Kentrell Lockett can't cite a specific play and maybe not even a specific game when his college career changed.
However, Ole Miss' rising junior defensive end felt what college football observers saw. At some point last season, as the Rebels evolved into one of the better teams in the Southeastern Conference and the nation, Lockett developed into a force.
"It just started happening," Lockett said Wednesday, just before going through an offseason workout in advance of the start of spring practices on March 26. "I really got comfortable playing. I really got comfortable under the new coaches. I really got comfortable with the scheme. I think it was probably the Auburn game. I had my best game, had the most tackles, and I think it took off from then. Or maybe it was the Florida game. I don't know. I just got comfortable and started playing football like I know how to play football.
"It was just all-around comfort that allowed me to play well. (Confidence) had a lot to do with it, too."
Despite being overshadowed in terms of media coverage by All-SEC defensive end Greg Hardy, Lockett was a steady force in the trenches for Ole Miss. The Hahnville, La., native started all 13 games, recording 36 tackles, including 11 ½ behind the line of scrimmage and two quarterback sacks. He added four quarterback hurries, two forced fumbles and a crucial blocked extra point attempt in the fourth quarter of the Rebels' 31-30 win over eventual national champion Florida.
Lockett is slated to start alongside Marcus Tillman when spring drills begin as Hardy recovers from offseason foot surgery. Still, Lockett's taking nothing for granted. Instead, Lockett said his goal is to "be a dominant force coming out of the spring, get heavier, get stronger. I'm not too much worried about getting faster. Right now, the big issue is getting heavier and getting bigger. I'm more focused on that and going into spring practice, being the leader like the coaches want me to be."
The spring will also provide an opportunity for Lockett to focus on his pass-rushing skills.
"Pass-rushing is something you have to have a knack for," Lockett said. "Everybody has to have their own type of way and their own type of style, and I'm just going to try to perfect a style of pass-rushing and perfect a way of getting to the quarterback. Playing the run is filling your gap, getting off your block and shedding that block when the ball comes, but rushing the passer is totally different. You have to have your own style and I'm going to try to perfect mine in the offseason.
"When everyone's healthy, when everyone's full-speed, it's going to be crazy. It's going to be a force to reckon with. There's talent all around us and weapons all around us. We feel like everybody can get the job done."
Lockett, who weighed a mere 211 pounds when he first reported to Ole Miss ("I was a beanpole with hair," he said, laughing), said he's tipping the scales these days at 257 pounds, up 12 pounds from the 245 he carried during the 2008 season. He's hoping to get to 260 by the start of spring drills and to 265 by the time the Rebels open the season in September.
"Coach (Houston) Nutt put it out there," Lockett said. "He kind of put me on blast in a team meeting. He's like, 'Lockett, we need you to gain weight. I don't know what you're doing, but you ain't doing something right. We need you to gain weight.' Ever since that little ordeal, I really didn't want to be put on Front Street anymore, so I just had to get on it."
Lockett's also been challenged in other areas as well. Ole Miss defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix has already begun the process of finding the vocal leaders to replace Peria Jerry and Jamarca Sanford from last season's defense. For Lockett, who is an outgoing sort who is always smiling and gets along with everyone, that role is one he plans to excel in.
"It kind of came naturally, but at the same time, it was a challenge by Coach Nix," Lockett said. "Peria's gone. He was a vocal guy on the defensive line. He was like, 'Now, since Peria's gone, who's it going to be? Is it going to be you? Is it going to be Marcus or is it going to be Greg?' Well, Greg's out. Marcus isn't that much of a talker and I was like, 'Well, that leaves me, so I guess I'll fit that role.' I just took it and I'm running with it. I hope to lead by example by being in front of all the drills and doing what all the coaches want me to do and by just being me."
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