Ole Miss Football vs Texas Tech in the TaxAct Texas Bowl on December 28th, 2022 at NRG Stadium in Houston, TX. Photos by Joshua McCoy/Ole Miss Athletics

By Billy Watkins

         The song is one of Kinkead Dent’s fondest memories from his four seasons as a backup quarterback at Ole Miss.

         It’s on his phone. He plays it frequently to the chagrin of his non-football buddies. And he knows just enough of the words to sing along.

         We’re talking about “Rocky Top.”

         Yep, good ol’ Rocky Top, Ten-uh-see — one of the fight songs of the Volunteers’ football team.

         “I know people will be surprised by that,” he said, “but that win over Tennessee in Knoxville in 2021 was unbelievable because of all the stuff that went on.

         “I’ve been on teams that went into Death Valley at LSU and into Alabama. And, yeah, you get cussed at by fans at those places. But the 101,000 that night in Knoxville had a look of anger and hatred that I’d never seen before. A lot of it was aimed at Kiffin (for leaving as the Vols’ coach in 2010 after just one season) but we all felt it.

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         “We must have heard ‘Rocky Top’ a thousand times. So to beat them up there with fans throwing stuff at us … I’ve got some great memories connected to that song. I always will.”                         

         Dent recently signed out of the transfer portal with UT-Martin, a member of the Ohio Valley Conference.

         I believe the entire Rebel fan base wishes him well. In a time when so many players transfer at the first sign of competition, Dent chose to stay in Oxford and battle for playing time..

         It didn’t work out like he wanted — his stat line over four years reads 5 of 9 passing for 14 yards — but no one can ever say he took the easy way out. And let’s not forget he was the holder last season for placekicker Jonathan Cruz, who led the SEC in field goal percentage (15 of 17, 88.2 percent).

Photo by Robert Smith

         Dent, who transferred from Manchester Academy to Jackson Academy prior to his junior season, was rated by 247 Sports the No. 36 quarterback in the 2019 recruiting class.  Stuck behind Matt Corral in 2020 and 2021, then behind Jaxson Dart and Luke Altmyer a year ago, he still went through the grueling off-season workouts. He prepared for each game. He put up good numbers in scrimmages and spring games. He did all he could do to get on the field.

         But Dent isn’t departing Oxford empty handed.

         “It’s hard to explain how much football I learned from (head coach Lane) Kiffin and (former offensive coordinator) Jeff Lebby,” Dent said. “People know they run great schemes and all that.  But what they don’t see is how they take that scheme — and I hate to say dumb it down — but make it easy for everyone to run it.

         “And they really help the quarterbacks understand what a defense is trying to do and how to answer that.

         “My game improved every year. Everything I learned gave me so much confidence. And I will take that with me to UT-Martin. I just wish I could’ve shown it at Ole Miss.”

         He had his down days,  battled frustration and anger. He wondered why the coaches didn’t at least give him a chance in games.

         He started seeing a psychologist near the end of the 2021 season and continued throughout 2022.

         “It helped a bunch,” he said. “Players deal so much today with social media and all the message boards. I learned to get up every day and focus on getting better and being the best version of me as possible.”


         After entering the portal in mid-January, Dent talked with several schools, including Southern Miss, Memphis and Purdue.

         When those didn’t work out, he decided to visit UT-Martin, who lost its starting quarterback from a year ago.

         “I really didn’t know what to expect or if I’d like it at all,” said Dent, who grew up in Yazoo City. “But the thing that really stood out to me was Coach (Jason) Simpson.”

         In 17 years at UT-Martin, Simpson — a USM graduate — has won 107 games and three conference titles. He has been a finalist for the Eddie Robinson FCS Coach of the Year four times.

         Simpson’s son Ty, a former Tennessee Gatorade Player of the Year, is a redshirt freshman at Alabama. He’s in a quarterback battle that includes Notre Dame transfer Tyler Buchner.

         “Coach Simpson can relate to what I’ve been through,” Dent said. “And he was real honest with me. He said, ‘You’ve been at an SEC school for four years. You’ve pretty much seen it all, so there is no school out there that can offer you a cooler experience than that.’

         “But I will have a chance to get on the field and play football, apply what I’ve learned.”

         If things work out the way he hopes, Dent’s first start will come against an SEC school. UT-Martin opens the season at defending national champion Georgia.

         “I know Georgia reloads every year, but I’m glad the (Philadelphia) Eagles have drafted Nakobe Dean, Jalen Carter and Nolan Smith,” Dent said, laughing. “I know it’ll be a tough game, but what an opportunity we have. That’s the way I’m looking at it.”

         Dent’s parents, Hayes and Carolyn, are ready for their son’s fresh start, too.

Ole Miss Football vs UCA on September 10, 2022 at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium in Oxford, MS. Photo by Josh McCoy/Ole Miss Athletics

         “As a parent, you’re always going to be concerned about whether your kid can make it through a situation or not,” Hayes Dent said. “ As 2021 turned into 2022, we were convinced he wouldn’t stay at Ole Miss because of what he was having to deal with.  But as tough as it was, he never dropped those shoulders and we know now that will benefit him the rest of his life.

           “At one of his first big camps I noticed a dad wearing a t-shirt that said ‘Most people wait a lifetime to meet their favorite player. I raised mine.’ Nothing could be more accurate about how we feel about how he handled things”

         As for his son’s new school, Hayes Dent said: “From the moment I met coaches Simpson and (passing game coordinator Travis) Partridge, you just know they are players’ coaches and that means a ton. 

         “Kinkead gets to write the next chapter in this story in a place he’s wanted and will be appreciated. As a parent, you can’t ask for anything more. We can’t wait for September.”