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Rebels' Stanley Ready for Chance That Comes Early

May 9, 2010 – 1:48 PM
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Jim Henry

Jim Henry %BloggerTitle%

Nathan Stanley has returned to his Oklahoma roots for a quick reprieve. He deserves the break, considering how far he has progressed -- in football years, that is -- the past four months.

It was early January when Stanley, as surprised as anyone, first heard that Jevan Snead was turning pro. That opened the door for Stanley to establish himself this spring as Ole Miss' starting quarterback. And Stanley did exactly that, improving daily and ending drills with a strong showing in the Rebels' Grove Bowl spring game.

With spring football and final exams behind him and summer workouts on the horizon, Stanley headed home to relax and recharge.
"I've come a long way," Stanley told FanHouse.

"I feel like I've done a lot better as far as reading defenses this spring. The game really started to slow down for me, more than it has since I have been here. So as far as making reads, I (followed) with making the right decisions. But I still have to continue to work hard this summer and during two-a-days to get ready for the season."

Stanley, a 6-foot-5, 215-pound redshirt sophomore from Tahlequah, Okla., realizes he will need to make sound decisions to be effective for the Rebels.

"I feel like I've done a lot better as far as reading defenses this spring. The game really started to slow down for me, more than it has since I have been here."
-- Nathan Stanley, Ole Miss quarterback
Stanley's opportunity presented itself a year early, considering most people (including Stanley) believed Snead would return to Ole Miss for his senior season. Snead threw 20 touchdown passes last season, but he also threw 20 interceptions -- 15 in SEC games.

Snead, once pegged by draft analysts as a first-round selection, went undrafted and recently signed as a free agent with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Stanley and redshirt freshman Raymond Cotton were expected to be locked into a two-man quarterback race all spring, but it never materialized.

After the first week, Cotton was slowed by a sore shoulder. Stanley took advantage of the extra snaps. He threw the ball well, made good decisions and was effective in moving the team.

Stanley made an impressive debut in the spring game, completing 11 of 16 passes for 165 yards and two touchdowns and directing scoring drives to open each half. Stanley knew it was important to prove to coaches, teammates and fans that he could handle the quarterback duties.

Stanley reminded himself daily during spring drills to be patient.

"I was determined to establish myself," Stanley explained.

"I've never been the starter and now that Jevan's gone, I had to establish myself, be the guy that my team looks to as someone who can move them down the field. When spring practice first started, I had to kind of slow myself down, just take it one day at a time and improve each day."

A prototypical pocket passer, Stanley played in five games last season. He completed 11 of 23 passes for 163 yards with one touchdown and one interception.

Head coach Houston Nutt has directed the Rebels to consecutive 9-4 seasons, both punctuated by Cotton Bowl victories. Ole Miss had lost all eight of its SEC games in 2007 before Nutt replaced the fired Ed Orgeron. The Rebels were in the preseason top 10 last year before being dumped by early losses.

When Snead and Ole Miss got into trouble last season, they had the luxury of handing the ball to Dexter McCluster, the first SEC player with 1,000 yards rushing and 500 yards receiving in the same season.

With McCluster gone to the NFL, a promising development this spring was the running of junior Enrique Davis. Additionally, Ole Miss also has to replace leading receiver Shay Hodge. Seniors Lionel Breaux and Markeith Summers helped set the spring tone.

Stanley thinks the Rebels could be even more diverse on offense.

"I am really looking forward to it because we have a lot of weapons on the offensive side of the ball," Stanley said.

"We are young, myself included, but if we can play like I know we can play -- like we did at times in the spring -- I have the feeling we are going to be just fine."

After a deserved rest, Stanley plans to return to campus with an agenda. He wants to add muscle strength, sharpen his fundamentals, study game video and improve his timing with receivers.

Coaches also have fingers crossed that Cotton's lingering shoulder soreness (partially torn labrum) improves during the summer and he's able to compete with Stanley for playing time.

Cotton is the more athletic of the two and can hurt teams rolling out. The Rebels are hopeful that Cotton will be able to make it through the season before having surgery, but there are no guarantees.

Stanley, however, guarantees he will continue to work hard in preparation for the season. The strength of the team will again be a front seven on defense that has a chance to be as good as any in the SEC.

"I've progressed a lot, but I still have to continue to work in every area," Stanley said. "I've come a long way but you have to keep pushing and working."
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