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NOTEBOOK: Memphis Rebels ‘excited’ to go home

There are plenty of storylines heading into this Saturday’s matchup between 13th-ranked Ole Miss and Memphis, which is ranked No. 22 in the coaches poll.

The one that always gets brought up are the Rebel players who call Memphis their home.

Eleven players on the Ole Miss roster come from Memphis or the surrounding area. The Rebels-Tigers rivalry is always an important game for the players who live just an hour up the road, but this week’s matchup has the intensity taken up a notch.

“They just got ranked (on Monday) and they’re undefeated,” running back Jaylen Walton said. “They’re going to come out playing their best football. We’re definitely going to do the same.”

Walton joins fellow running back Jordan Wilkins, kicker Gary Wundlerich and offensive linemen Ben Still and Christian Morris who list their hometown as Memphis.

Wilkins knows a lot of players on Memphis’ team, but his connection to the school hits a little closer to home.

“Everybody I know is pretty much on the team,” Wilkins said. “I’ve been excited for this game all year. My girlfriend is a cheerleader on the team, so we’ve kind of been going at it. It’s just a really big game. It means a lot, and I think we’re ready to play.”

Wilkins was recruited by Memphis when he was coming out of high school at St. Benedict at Auburndale in Cordova, Tennessee. He is really close with Memphis running back Sam Craft, whom he played AAU ball with.

“We’ve just got to keep our composure, not let the moment beat us,” Wilkins said. “Play every play. Take the yards that are there and take care of the ball, and I think the big play will hit.”

Walton was never recruited by the Tigers, and Saturday will be his first time to ever play inside Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium.

He has watched games played there, including the last time Ole Miss visited Memphis.

Punt return changes?
After last Saturday’s struggles by Carlos Davis fielding punts as well as the recovery by New Mexico State after miscommunication caused the Rebels to lose the ball, head coach Hugh Freeze is considering making a change.

It was not officially announced, but Freeze noted the Rebels will look at some other guys this week when it comes to punt return. Davis has not lost the job just yet.

“We’ve got to improve there,” Freeze said during his press conference Monday. “The No. 1 goal of your punt return unit is to have the football. Too many times this year, it hasn’t been the case. It’s been a mixture of things … Carlos needs to regain his confidence. He needs to take control of the unit on those rugby-style kicks.”

Receiver Markell Pack and cornerback Tony Bridges will get an opportunity to field punts this week during practice.

Injury update
While he missed last week’s game against New Mexico State, Walton is good to go against Memphis. Freeze is also hopeful to get offensive lineman Justin Bell and receiver Damore’ea Stringfellow back.

Defensive tackle D.J. Jones is going through the concussion protocol this week after missing the second half of last week’s game. Tight end Evan Engram is listed as day-to-day along with Robert Conyers and Kailo Moore.