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NHS alumnus gets last chance to make his name at Ole Miss

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Wesley Pendleton has had few chances to make a name for himself as an Ole Miss football player this season.

His most prestigious award came when he was named the Rebels top defensive player after spring practice, but high expectations turned to frustration when a sprained medial collateral ligament sidelined him for a while and limited him for much of the season. He then suffered a high-ankle sprain in the Rebels’ win over Arkansas, and has not played since.

“I’ve been fighting and trying to get back to play in my last football game,” Pendleton said from Birmingham, Ala., where the Rebels are gearing up for the BBVA Compass Bowl today against Pittsburgh.

Wesley Pendleton celebrates after making a play in Ole Miss’ victory over Central Arkansas Sept. 1. Pendleton will return from injury to play in the Rebels’ bowl game today. (Joshua McCoy \ Ole Miss Athletics)

The former Natchez High School standout is finally healthy and hopes that he can take advantage of his last chance to make his mark at Ole Miss.

“I’m back 100 percent, and I should make a statement in the game (today),” he said. “I’m very excited to try to beat Pittsburgh. That would take me out on a good note in my senior season, and we are excited about bringing another bowl victory to the Rebel Nation. That’s the focus and all the team can really think about.”

Pendleton spent most of his collegiate career fighting to be where he wanted to be, he said, and his current fight to get healthy is nothing new.

After graduating from Natchez High, Pendleton spent two seasons at Copiah-Lincoln Community College where he developed into one of the best defensive backs in the state. He then drew the attention of Ole Miss and signed with the Rebels.

“Going from high school to junior college was tough,” Pendleton said. “It was a rough ride, but you have to fight through it. It’s not where everybody wants to be.”

Pendleton made his way up the depth chart in the Rebels’ secondary, but then the injuries started accumulating.

“In my first year at Ole Miss I did pretty good,” he said. “I made honor roll, and coming into this season I had won my award for best defensive player at Ole Miss in the spring. Things were looking pretty good until the injuries started. Now I’m trying to make a statement in this one game, and maybe keep going with my football career.”

The Rebels earned bowl eligibility with a 41-24 victory over Mississippi State that ended a three-game losing streak. Pendleton said that win is one that he will remember for a long time.

“It’s been (three) years since Ole Miss has been to a bowl game, and we just wanted to win the Egg Bowl,” he said. “That was the high point of the season. It was a big game, and a hard-fought game from beginning to end. It’s the most important game of the season, and we got the Egg Bowl back for the team up North.”

Pendleton is scheduled to graduate from Ole Miss in May, and he said he plans to come back home to Natchez and start training for the NFL. He hopes he can make his way on to a couple of senior bowl rosters and earn an invitation to the NFL combine, he said.

Pendleton finished the regular season with 13 tackles and two pass deflections. He has 32 tackles and six pass breakups in his two-year career with the Rebels.

The BBVA Compass Bowl is at noon today. The game is on ESPN.

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