It’s difficult to imagine anybody in the SEC having a better spring this year than Ole Miss’ Kentrell Lockett.
And get this: Lockett isn’t even practicing. He’s rehabilitating his surgically repaired knee that cost him most of what he feared might be his final season at Ole Miss.
But that all changed last Thursday when Ole Miss officials received word that Lockett had been awarded a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA.
“I don’t know what to compare it to when they told me,” said Lockett, one of the more complete defensive ends in the SEC and one of the Rebels’ strongest leaders.
“I’d been waiting all that time just to hear a couple of words. The uncertainty was killing me. And just to finally hear that I was going to get a chance to play at Ole Miss again was one of those feelings you can’t explain.
“I just started crying, and I’m man enough to admit it. The big thing is that I can finally go to sleep now.”
Lockett injured his knee in the Rebels’ fourth game last season. He’d already used up his redshirt year as a freshman in 2006 when a shoulder issue kept him from getting onto the field.
Ole Miss officials immediately told him that they would file a waiver with the NCAA to get the sixth year, but they also made it clear that there weren’t any guarantees.
Complicating matters for Lockett was that he was coming off a torn ACL and in no shape physically to work out for NFL clubs and take his shot at pro football.
So he took his chances with the NCAA and spent the past several months in what he says was football purgatory.
“You just start to wonder about all kinds of things,” Lockett said. “At that point, any news is better than no news. I started to wonder what my next move was going to be if the ruling didn’t go my way. You go back and forth, and it’s every day, man.
“I know I wasn’t myself, and I apologize to all the people around me for that. I know they wondered if they were ever going to get the old Kentrell back. Well, now that that burden has been lifted, he’s back.”
The 6-foot-5, 265-pound Lockett isn’t sure if he would have put his name into the NFL supplemental draft this summer or just worked out all season and taken his chances in next year’s regular draft.
“The good thing is that I don’t have to think about that now,” he said. “It’s all about getting this knee back to 100 percent and then getting back onto that field and doing whatever I can to get our defense back to where it needs to be.”
The Rebels needed Lockett back in the worst way. They were already losing four senior defensive tackles and didn’t have any proven pass-rushers returning at the end position. Lockett had five sacks during the 2009 season.
“It’s hard when you feel like your life’s on pause, and that’s what it felt like,” Lockett said. “Everything had come to a standstill.
“But, now, it’s almost like I have a new football life, and I’m going to make the best of it.”