• 50°

Primed for biggest role yet, Ole Miss receiver DaMarkus Lodge having ‘a lot more fun’

DaMarkus Lodge’s first two seasons at Ole Miss were frustrating. Yet there’s not much he would change about a past he’s not thinking about much these days.

The Rebels’ junior receiver is busy trying to keep his spot with the first-team offense, spending all of training camp rotating between the slot and the outside as one of Ole Miss’ top four wideouts. It’s a position on the depth chart the 6-foot-2, 200-pounder has been striving for since signing with the Rebels as one of their highest-ranked prospects in the 2015 recruiting class.

“You start touching the ball, you get happy again,” Lodge said. “I’ve been having a lot more fun now.”

Lodge was a four- or five-star recruit depending on the recruiting service coming out of Texas’ Cedar Hill High, but the competition was stiff at a position where Ole Miss has stockpiled talent in recent years. Laquon Treadwell, Cody Core, Quincy Adeboyejo and Damore’ea Stringfellow — all of whom are now in the NFL — were already on the roster as was All-American tight end Evan Engram, a first-round pick of the New York Giants this year.

Cracking the rotation proved difficult with that many talented pass-catchers. Lodge caught just one pass as a true freshman and has just 16 receptions in 19 career games.

As difficult as it’s been biding his time, Lodge said he used it as a learning experience on the field and off.

“If I had to go back and do it again, I would’ve redshirted (my freshman year),” Lodge said. “But I don’t have any regrets because there were some great guys in front of me that I learned from — Laquon Treadwell, Quincy Adeboyejo, Stringfellow, Evan Engram.

“You can’t let anything get to you mentally.”

Adeboyejo, Stringfellow and Engram may be gone from last year’s team, but the competition is still there. Sophomores A.J. Brown, DK Metcalf and Van Jefferson, also former four-star recruits, join Lodge to make up what should again be one of the Southeastern Conference’s more prolific receiving corps for an offense that’s led the league in passing each of the last two seasons.

“We have a lot of guys that can play and should have futures in the NFL,” Lodge said. “We know what we can do and we know the talent we have. We just come out and try to get better every day.”

Most of Lodge’s reps have been split at one outside spot with Metcalf, though he and Brown have also gotten looks in the slot at times with Jefferson (knee scope) being held out of recent practices as a precaution. Other than ramping up the physicality with his blocking, Lodge said he’s the same receiver he’s always been, but he feels like this is his first real chance.

“A lot of guys left last year, so a lot of opportunities opened up,” Lodge said. “I’ve been working hard all summer as has everyone else on this team. We’re just ready to play ball.”

It’s been evident to those around him that he’s taking it on with a different attitude.

“He just seems to have a different look about him,” interim coach Matt Luke said. “The way he’s carrying himself. I think he’s having fun. I think he’s enjoying the offense.”