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Ole Miss center Eli Johnson opts out of 2020 season

Hours before fall camp began, Lane Kiffin lost one of his starting offensive lineman for the 2020 season. 

Senior Eli Johnson announced on Sunday he would be opting out of the upcoming season, marking him the first Ole Miss player to use the NCAA’s opt-out option due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Johnson had a very close and personal experience with the effects of COVID-19 due to his father and Ole Miss beat writer for the Rebels247 website, David Johnson, fought and won a tough battle against the novel coronavirus this past spring. 

“After much thought and consideration I have decided to opt out for the 2020 season,” Johnson’s post read. “I will be focusing on completing my Masters degree at Ole Miss in December. I will forever be grateful for my time here at Ole Miss. God Bless and Hotty Toddy!” 

Johnson started all 12 games for the Rebels in 2019 and was expected to be the starting center when the season began on Sept. 26. His announcement came the night before fall camp begins for all of the Southeastern Conference after pushing back the start of the 2020 season. 

During his press conference to open up fall camp, Kiffin addressed Johnson’s decision to opt out. He respected Johnson’s decision but noted it did catch him and his staff off guard with the last-minute timing.

“I spoke with Eli. He made a decision and we’re fine with it,” Kiffin said. “I told him that if he still wanted to be around, he was a big part of this team before, so if he wanted to be around the night before games and meetings and stuff and be on the sideline, we’d be more than happy to do that and we respect his decision.”

Offensive lineman Ben Brown took snaps at center during Monday’s practice but Kiffin said there are other options they may try out during camp.

Any player who opts-out of the 2020 season is still allowed to have their scholarship honored by their school, according to the NCAA’s decision made earlier this summer regarding opt-outs. 

As of Sunday, over 60 players across the country had chosen to opt-out this season. According to Kiffin, no other Ole Miss players have discussed with him or his staff about opting out of the season.