With early signing day quickly approaching, programs across the country scramble to fill vacancies left after the regular season. Recruiting has dominated the conversation in college football for decades now, and with good reason. Recruits want to play for a proven winner. Some want immediate playing time, others want a program that will develop them over time and give them the best chance at succeeding in the NFL. In order to convince players you can provide all the above, you need a head coach to sell the dream. Luckily for Ole Miss, Lane Kiffin fell in love with Oxford. He saw a young roster and a unique town that could work to his advantage.
A True College Town
Nestled in the hills of Mississippi, an hour south of Memphis and two and a half hours north of Jackson, lies Oxford. With a population of roughly 23,000 people, this town feels almost like an island – instead of water, stately pines and county roads outline the town. I’ll never forget the first time I set foot on campus. The warm, humid air and the distinct smell of magnolia and dogwood trees greets you immediately. The grass, flowers, and landscaping are immaculate.
Even on a busy school day, there’s a calmness that engulfs these grounds. That’s because the campus and town are separate. The classrooms, stadiums, fraternity houses, and dorms are all conveniently arranged together. Students here never have to worry about crossing busy streets or driving between classes. I became a pro at rolling out of my bed in Kincannon Hall at 7:45 and walking into my Biology class, on the opposite end of campus, right before the 8:00 start time. This campus offers beauty and convenience you simply cannot find anywhere else.
Often referred to as the “Cultural Mecca of the South,” you’ll find no shortage of art, music, bars, restaurants, or stores here. Double Decker Festival takes place in April and combines all of these into one jam-packed weekend. The most popular bars and restaurants in Oxford are conveniently located in the area of town known as “The Square.” Ajax offers some of the best soul food you’ll ever eat, and the bar scene never disappoints. Rooster’s Blues House and The Library have live music several times a week. Two daquiris from Funky’s will have you feeling like you’re right in the middle of Bourbon Street. There’s truly something for everyone on The Square.
What would an article about Ole Miss be without spotlighting The Grove? This 10-acre area features an arch with a brick path called the “Walk of Champions,” with red and blue tents packed into every inch of grass in sight. The women typically wear dresses, and the men’s outfits range from cowboy boots and Nike polos to khakis and blazers. Though it’s mainly fraternity pledges sporting the latter, you’ll occasionally see older men dressing up as well. The longstanding rule banning beer cans in The Grove means everyone must pour their drinks into red cups. This helps keep the littering to a minimum, and adds even more red to the already-colorful area. We welcome rivals and treat them with respect, as long as it is reciprocated. Most tent owners are willing to lend you a cup, give you a beer, or share their food with you.
We are Ole Miss
“We are Ole Miss,” often abbreviated as “WAOM,” is a phrase used often by our fans. It encapsulates the good, bad, craziness, heartbreak, and chaos surrounding our sports programs the past 171 years. There’s no doubting the fact that we are a resilient bunch. This past decade has seen our worst season in school history (2011), back-to-back wins over Alabama, a 4th-and-25 miracle lateral to keep us from the College Football Playoff, and a very sweet Sugar Bowl victory in New Orleans.
There were plenty of empty seats during the Matt Luke era. Fans were upset with former AD Ross Bjork, the NCAA, and the way he handled their investigation. His “exemplary cooperation” resulted in a two-year bowl ban. In lieu of flying into Memphis, driving an hour, and dealing with lodging and parking, many fans chose to show their contempt by watching from home. Other struggling SEC programs boast about their attendance every year. Take struggling Tennessee, for example. Despite losing to Georgia State in the opener, they had no problem filling their stands. What you don’t realize is Knoxville is more than 7.5 times the size of Oxford. They have a major airport and no shortage of hotels. Oxford’s “island” geography works for and against it. With Lane Kiffin coming to town and excitement at an all-time high, I suspect the stands will be packed in 2020.
Oxford’s allure is difficult to put into words. Legendary Rebel safety Senquez Golson described it by saying, “If you don’t want to go to Ole Miss, don’t take a visit.” Many current and former students can attest to this. When you first set foot on campus, there’s a feeling that you’re home. There’s an inexplicable enchantment that draws you in that can’t be replicated, because Oxford is unlike any other town. Why Ole Miss? I guess you’ll just have to come see for yourself.