some looks inside at right guard, but "the best thing for him right now is to zero in at right tackle." …Offensive guard Rishaw Johnson, who must sit out two games this season due to an undisclosed violation of team and school rules, will play Saturday. Johnson also played against Memphis.

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