OXFORD — They play very different positions under drastically different microscopes, but Ole Miss sophomore quarterback Luke Altmyer and junior tight end Casey Kelly have gone through similar rollercoasters in the last few months.
Following an early injury to Matt Corral in January's Sugar Bowl against Baylor, Altmyer stepped in and played about as well as could be expected from a teenager thrust into an unenviable situation, throwing for 174 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions against a tough Bears defense. Kelly, meanwhile, led Rebels tight ends in 2021 with 17 catches for 150 yards and a touchdown.
Both now they find themselves vying for playing time against players who weren’t even on the roster a season ago.
The Rebels brought in a pair of high-profile transfers from USC in sophomore quarterback Jaxson Dart and sophomore tight end Michael Trigg.
Trigg was lauded in the spring as a tremendous athlete with unlimited potential at the position. Dart, meanwhile was the Gatorade National Player of the Year in 2020 as a senior at Utah’s Corner Canyon High and at times excelled with the Trojans as a true freshman in 2021.
It can be hard not to take it personally or to not get discouraged by the addition of bodies to your positional group. But Kelly and Altmyer understand their value and, above all else, know what they bring to a team.
“I know what I can bring to the table, and I know the person I am. I’m not going to let media or Twitter or Instagram tell me who I am,” Kelly said. Because I know what I can do on the field, I know my skill set, I know what I bring to the table, I know how valuable I am and can be. That’s just what keeps me going. I don’t try to look at the outside noise of everyone telling me this and that. Well, I’m out here doing this, you don’t know what’s going on. That’s how I look at it.”
Ole Miss was one of the big winners of the transfer portal this offseason, racking up a consensus top-five class nationally. Playmakers at nearly every position were brought in to fortify depth, and some are expected to step-in and contribute immediately. Position battles abound all around the roster.
For Altmyer, a key has been ignoring outside noise and expectations. And most of all, it’s been about focusing on what he does rather than what Dart or anyone else is doing.
“Me and Casey are kind of in the same boat. We’ve shared a lot of the same experiences this past offseason. If you try to compare yourself to others, I always try to tell myself comparison is the thief of joy,” Altmyer said. “Be yourself, let all things happen naturally. Attack each day with intention and the right mindset. Be grateful in all things, and I think good things will come to you.”
Kelly and Altmyer are close with Trigg and Dart, respectively. There are no hard feelings — “He’s my boy” Kelly says of Trigg — but there is competition. And that isn’t a bad thing.
“There’s no, like, animosity or things like that. Because we’re in this together. We know the narrative the media creates. We kind of try to block it out,” Altmyer said. “But, obviously, there is a business kind of aspect to it, and we’re both working really hard to go win the job.”
Sophomore linebacker Austin Keys saw action during what looked like first-team defensive reps with former Central Michigan linebacker Troy Brown, as did TCU transfer Khari Coleman … Auburn transfer safety Ladarius Tennison also got work with what looks like the first team … Former Mississippi State wide receiver Malik Heath made a leaping grab over a defensive back on a throw from Dart … Altmyer threw a deep strike to senior Jonathan Mingo that got all the offensive players on their feet from the sideline … Former Central Florida receiver Jaylon Robinson also caught an impressive deep ball from junior Kinkead Dent.