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Ole Miss’ Freeze speaks as foundation honors local athletes

Hugh Freeze, head football coach at the University of Mississippi, laughs during his speech at the 32nd annual banquet for the Miss-Lou Chapter of the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame on Thursday evening at the Natchez Eola Hotel. (Jay Sowers \ The Natchez Democrat)
Hugh Freeze, head football coach at the University of Mississippi, laughs during his speech at the 32nd annual banquet for the Miss-Lou Chapter of the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame on Thursday evening at the Natchez Eola Hotel. (Jay Sowers \ The Natchez Democrat)

NATCHEZ — Ole Miss head football coach Hugh Freeze stood in front of a crowd of adoring fans Thursday night at the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame awards banquet.

But much of Freeze’s speech was directed at 12 sets of young ears sitting in the front row of the ballroom of the Eola Hotel.

Freeze asked the high school and junior high school athletes from the six Miss-Lou schools, “What are you getting ready for?”

He wanted the students to know what they want, and then told them the same thing he tells his Rebel football players about how to get what they want.

“If you want it, you have to make it happen,” Freeze said. “And for you young guys to make it happen, you have to focus on three things.

John Mark Williams, left, secretary-treasurer for the organization, hands a scholarship to Cathedral scholar-athlete Dakota Vaughan during the banquet. (Jay Sowers \ The Natchez Democrat)
John Mark Williams, left, secretary-treasurer for the organization, hands a scholarship to Cathedral scholar-athlete Dakota Vaughan during the banquet. (Jay Sowers \ The Natchez Democrat)

“You have to know what ‘it’ is, have a gameplan to achieve it and have the right attitude and no matter what, you have to stay in the game.”

Freeze focused on attitude in his speech, and being able to talk to yourself and make yourself believe in your ability to achieve goals.

That part of the speech resonated with Cathedral School senior Dakota Vaughan, who was one of six local high school athletes honored at the banquet.

“I’m one of those guys that at one point I did get down (on myself) this year,” Vaughan said. “But I had a teammate that helped pick me up, and I realized that attitude is key in football games and in life.”

Vaughan’s ability to excel on the field and in the classroom propelled him to the top honor Thursday night as he was awarded with a $3,000 scholarship that he will use to further his education at the University of Southern Mississippi.

“It’s huge (to win this award),” Vaughan said. “But I wouldn’t consider it as beating these other guys. It’s not about the scholarship really. It’s about this banquet and getting to sit with a group of guys that are as talented and hard-working as the ones I sat with.”

Vidalia High School’s Garrett Rehms left the banquet with a $2,250 scholarship, Natchez High School’s Gregory Jackson took home $1,750 and Peyton Young of Trinity Episcopal, Jarvis Brooks of Ferriday High School and Tyler Buckles of Adams County Christian Schooleach were awarded $1,000 scholarships.

Freeze said he was happy to make it to Natchez for the first time this year — he will return in April for an Alumni Association event — but the event was really about the young athletes.

“It’s always good to represent Ole Miss, especially in this state and to help a good cause that helps young people,” he said.

Freeze said he was happy with the warm welcome he got, and despite Natchez’s proximity to LSU, he considers the Miss-Lou Ole Miss country.

“I think the Rebel Nation is pretty strong here too,” he said.

Other honorees Thursday were:

4Former State Senator Bob M. Dearing was also honored Thursday night with the Distinguished American Award for the second time.

4Former South Natchez High School standout and football coach Joey Porter was honored with the Contributions to Amateur Football award.

4Walt Brown and Freddie Sandel were honored with the Joe Fortunato Celebrity Golf Classic Award for their contributions to the foundation and the annual golf tournament.