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Ole Miss running back Jordan Wilkins back in the fold after academic snafu

Jordan Wilkins doesn’t really like to think about it anymore much less talk about it.

Ole Miss’ running back is focused on the future.

“It was tough, but I’m kind of over that,” Wilkins said. “Just ready to move forward.”

Wilkins has his eligibility back just months removed from a junior season that never happened. Wilkins went through the first couple of weeks of camp last summer before what the school called an “administrative error” left him short of the number of credits required to be eligible for the fall semester.

Wilkins admitted part of him wanted to take a break shortly after receiving the news, but he was still allowed to practice. That’s where he released his frustration.

“The next day, I think I came out and practiced harder than I’ve been going,” Wilkins said. “There was really no quit for me in my mind.”

Wilkins watched as Ole Miss stumbled to a 5-7 record — the first losing season of head coach Hugh Freeze’s tenure — with the Rebels finishing 12th in the Southeastern Conference in rushing yards per game (149.3). Wilkins was competing with Akeem Judd and freshman Eric Swinney for the starting job before the news came down, but Judd, Eugene Brazley and true freshman D’Vaughn Pennamon were the only ones left when Swinney tore his ACL on his first carry of the season against Florida State.

The fact he couldn’t help has motivated Wilkins, who said he’s trying to become a more downhill runner with his 6-foot, 215-pound frame.

“When you sit out a whole year, you kind of miss the contact,” Wilkins said. “That probably sparked a little bit in me. Sitting out the whole year and watching other players play and you saw what was working for them, that’s the best way to study is to look at the players that are having the success in the NFL in college. I have the frame to do it, so why not?”

Wilkins has been taking most of the first-team reps this spring but will again have to fend off Swinney, Pennamon and Brazley for the No. 1 spot when the fall rolls around. Wilkins ran 72 times for 379 yards and four touchdowns while sharing carries with Jaylen Walton as a sophomore in 2015 and is averaging 6 yards a carry for his career. He could also be used as a kick returner.

“I couldn’t be more pleased with how Jordan has been an example to everybody here of how to handle difficult news,” Freeze said. “Sometimes things happen to you in life that you have nothing to do with really. It’s bad news and it’s difficult to take, and he has modeled how to handle those types of adverse situations. Just got to get him to the bus. Really, really like what I see in him.”

Now that he’s back, Wilkins isn’t taking his final spring for granted.

“When it happened, it definitely opened my eyes to just how much I love this game and how much it means to me,” Wilkins said. “Just ready to be back and happy to be back with the team.”