By Billy Watkins
Jared Ivey almost stayed at Georgia Tech.
“I have great love for my former teammates,” Ivey said in a phone interview this week. “When I originally signed that dotted line out of high school, I wanted to make things work at Tech.”
Two seasons produced only six victories. Still, he was torn between sticking it out or entering the transfer portal.
Fortunately for Ole Miss, Ivey chose the portal on Jan, 28, 2022. He signed with the Rebels three days later.
Entering Saturday night’s showdown at unbeaten and No. 2-ranked Georgia, the 6-foot-5, 265-pound defensive lineman leads 9th-ranked Ole Miss (8-1) in sacks (5.5) and tackles-for-loss (8). He is tied for fifth in tackles.
New defensive coordinator Pete Golding plays him inside and outside. Ivey’s relentless motor and versatility have made him an invaluable piece in the Rebels’ much-improved defense.
Following a solid junior season, he credits strength coach Nick Savage and head dietician/football Beth Schwartz with changing his body during the offseason. He lost about seven pounds and decreased his body fat by 10 percent.
“I feel faster, stronger, got better wind, last longer in games,” he said. “I can definitely tell a difference late in games compared to last year.”
So how did he wind up in Oxford?
“Lane was the first coach to hit me up,” Ivey said, referring to Ole Miss head coach Lane Kiffin. He also struck up an immediate connection with defensive line coach Randall Joyner.
“Honestly, it was the perfect fit,” Ivey said. “I’m super thankful for where God has put me.”
He was a four-star prospect out of North Gwinnett High School in Suwanee, Ga., just outside Atlanta. Recruiting services rated him the No. 15 weak side edge rusher in the nation. His highlights tape showed why.
But Tennessee was the only SEC school to offer him. Other offers included Miami, Michigan State and Notre Dame. He visited Nebraska and Colorado.
“I liked them both,” he said. “And I was thinking ‘Stadiums are large. Jerseys are cool.’ But I really didn’t feel like they emphasized the educational aspect enough. My mom (Tracey) stayed on me about that. She really helped me stay focused during the process.”
His mom always demanded good grades and encouraged him to read as much as possible. Surely that’s part of the reason Ivey sounds more like a CEO than a football player when talking with the media.
He also doesn’t mind speaking up around his teammates when he feels it’s warranted.
“I try to pick my spots, not overdo it,” Ivey said.
Another reason Ivey chose Ole Miss was former defensive coordinator Chris Partridge, who was replaced by Golding following last season when the Rebels lost their final four games. He still speaks fondly of Partridge.
But Ivey is a true believer in Golding, who came to Ole Miss from Alabama.
“I remember his first meeting with the defense,” Ivey said. “He went through his whole philosophy about who he wanted us to be. He handed out a book filled with motivational quotes.
“He wants us to play fast, smart and physical and I think that’s our identity.But we’re all about adjustments and taking on what’s in front of us at that moment. That’s something he stresses a lot.
“(Golding) is super detailed every week. We’ve very multiple in our fronts, and our pass coverages give quarterbacks a hard time reading them.
“Even on run downs, we do a lot of things that keep us moving. He puts us in positions to make plays and everybody is reaping the benefits.”
Kiffin often talks about how this team “is cool to coach.” Ivey agrees that this group has created a special bond.
“There has been a major shift in culture among the players this year,” Ivey said. “We do a lot of things together outside of football. We’ve gotten past the surface level with each other.”
Ivey isn’t interested in Las Vegas favoring Georgia by 11 points or the fact that the two-time defending national champions haven’t lost at home since 2019.
He said Missouri playing toe-to-toe with the Bulldogs last Saturday before losing by nine doesn’t mean anything to the Rebels.
“None of that has anything to do with how we go out and play this Saturday,” Ivey said. “Coach Kiffin talked to us about that. It’s college football. Anybody can beat anybody. We don’t base things on results that we weren’t involved in.
“We like to base stuff on preparation and performance, and that’s what we’ll do this week.”