OXFORD, Mississippi — Hugh Freeze is entering his third season as Mississippi's head coach, and he's optimistic the program is ready to compete in the Southeastern Conference's Western Division.
But a string of off-the-field incidents have put a damper on anything the Rebels are trying to accomplish on the field.
Four players have been arrested in separate incidents since Ole Miss won the Music City Bowl against Georgia Tech in December. Freeze said on Tuesday before the team's first spring practice that he takes his players' mistakes "very personal."
Freeze said defensive back Bobby Hill has been dismissed from the team after his being arrested for sexual battery. Linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche will miss spring practice and be suspended for at least one game after being charged with disturbing the peace and disorderly conduct.
Linebacker Serderius Bryant and defensive lineman Channing Ward will both be allowed to practice during the spring. Bryant was charged with public drunkenness and disturbing the peace while Ward pleaded guilty to a DUI charge.
"It's our job as coaches to help them navigate life," Freeze said. "When they make those decisions, we of course feel like we've failed with them in some ways. I take it very personal. Those of you have covered us know we'll hold their feet to the fire. We're not afraid to make a tough decision. No one is more important than this team."
Nkemdiche was one of Mississippi's surprise stars during coach Freeze's first two seasons as head coach.
The undersized linebacker earned freshman All-SEC honors in 2012 during a breakout season. He had 35 tackles as a sophomore, but struggled for much of the season with injuries.
"I'm hoping he can really learn from the mistakes that have been made and get back to who he can be," Freeze said. "He's a good kid."
Freeze hopes the program can put the rough winter behind it and build on an encouraging two seasons. The Rebels have had a 15-11 record under Freeze, including 8-5 last season, and have veterans returning in key spots.
"The theme for this spring is building more consistency as we build a depth chart that looks like an SEC football team," Freeze said. "We're not quite there yet ... But we're much closer than when I got here."
Quarterback Bo Wallace is entering his third season as the starter. The senior didn't get to go through offseason workouts last year because of shoulder surgery, and Freeze hopes a full offseason of work will help his productivity and arm strength.
The Rebels do have some question marks. They will try to replace three starting offensive linemen and must find someone to replace premier receiver Donte Moncrief, who left a year early for the NFL.
Freeze said he hopes sophomore Laquon Treadwell can fill the void left by Moncrief, who led the offense with 938 yards receiving and six touchdowns last season.
Ole Miss returns nine starters on defense, including All-American safety Cody Prewitt.
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