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Nkemdiche plays with ‘reckless abandon’ in debut

Ole Miss linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche started his first collegiate game of his career, and he didn’t take long to make an impact. The redshirt freshman led the Rebels on the defensive side of the ball with a team-high eight tackles, including a sack.
Thomas Graning/The Daily Mississippian

 
Nineteen Rebels made their first appearances in an Ole Miss uniform Saturday. No debut may have been bigger on the defensive side of the ball than that of redshirt freshman Denzel Nkemdiche, who recorded a team-high eight tackles, three tackles for loss and a sack in Ole Miss’ 49-27 win and played with what Freeze called “reckless abandon.” His numbers could have been even better if not for having to receive an I.V. during the game due to dehydration.
 
Listed as a co-starter at the “stinger” linebacker position on the depth chart at the beginning of last week, Nkemdiche wanted to make sure he took advantage of his opportunity. 
 
“When they told me, I was excited, and it just made me prepare that much better. My focus level got turned up to another level,” Nkemdiche said. “Coach told me not to get overwhelmed, and I wasn’t at all.
 
“I missed competition. I just missed it so much, and (to) finally get that opportunity, I don’t want to let that chance go. I just wanted to do what my coaches teach me and help my teammates and do my job for my teammates also.” 
 
Nkemdiche said that playing so many young players is a good thing for Ole Miss, as it will allow the group to gain experience together. 
 
“It was real exciting because one thing you can’t coach is experience, and all this is just helping the future of Ole Miss,” Nkemdiche said. “A lot of young guys have no choice but to step up and become leaders. If that’s what we have to do to change this program, then that’s what we’re going to do.”
 
Saturday night’s game was special for the freshman linebacker for another reason besides getting the start. Denzel’s younger brother – top-ranked 2013 recruit Robert Nkemdiche, who has verbally committed to Clemson – was in the stands watching Denzel’s collegiate debut. 
 
The night before, Robert’s high school team Grayson had played on ESPN against Miami Central High School. Denzel was able to watch a replay of the game in his hotel room and said it gave him some extra motivation Saturday. 
 
“He was extremely proud, and he was excited,” Denzel said. “I feel like that’s big that he got to see it live and see me making plays out there like we were doing in high school. I saw my boys back home balling out. I took that personal because, you know, it was my turn today, and I feel like I made them proud.”
 
The Rebels trailed at halftime last week against the Bears from Central Arkansas, but a new attitude and halftime adjustments allowed the Rebels to come back and win going away. That win gives the Rebels some confidence heading into this week’s game against the University of Texas El-Paso.
 
“It gives us confidence, it gives us great attitude, and it lets everyone know that we can win,” Nkemdiche said. “Even if we are down, it doesn’t matter; like if we come out there and we play our hardest and revert back to our training, we’ll be able to come out with the W.”
 
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