Kentrell Lockett, the vocal and emotional leader of the Ole Miss defense before getting sidelined for most of 2010 with a knee injury, has a clean bill of health, a sixth year of awarded eligibility, and a pocket square that looks like a tulip. He is hands-down the best interview in the conference, and on Friday afternoon shortly before SEC Media Days wound down for 2011, he held court for pack of college football reporters.
Lockett's oft-referenced bowtie doesn't make an appearance at today's interview sessions, so the first thing we had to do was press him on its absence and what message he's sending by wearing a normal (if flashy and elegant) suit and tie. "Mom picked this one out." Lockett didn't want to call attention to himself with neckwear, not when his personality can carry a room: "It's like, look at me, I got a bowtie." Does this fashion shift harken to his role, in his sixth year of college football, as the elder statesman of the Ole Miss Rebels? "I wouldn't say elder. Senior." Sage? "So seasoned I'm salty." Lockett's back, and he hasn't changed a bit. "Maybe it's just me. Maybe I make people feel happy."
About that ACL tear that knocked him out of the 2010 campaign: "My leg got cold, then it got hot, then I heard a pop." On crutches for interminable weeks, what did he miss about the game? Without missing a beat: "Everything." He tried hanging around practices and the weight room, but would end up at home crying to his wife, who finally told him he had to get some separation. But all that's at an end: When fall camp kicks off, he'll be back in full-contact ball, with "the freshest legs in the SEC. I don't know too many guys excited for camp to start." He's also resumed his unofficial duties as a role model to incoming freshmen, whose nerves are beginning to show around the edges. "I just tell 'em, football's football. That's all you can tell 'em."
We're winding down, and there's time for a couple whimsical Friday questions. What does he think of Mississippi State's "We own this state" billboards? "That's real interesting." Does State own the state? A calculated pause, stifled laughter. "That's a real interesting billboard." What does Houston Nutt say to his players the most? "So many things." Shakes his head. "Just so many things." When the coaches say these are the best days of players' lives, do they believe him? "It truly is. Cause after this it's the real world. The real real world."
Ole Miss opens 2011 play Saturday, Spetember 3, at home against BYU. Are the Rebels ready to run? "You don't know how excited I am to just tackle somebody not enrolled in the University of Mississippi."