UM Earns Highest Graduation Success Rate in School History

Four Rebel teams post perfect scores

Commencement in the Pavilion at Ole Miss. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

Ole Miss recorded its highest GSR in school history at 81 percent. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – Coming on the heels of a successful weekend on the football field and basketball courts, the University of Mississippi has received more great news, this time on the academic side of things. In the most recent NCAA Graduation Success Rate Report released Tuesday, Ole Miss student-athletes recorded the highest GSR in school history at 81 percent.

Additionally, UM is graduating student-athletes at a rate nearly 2 percent higher than the general student body for the first time since 2009.  This is just one of many accomplishments Ole Miss student-athletes have had in the last year. In the spring, they posted a collective 3.0 GPA for the first time.

Ross Bjork, vice chancellor for intercollegiate athletics, is pleased with the progress Ole Miss student-athletes are making in the classroom.  

“I am extremely proud of our student-athletes, coaches and athletics staff for reaching this new academic threshold,” Bjork said.  “Our biggest responsibility in college athletics is teaching, educating and providing leadership opportunities for our students who compete in athletics. Our intentional approach to enhance our academic performance is now paying off with the best graduation success rate on record.

“Earning a college degree is the ultimate measure of success in higher education and we are extremely proud of all of our Ole Miss Rebels who have received their degree and allowed our university to enrich our academic profile.  While we have come a long way in a relatively short amount of time, our work in this area is never complete, and we will continue to strive for academic excellence for our entire athletics program. We must continue to fulfill our purpose by providing every opportunity for our student-athletes to reach their full potential. ”

Derek Cowherd, senior associate athletics director for student-athlete development, is equally impressed by the dedication of the student-athletes, coaches and FedEx Student Athlete Success Center staff to achieve this milestone.

“It has taken a lot of dedication from our students, staff and coaches to move closer to our target of 90 percent graduation success and to see Ross’ vision for our department coming true,” Cowherd said. “We take the utmost pride in the process and the way we do things with integrity and within our core values. 

“It’s very rewarding to see so many of our student-athletes graduating and having a plan for their lives after their collegiate days are done.  I’m thankful for this talented team who works tirelessly to reach our goal of being in or near the upper third of the SEC in federal and graduation success rates.”

The women’s basketball, women’s golf, volleyball and rifle teams each posted a perfect 100 percent GSR. This will be the eighth consecutive year the women’s golf team has posted a perfect GSR, while volleyball achieves the feat for the sixth straight year.  It’s the fourth year in a row with a perfect score for women’s basketball and the third for rifle.

In 10 years, Ole Miss’ graduation success rate has improved from 69 percent to its current 81 percent, and the Rebels are graduating 2 percent higher than the overall university population and the federal graduation rate.

Additionally, Ole Miss is making strides among its SEC counterparts, continuing to climb into the upper echelon of the SEC.  

For further academic accolades, follow @UMTrueRebel on Twitter.

Ross Bjork Named UM Vice Chancellor for Intercollegiate Athletics

Ole Miss also announces athletics director's contract extended through 2020

Ross Bjork, vice chancellor for intercollegiate athletics at the University of Mississippi, has been given a four-year contract extension to remain the leader of the UM athletics program. Photo by Nathan Latil/Ole Miss Communications

Ross Bjork, vice chancellor for intercollegiate athletics at the University of Mississippi, has been given a four-year contract extension to remain the leader of the UM athletics program. Photo by Nathan Latil/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – Ole Miss Athletics Director Ross Bjork has been named vice chancellor for intercollegiate athletics at the University of Mississippi.

In announcing that Bjork had been given the new vice chancellor title, university officials also noted that an agreement was reached this summer to extend the athletics director’s contract to June 30, 2020.

UM’s request to give Bjork the title of vice chancellor for intercollegiate athletics was approved Thursday by the Board of Trustees of the State Institutions for Higher Learning.

The new title, as well as the extension of Bjork’s contract to reach the four-year maximum allowed by the state, reflects the university’s appreciation and support of the athletics director’s exemplary work since coming to Ole Miss, Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter said.

“Athletics serves an important role at our university as our ‘front porch’ – capturing the hearts and minds of people and bringing them to campus so that they can experience the full richness of our great university,” Vitter said. “Athletics has played a big role in elevating the Ole Miss brand to its strongest point in school history.

“The success of our athletics program is unprecedented and is directly attributable to Ross’ leadership. Naming him as the vice chancellor for intercollegiate athletics will continue that momentum. I expect under Ross’ leadership that athletics will continue to be an integral part of our growth and increased visibility.”

Ole Miss is the fifth school in the SEC to give its athletics director the vice chancellor designation, which more accurately reflects the all-encompassing role of the position.

“The idea is that this puts the AD at the table with the provost and other academic leaders on campus on a regular basis,” said Ron Rychlak, UM professor of law and faculty athletics representative. “That facilitates communication between athletics and academics, which is good for all parts of the university.”

Bjork has led Ole Miss athletics programs to unprecedented success since his arrival in 2012. Under his guidance, support has increased with record private donations and record attendance numbers in football, basketball and baseball. The athletics budget has increased from $57 million upon his arrival to $105.5 million for the 2016-17 season.

“My family and I are very grateful for the support and confidence shown by Dr. Vitter and the entire university community with a renewed long-term commitment to continue leading Ole Miss athletics,” Bjork said. “Holding the title of vice chancellor for intercollegiate athletics is not only symbolic of the department’s core values, but also solidifies our role in the university’s overall mission of educating the next generation of America’s leaders.

“I am a big believer in being fully integrated with the university and will continue forward with a great sense of responsibility.”

As a result, Stephen Ponder, the senior executive associate athletics director for external relations, will be promoted to the title of deputy athletics director.

“Stephen has shown great leadership in so many areas since his arrival four years ago,” Bjork said. “His energy level and ‘can do’ attitude have allowed us to grow our entire athletics program physically, financially, competitively and emotionally.

“This promotion to deputy athletics director is well-deserved and fitting for Stephen as my right-hand person. I am grateful for Stephen’s leadership and blessed to work with the best coaches and athletics staff in the country.”

Bjork’s direction of the Forward Together campaign has garnered more than $170 million in donations, resulting in the construction of The Pavilion at Ole Miss, the Vaught-Hemingway Stadium expansion and the renovations of the Gillom Center, Track and Field complex and the Olivia and Archie Manning Athletics Performance Center.

Ole Miss student-athletes and fans have witnessed immediate success in competition under Bjork’s leadership. The Rebel football team appeared in post-season bowl games for the last four consecutive years, reaching the Allstate Sugar Bowl last season for the first time in 46 years. Ole Miss soccer reached the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament last season for the first time in program history.

In 2014, the Ole Miss baseball team competed in the College World Series in Omaha for the first time in 42 years, and Ole Miss men’s basketball claimed the SEC Tournament Championship in 2013. Ole Miss softball reached the NCAA tournament for the first time in program history.

Men’s and women’s tennis, women’s golf and track and field have also reached post-season play, with pole vaulter Sam Kendricks claiming back-to-back NCAA championships in 2013 and 2014 and a bronze medal at the 2016 Summer Olympics. Track and field athlete Raven Saunders brought an NCAA Championship to Ole Miss for shot put.

But Bjork’s commitment to success reaches well beyond the field of competition. His strong emphasis on academics has led student-athletes to a record average GPA of 3.0, and the graduation success rate has increased from 72 percent to 81 percent.

His active involvement in other university programs, including the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation, led to his recognition by the NCAA as a Champion of Diversity in 2015. He and former UM Chancellor Dan Jones were the first individuals highlighted with this designation for their work to support the interests of ethnic minorities and underrepresented populations.

Bjork encourages community involvement among student-athletes as well. Under his leadership, athletics programs and their members have participated in more than 50 service projects. Additionally, he’s traveled the country over the last five years, speaking to more than 19,000 Ole Miss alumni and fans on the Rebel Road Trip.

“We are extremely proud of what our team has accomplished over the past four-and-a-half years, and I truly believe the best is yet to come for the entire university and our athletics program,” Bjork said. “We are Ole Miss!”

Ole Miss and Hopscotch Launch New Mobile App

Technology offers new fan-engagement capabilities

athleticsappsOXFORD, Miss. — Just in time for the college football season, Ole Miss and Hopscotch, a mobile-technology leader for sports and live events, launched a new mobile app. The Ole Miss Athletics app is free and available for immediate download on the App Store and Google Play.

“The new Ole Miss Athletics app gives Rebel fans more than just a gameday app. It gives students, alumni and fans a 24/7/365 connection to the action, the student-athletes and the school they love,” said Michael Thompson, Ole Miss Senior Associate Athletics Director, Communications & Marketing. “Hopscotch has been awesome to work with, and their technology and service is best in class.”

With the new app, Rebel fans receive:

  • All-team access: The school’s app is a one-stop shop for all men’s and women’s varsity teams. Fans can select their favorite student-athletes and teams to personalize app content.
  • Scores: Fans can access live-game scoreboards, box scores and stats via an integration with
  • Schedules: Fans can buy tickets to upcoming home games on their mobile devices via a Spectra integration.
  • Fan Zone: Fans can listen live on game day via a TuneIn integration and join in on trivia, polls and contests via a Lodestone Social integration.
  • Breaking news: Fans get exclusive videos, articles and photos, plus social streams.

“When it comes to the intersection of fan engagement and technology, Ole Miss is a leader in college athletics,” said Laurence Sotsky, Hopscotch Founder and CEO. “It has been a privilege to bring their vision of a best-in-class mobile experience to life.”

Hopscotch also integrated its mobile platform with DoubleClick by Google for ad serving and SSB for data warehousing and business intelligence. This gives Ole Miss new capabilities to provide each fan a more personalized experience, based on geolocation, app preferences and app behaviors.

As the multimedia rights partner of Ole Miss Athletics, IMG helped to facilitate the relationship.

“We are excited to work together with Ole Miss to develop a great technology solution that will help Rebel fans engage with the school and its athletic programs,” said Stewart Marlborough, Senior Vice President, Head of Digital, IMG College. “Hopscotch offers fans unique content that improves the viewing and game day experiences and, in turn, helps brands connect more directly to the university’s core audience.”

Hopscotch ( is a leader in mobile-platform technology that makes it easy for colleges, sports teams and event organizers to build scalable, affordable mobile apps. The Hopscotch platform combines a feature-rich content-management system with an open-API architecture, aggregating a variety of mobile technologies into a single fan-engagement destination. Hopscotch customers include Auburn, Ole Miss, University of Central Florida and more than 35 sports teams.

IMG is a global leader in sports, events, media and fashion, operating in more than 30 countries. The company represents and manages some of the world’s greatest sports figures and fashion icons; stages hundreds of live events and branded entertainment experiences annually; and is one of the largest independent producers and distributors of sports media. IMG also specializes in sports training; league development; and marketing, media and licensing for brands, sports organizations and collegiate institutions. In 2014, IMG was acquired by WME, a leading global entertainment agency.

Brittney Reese Claims Silver in Olympic Long Jump

Former Rebel medals in second straight games

Brittney Reese (USA) during the women's long jump final in the Rio 2016 Summer Olympic Games at Estadio Olimpico Joao Havelange. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Brittney Reese (USA) during the women’s long jump final in the Rio 2016 Summer Olympic Games at Estadio Olimpico Joao Havelange. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

RIO DE JANEIRO – Former University of Mississippi great Brittney Reese (BA English ’11) added another shiny medal to her collection with a world-class long jump performance en route to silver Wednesday night at Rio’s Olympic Stadium.

The world’s premier female long jumper since she turned pro after her 2008 junior year at Ole Miss, Reese came out to defend her gold medal from the 2012 Games in London. But despite an impressive leap of 7.15 meters (23-5.5), she was edged out by fellow American Tianna Bartoletta who claimed gold by 2 centimeters with a mark of 7.17 m. Serbia’s Ivana Spanovic earned bronze at 7.08 m, a national record.

Reese, a Gulfport native who lives and trains in San Diego, had only one fair attempt (6.79 m) out of her first four, before a pair of huge distances in her final two – 7.09 m and then 7.15 m. Bartoletta won the competition on her fifth attempt with a personal-best 7.17 m in a dramatic final two rounds of jumping.

“I’ve been through a lot these past two years emotionally, and physically battling back from surgery,” Reese said. “Today, I kind of got off to a slow start and it cost me at the end, but I am really pleased to be on the stand again and represent the United States.”

It was part of a big night for the Team USA women on the track, who are coached by Ole Miss head coach Connie Price-Smith. The Americans went 1-2-3 in the 100-meter hurdles (first ever gold, silver and bronze for the U.S. women in any track and field event), while Mississippi native Tori Bowie earned bronze in the 200 meters.

Reese earns the fourth Olympic medal all-time among Ole Miss track and field representatives and is the first Rebel to boast two Olympic medals.

With Sam Kendricks’ bronze in the men’s pole vault on Monday combined with Reese’s runner-up effort, it’s the first Olympics for Ole Miss representatives to win multiple medals.

Tony Dees won the other Olympic medal by a former track and field Rebel with his silver in the 110-meter hurdles in Barcelona in 1992.

That concludes Olympics competition for the program-best track and field contingent in 2016. Below are the complete results of the one current Rebel (Raven Saunders), one current volunteer assistant coach (Gwen Berry) and four former Rebels.


Brittney Reese (USA) – silver medal – women’s long jump – 7.15 m/23-5.5

Sam Kendricks (USA) – bronze medal – men’s pole vault – 5.85 m/19-2.25

Raven Saunders (USA) – 5th – women’s shot put – 19.35 m/63-6

Gwen Berry (USA) – 14th – women’s hammer throw – 69.90 m/229-4

Ricky Robertson (USA) – 17th – men’s high jump – 2.26 m/7-5

Antwon Hicks (Nigeria) – 23rd – men’s 110 m hurdles – 14.26


For complete coverage of Ole Miss in the Olympics, visit


For more information on Ole Miss Track and Field, follow the Rebels on Twitter (@OleMissTrack), Facebook and Instagram.


Former Rebel Kendricks Claims Pole Vault Bronze at Rio Olympics

Third Ole Miss track athlete to medal at Olympic Games

Aug 15, 2016; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Sam Kendricks (USA) in the men's pole vault final during track and field competition in the Rio 2016 Summer Olympic Games at Estadio Olimpico Joao Havelange. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Aug 15, 2016; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Sam Kendricks (USA) in the men’s pole vault final during track and field competition in the Rio 2016 Summer Olympic Games at Estadio Olimpico Joao Havelange. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

RIO DE JANEIRO – It was a special Monday night in Brazil for University of Mississippi alumnus Sam Kendricks, who captured a bronze medal in the men’s pole vault at the 2016 Olympic Games.

In a dramatic competition that came down to three final vaulters, Kendricks rose to the occasion by clearing 5.85 meters (19-2.25) on his first try. He had three very close attempts at 5.93 m/19-5.5, while Brazil’s Thiago Braz da Silva claimed gold with an Olympic record mark of 6.03 m and defending champion Renaud Lavillenie of France won silver with a clearance at 5.98 m.

Kendricks is the first American man to win an Olympic medal in the pole vault since 2004, and he’s the third Ole Miss track and field representative to medal at the Olympics. Brittney Reese, who will compete Tuesday, was the women’s long jump gold medalist in 2012. Tony Dees was the silver medalist in the 110-meter hurdles in 1992.

Before Monday’s competition began, Kendricks dedicated his performance to the six Oxford citizens who died in a plane crash over the weekend, and the children and families they left behind. By many accounts, his performance in Rio was a healing balm the town of Oxford needed after such a tragic occurrence.

The hundreds of fans that watched him from the Square in his hometown of Oxford cheered him on with fervor as each bar was raised a bit higher. He is the first Olympian from the small town in which he grew up, graduated from both high school and college, and still lives and trains.

Kendricks was lauded by NBC commentators and across the social media landscape for his great sportsmanship and class, as he was seen congratulating his opponents and cheering for each competitor throughout the night.

“I know that the Olympics is like a high tide, it raises all boats and it brings the best out of all of us,” Kendricks said. “I was so happy to watch my friend Thiago (Braz) set his personal best in his home country in front of his home crowd, and I think that I thrived off of that as well.

“I did not set a personal best but I attempted it. I missed it very close three times, so I cannot be ashamed of my effort. I’m very proud of my bronze medal, what me and my coach (father and Ole Miss alumnus Scott Kendricks) and my family have achieved. This particular competition was a lot of fun for me – I knew all of the competitors by name, they’re all good friends of mine. We’ve traveled together and have competed together many times. We even trade victories very often.”

It’s been an impressive rise to international prominence for Kendricks, who was a two-time NCAA champion and two-time SEC champion in three seasons at Ole Miss. Since turning pro, he has won five U.S. pole vault titles, set a U.S. Olympic Trials record earlier this summer, was ninth at last year’s IAAF World Championships and runner-up at this year’s IAAF World Indoor Championships in March.

Another former Rebel also competed and advanced on Monday. Nigeria’s Antwon Hicks ran a 13.70 in his heat of the 110-meter hurdles to move on to Tuesday’s semifinals.

Hicks and Reese will both compete Tuesday, as Reese will begin her gold medal defense with the women’s long jump qualifying round.

On Sunday night, one of Kendricks’ former Ole Miss teammates, Ricky Robertson, represented Team USA in the men’s high jump qualifying and placed 17th with a clearance at 2.26 m/7-5. The top 15 qualifiers advanced to the final.

For complete coverage of Ole Miss in the 2016 Olympics, visit

For more information on Ole Miss Track & Field, follow the Rebels on Twitter (@OleMissTrack), Facebook and Instagram.



Ole Miss’ Saunders Places Fifth in Olympic Shot Put in Rio

Rising Junior Tosses Big PR of 19.35m/63-6

Aug 12, 2016; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Raven Saunders (USA) competes in the women's shot put event at Estadio Olimpico Joao Havelange in the Rio 2016 Summer Olympic Games. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Aug 12, 2016; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Raven Saunders (USA) competes in the women’s shot put event at Estadio Olimpico Joao Havelange in the Rio 2016 Summer Olympic Games. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

RIO DE JANEIRO – Raven Saunders trained and competed all year to get to the Olympics, and her first appearance on the world’s biggest stage did not disappoint.

The Ole Miss rising junior used a personal-best heave of 19.35 meters (63-6) on her last throw of Friday night’s shot put final to earn fifth place. Her U.S. teammate Michelle Carter won gold also on her last attempt, an American record 20.63m/67-8.25. She edged out silver medalist Valerie Adams of New Zealand (20.42m), while Hungary’s Anita Marton (19.87m) won bronze and China’s Lijao Gong (19.39m) placed fourth.

“I can’t tell you how proud I am of Raven,” said her Ole Miss head coach and U.S. women’s track & field head coach Connie Price-Smith. “She competed like a champ. She was throwing with her role model, who is now an Olympic champion. I told Raven that she couldn’t ask for anything more, because to come in here as a baby and walk out with a PB and fifth place the first time through an Olympic Games is priceless.”

It was a somewhat awkward series for Saunders before her massive final throw that bettered her own collegiate record of 19.33m/63-5. She came out with a strong first attempt of 18.88m and then fouled four straight times. As she has done throughout her young career, she came through at the end when the pressure mounted the most.

Saunders, the youngest shot putter among the 36 women in Rio, made a big statement on her second qualifying attempt at the Olympics, heaving the shot 18.83 meters (61-9.5) to easily surpass the 18.40-meter line needed to automatically advance to the 12-woman final. The 20-year-old who just finished her sophomore year of college also reached the automatic qualifying line on her first attempt, a foot foul.

A track season that started all the way back in December finally came to a close for Saunders after some sensational sophomore achievements. She won the NCAA outdoor shot put title with a collegiate record of 19.33m/63-5, and then she captured silver at the U.S. Olympic Trials to punch her ticket to Rio. She also broke the all-time collegiate indoor shot put record with a mark of 19.23m/63-1.25 back in February.

Ole Miss volunteer assistant coach Gwen Berry also suited up for Team USA on the first day of track & field competition at Rio’s Olympic Stadium. The Southern Illinois alum finished 14th in the hammer throw qualifying to just miss the 12-woman final. Her mark of 69.90m/229-4 was four-tenths of a meter out of 12th.

Four former Rebel athletes will compete in Rio throughout the next week, including U.S. pole vault champion Sam Kendricks who will compete in the qualifying round Saturday. The others are Brittney Reese (USA, defending long jump champion), Ricky Robertson (USA, high jump) and Antwon Hicks (Nigeria, 110-meter hurdles).

Follow all the Ole Miss contingent in Rio at

For more information on Ole Miss Track & Field, follow the Rebels on Twitter (@OleMissTrack), Facebook and Instagram.

Will Stroud Joins Forward Together

Young alumnus supports campaign for athletics excellence

Will Stroud (in cap) is greeted at the Pavilion by, from left, Keith Carter, executive director of the Ole Miss Athletics Foundation, Wendell Weakley, president of the UM Foundation, and Matt Mossberg, associate athletics director for development and major gifts. Photo by Bill Dabney

Will Stroud (in cap) is greeted at the Pavilion by, from left, Keith Carter, executive director of the Ole Miss Athletics Foundation, Wendell Weakley, president of the UM Foundation, and Matt Mossberg, associate athletics director for development and major gifts. Photo by Bill Dabney

OXFORD, Miss. – Aircraft manufacturer Cirrus published a tagline to describe its SR22-model personal prop plane: “Make your life possible.”

At only 29 years old, Will Stroud has done just that.

The University of Mississippi alumnus, a former restaurant owner and CEO of a Dallas-based investment firm, is a self-made millionaire who recently contributed $125,000 to the Forward Together campaign for Ole Miss athletics.

By the way, he also flies the SR22.

“I was bitten by the aviation bug very, very early,” said Stroud, who flies the plane to watch the Rebels, for business or to simply get out of the city for a weekend of hunting, camping, fishing and hiking with friends. “My grandfather was a major general in the Marine Corps, an aviator, and I got pretty used to being around airplanes and really fell in love with them.”

More importantly, though, he often uses the Cirrus to fly cancer patients across the country for specialized treatment or to transport others in need. For several years, he served on the board of Angel Flight, a nonprofit organization that arranges air transportation for any legitimate, charitable, medically-related need.

That’s just the way he is. Friends and family say Stroud genuinely cares for people. With an easy smile, he’s instantly engaging, and they credit that quality for the financial success he realized at an age when other recent college graduates are still only a few rungs up the corporate ladder.

“Will can meet someone for the first time and make them feel like they’ve known each other for years,” said John Becknell of Metairie, Louisiana, who pledged Alpha Tau Omega with Stroud their freshman year at Ole Miss and roomed with him for two years. “Whether donating his time or money to a charity or simply helping out a friend, Will is by far the most generous person I know.”

“Will treats each person he meets with respect – no matter their age, economic or social status,” said Stroud’s father, Jim, of Dallas. “There is something about that. He connects (as) easily with … the sexton at our church … (as he does when) conversing with someone famous.”

On a recent return from Australia, for example, Stroud spent about three hours in deep conversation with his seatmate, a former U.S. secretary of the Navy.

Stroud is a young man with mature priorities. While many other young adults enjoy loud music and late nights, Stroud prefers a quiet dinner and a glass of wine with his girlfriend. His desire to quickly establish himself may be the result of a lesson he learned too young: that life is fleeting. When he was 9, his 7-year-old sister, Jennifer, died of a rare form of leukemia; she was his only sibling.

“That is a make-you or break-you experience,” Jim Stroud said. “But Will is an overcomer. He had some learning differences which made school difficult at times. Like with other kids with learning differences, those struggles bred perseverance and a lot of street smarts.”

Becknell credits Stroud’s success to the work ethic he learned from his parents: “Will comes from an amazing, caring family. His mother and father, Lynn and Jim Stroud, instilled a strong work ethic in Will and taught him the importance of giving back to others less fortunate than himself.”

Stroud says his father often told him there are no free lunches.

“You know, my dad is extremely, extremely bright and smart, but he started with zero,” Stroud recalled. “I mean, he always said if you wanted to find a silver spoon, you needed to go to another neighborhood.

“He was a latch-key kid in a military family with divorced parents. There was nothing there but hard work. That’s what it takes. It takes hard work and risk and the experience to measure three times, cut once. You’ve got to be very diligent.”

Stroud’s college roommate and fraternity brother Ricky Bryan of Houston, Texas, has seen this side of his friend many times.

“The thing that always baffled me about Will was how he viewed his future after college,” Bryan said. “He always had a very positive outlook. College was not the end but the beginning of the best years of his life.

“To this day, he is the same way. He sees himself constantly growing and moving up in the world and I think that attitude has served him well. He’s the kind of person who bounces back from failure stronger than he was prior. He’s resilient.”

In the unstable world of investments, resilience is critical.

“When I was younger, I had an investment account where I would ride the trends,” Stroud said. “I pretty consistently lost money because I foolishly thought, ‘This stock is up 20 percent on the year’ and I was not looking at the underlying value of the company. I was just saying, ‘You know, if this goes up 20 percent now, it will go up 40 percent in a year’ and I just couldn’t make it work.

“So I had to go back to square one and say, ‘This is where I think the value is; this is how much I need to make; this is the standard deviation of risk that I am willing to take and if it’s outside of that, then we can’t look at it.”

So, for Stroud at least, success before 30 comes from a little resilience mixed with hard work, a business degree, a personable spirit and a large dose of trial and error.

“I have been very blessed and very fortunate to do really well early in life,” he said. “I may not have that ability later, so I want to make a lasting impression on the university that made a lasting impression on me.”

Keith Carter, senior associate athletics director for development and executive director of the Ole Miss Athletics Foundation, said Stroud’s gift will be used to improve facilities and programs for Rebel teams.

“We’re building a program that must continually improve to be competitive and Will’s gift will help us continue on that path,” Carter said. “I am always impressed to see young alumni like Will who want to get involved in shaping the future of Ole Miss athletics. Our student-athletes will receive the return on this particular investment. Will should feel very proud of that.”

For more information about the Forward Together campaign, contact Keith Carter at, call 662-915-7159 or visit

Sixth Annual Rebels’ Choice Awards on Tap for April 25

Student-athlete award show moves to The Pavilion at Ole Miss

The 2016 Rebels Choice Awards will be held in the Pavilion at Ole Miss on April 26.

Student-athletes gather on the red carpet before last year’s Rebels’ Choice Awards ceremony.

OXFORD, Miss. – Spring is in full bloom on the University of Mississippi campus and that means the sixth annual Rebels’ Choice Awards are just around the corner. The annual event, celebrating the accomplishments – both academic and athletic – of Ole Miss student-athletes, is slated for April 25 in The Pavilion at Ole Miss.

Richard Cross will serve as master of ceremonies and DJ Babi Mac will be a special guest.

The Rebels’ Choice Awards was established to celebrate Ole Miss student-athletes, but the entire Lafayette-Oxford-University community is invited to share this special evening. The awards show is free and open to the public.

“The Rebel Choice Awards is a unique opportunity to showcase the most important reason why we host intercollegiate athletics – our student-athletes,” Athletics Director Ross Bjork said. “With all of the momentum around the entire university and our athletics program, hosting the 2016 Rebel Choice Awards in the brand new Pavilion at Ole Miss is a perfect way to showcase our academic, social and athletic excellence.

“April 25 is a can’t-miss event, and we hope all members of the Ole Miss family can attend.”

The red carpet, featuring Ole Miss student-athletes, will begin at 5:30 p.m. on the Pavilion plaza, with the awards show scheduled for 6:30 p.m. In addition, Steak ‘n Shake and Raising Cane’s will be open before the show.

The Rebels’ Choice Awards include 18 awards in which members of Ole Miss senior administration and the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee select the winners. Awards include men’s and women’s sports winners in the following categories: Most Valuable Rebel, Rookie of the Year, Coach of the Year, Team of the Year, Scholar-Athlete of the Year, Hotty Toddy Award.

“The Rebels’ Choice Awards sheds light on not only the athletic ability of many of our student-athletes, but it also shows the intellect and comradeship that is displayed amongst all athletes,” said Deterrian “DT” Shackelford, a former football defensive lineman and linebacker who won the Men’s Hotty Toddy Award in 2014 and the Men’s Community Outreach Award in 2012. “Truly an awesome and inspiring event!”

The honors also include the Bennie Abram Award, given annually in memory of former Ole Miss football walk-on Bennie Abram, who died Feb. 19, 2010. The award goes to a walk-on student-athlete who exemplifies Abram’s spirit.

The Rebels’ Choice Awards is built into the celebration of National Student-Athlete Day, which is celebrated each year in April.

Established in 1987, National Student-Athlete Day was created to celebrate outstanding student-athletes who have achieved excellence in academics and athletics while having made significant contributions to the community. The observance was established by the National Consortium for Academics and Sports and Northeastern University’s Center for the Study of Sport in Society, and is co-sponsored by the NCAA.

The mission of Ole Miss’ student-athlete development program is to challenge student-athletes to be lifelong learners while pursuing continuous improvement academically, relationally, socially, personally and professionally during and beyond their athletic careers.

Student-Athlete Development is the hub for a wide range of Ole Miss athletics-sponsored programs designed to meet the needs of student-athletes and their families. It is divided into six areas: Student-Athlete Assistance Services, Career Development, Continuing Education, Community Outreach, Financial Education and Career Transition.

Visit Student-Athlete Development for more information on these programs.

A Look Back on Ole Miss Football’s Spring Break Mission Work in Haiti

The Rebel family helped provide a sustainable water system to their friends in Camp Marie

Members of the Ole Miss Football team use their spring break to serve those in need.

Members of the Ole Miss football team use their spring break to serve those in need.

OXFORD, Miss. — Select members of the Ole Miss football program and support staff recently gave up their spring break for the third year in a row to serve others by doing mission work in Camp Marie, Haiti.

A 28-person group representing Ole Miss made the return trip to Camp Marie to help provide valuable irrigation to the crops of Haitian farmers. In previous trips, the Rebels helped dig a well to provide clean water for the same village.

Coach Hugh Freeze emphasized the value this trip has not only for those he’s serving, but also the Ole Miss players and staff.

“That trip never disappoints in the realm of making you grateful and thankful for what we have here,” Freeze said. “It is a difficult trip for me the older I get, but it’s worth it to a lot of families and kids.”

Rebels senior quarterback Chad Kelly was on the trip for the second straight year, bringing along teammates Talbot Buys, Armani Linton and Sean Rawlings.

“It was amazing,” Kelly said. “You have the opportunity to kind of take a step back and realize how thankful you really are to be here in the United States and have the opportunity to play at a great university. A lot of those kids grow up in a certain situation and they can’t really get out of it. For us, to be able to go over there and put smiles on kids’ faces, that’s what it’s all about. We’re thankful we are able to go there and help them.”

Ole Miss partnered with the 410 Bridge organization, which has provided continued support for the Haitians that call Camp Marie home. With the help of 410 Bridge and the Rebels, Camp Marie is now closer to being able to take higher steps and see economic growth as a village.

Stephen Ponder, Ole Miss senior executive associate athletics director, and his family joined the trip this year, and Ponder also spoke on the weight of the trip.

“I know that for my family and the others on the trip from Ole Miss, seeing the need for basic things like water, food, shelter and clothing was overwhelming at times,” Ponder said. “We can take things for granted so easily at home, so seeing this up close and personal made a lasting impact.”

Ponder, being the only senior administrator on the trip this year, reflected on the lasting impact trips like this can make on the young people.

“I think it is so important that our student-athletes learn so much more about life outside their sport,” Ponder added. “Seeing how fortunate we are every day, taking advantage of opportunities before us and keeping things in perspective are valuable teaching moments that our coaches can use to transform lives on our teams. Coach Freeze does a great job of utilizing football as a platform for a higher purpose to change lives.”

Along with several other members of the Ole Miss athletics family and support staff, coaches Corey Batoon and Maurice Harris and their families joined the trip as well this year.

“We are well known in that village,” Freeze added. “They love to see the Ole Miss group there and to see them get fresh water and the joy they have for getting it is pretty humbling. It always ends up impacting us more than it’s impacting them.”

Freeze added that his foundation, the Freeze Foundation, has committed continued assistance to Camp Marie’s irrigation growth in the future.

Follow Ole Miss football on Twitter at @OleMissFB, as well as Facebook and Instagram. For more information, visit

See more images from the trip here.

Ten Seniors Awarded Hall of Fame Honors

Recipients chosen for academic achievement, community service and potential for success

Hall of Fame 2016. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

Hall of Fame 2016. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – Ten University of Mississippi seniors have earned membership in the school’s 2015-2016 Hall of Fame, one of the university’s highest honors.

The Hall of Fame inductees were honored Friday (March 4) in a ceremony at the Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts. Recipients are chosen by a committee in accordance with ASB policy, with selections based on a student’s academic achievement, community service and potential for future success.

New Hall of Fame members are Brady Bramlett of Memphis, Rod Bridges of Madison, Jeremy Coleman of Jackson, Maia Cotelo of Oxford, Joe Curry of Stringer, Ann-Marie Herod of Abbeville, William Kneip of Mobile, Alabama, Justavian Tillman of Bruce, Debra Whitley of Natchez, and Elizabeth Wicks of Ocean Springs.

“We commend these outstanding students for their impressive accomplishments both in and out of the classroom,” said Morris Stocks, provost and executive vice chancellor. “We anticipate great successes for these young men and women, both professionally and academically. We also know that our Hall of Famers will contribute to the betterment of society.”

The 10 students, along with 150 other Ole Miss seniors, were also recognized for inclusion in Who’s Who Among Students in American Universities and Colleges. They are to be listed in the national publication’s 2016 edition.

Brady Bramlett. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

Brady Bramlett. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

Bramlett is a biological science major, a pitcher for the Ole Miss Rebels baseball team and a tenor in the UM Concert Singers and Men’s Glee groups. He is president of Ole Miss Student-Athlete Advisory Committee and vice chair of the NCAA Division I SAAC. He is a member of NCAA Division I Strategic Vision and Planning Committee and a council member of NCAA Minorities Opportunities and Interests Committee. He is an SEC representative for Autonomy Five legislation and in the National Collegiate Honor Society. He also was a member of the Ole Miss Concert Singers European tour that included performances in Austria, Germany and the Czech Republic. Bramlett is a seven-time Ole Miss Scholar Athlete and a three-time SEC academic honor roll recipient. After graduation, he plans to enroll in the university’s MBA program and then pursue a career in athletics administration. His parents are Bobby and Amy Bramlett of Bartlett, Tennessee.

Rod Bridges. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

Rod Bridges. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

Bridges, a public policy leadership major, is president of the Associated Student Body, a member of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College and a Trent Lott Institute scholar. He is an officer for the Kappa Alpha Order fraternity and received the UM Outstanding Student Higher Education Award for 2016. Bridges is in Phi Kappa Phi and Omicron Delta Kappa honor societies. He received the ASB Senator of the Year Award in 2014 and the UM Freshmen Leader of the Year Award in 2013. After graduation, he plans to attend Officer Candidacy School. His parents are Roddy Bridges of Madison and London and Thomas Wagner of Coos Bay, Oregon.

Jeremy Coleman. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

Jeremy Coleman. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

A biological science major, Coleman was chief of staff for the Black Student Union’s vice president and treasurer for the university’s Gospel Choir. He is an Ole Miss Ambassador, a member of the Columns Society, treasurer for Men of Excellence and has been a reporter for The Daily Mississippian student newspaper. Coleman was on the committee that opened the Ole Miss Food Bank. He received the Segal AmeriCorps Education award for serving more than 300 hours of community service at the food bank and the Boys and Girls Club of North Mississippi. After graduation, he plans to attend veterinary school and wants to open a small animal clinic and, eventually, an animal rescue center to protect endangered species. His parents are LaShaundra Coleman and Boris Thomas of Jackson. 

Maia Cotelo. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

Maia Cotelo. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

Cotelo has a triple major in international studies, economics and mathematics. She is a member of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College and a Croft Institute scholar. A founding member of the RebelTHON dance marathon, she was the event’s 2016 executive director. She received the World Cup Initiative Grant and was the Portuguese Outstanding Student of the year from 2013 to 2015. She is a member of Phi Beta Kappa, Phi Kappa Phi and Omicron Delta Kappa honor societies. She is also on Mortar Board and is recipient of a Taylor Medal, the university’s highest academic award. After graduation, Cotelo plans to take a year to travel and then pursue a career in the nonprofit sector. She is the daughter of Enrique and Irene Cotelo of Oxford.

Joe M. Curry II. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

Joe M. Curry II. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

Curry is an accountancy major and a Columns Society member. He was an orientation leader for two years, a University Judicial Council member and an Ole Miss Ambassador. He was president of the UM National Pan-Hellenic Council and is a member of the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, where he served as the Nu Upsilon chapter president and dean of new membership. Curry was a freshmen council member and mentor, and is a Student Activities Association member. He has volunteered at More than a Meal, Oxford Veteran’s Home, Boys and Girls Club of North Mississippi, UM Food Bank and Habitat of Humanity. He has participated in RebelTHON, the Big Event and the Green Grove Initiative. Curry has been on the Chancellor’s and Dean’s list. After graduation, he plans to pursue a master’s degree in taxation from the Patterson School of Accountancy. His parents are Joe Curry of Bay Springs and Shirley Curry of Stringer.

Ann-Marie Herod. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

Ann-Marie Herod. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

A broadcast journalism and African-American studies major, Herod has received the Gannett Freedom Forum Scholarship, the Robert Williams Minority Scholarship, the Daniel Phillips Memorial Scholarship and the D. Landrum & C T Hill Scholarship. Not only is she a College Corp member under AmeriCorps, but she is also a Segal AmeriCorps Education Award recipient. She has served as vice president and president of the university’s Association for Black Journalists, and as public relations and community service director for the Black Student Union. She has been a senator and co-director of inclusion for the Associated Student Body, an Ole Miss Ambassador, an Ole Miss Athletics Ambassador and a member of the Freshmen Council. Herod is a journalist and recording secretary for the Lambda Sigma chapter of Delta Sigma Theta sorority and vice president of the National Pan-Hellenic Council. With the Wesley Foundation, she did missionary work in Honduras. She has worked with the Horizons Summer Enrichment Program as a mentor and teacher’s aide and was involved with the UM Association for Black Journalist Mentor Program with the Boys and Girls Club of North Mississippi. After graduation, Herod plans to teach with Teach for America in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Her parents are Dr. James and Ann Herod of Abbeville.

William Kneip. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

William Kneip. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

Kneip is a public policy leadership major and member of the Trent Lott Leadership Institute. He was elected Mr. Ole Miss for the 2015-2016 school year. He is the president of Phi Delta Theta fraternity and holds the title of 2015 IFC President of the Year. He is the president of the Mississippi Columns Society and a member of Lambda Sigma and Omicron Delta Kappa honor societies. Kneip was also co-director of finance and fundraising for the Big Event. After graduation, he plans to work at the UM Foundation. His parents are Edward and Tori Kneip of Mobile, Alabama.

Justavian Tillman. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

Justavian Tillman. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

Tillman is majoring in general studies with minors in education, English and journalism, and is on the Chancellor’s Honor Roll. He is president of the Black Student Union and the Men of Excellence, and was the university’s Gospel Choir president for 2014-2015. He is the UM Association of Black Journalist secretary, on the Associated Student Body Inclusion Committee, Vice Chancellor Advisory Council and Black History Month Planning Committee. He is also on the Office of the Dean of Students Leadership Development Committee and Insight Leadership Advisory Council. Tillman is an African-American Male Retaining, Enrolling and Graduating Ambassador, Fastrack Peer Mentor, and a student worker for the Center for Inclusion and Cross Cultural Engagement. He interned at Brown University for the Association of College and University Housing Officers – International. He has worked as a volunteer for the Big Event, More Than a Meal, Boys and Girls Club of North Mississippi and LeapFrog. He is in Sigma Alpha Lambda honor society, is a UM Opportunity Scholar and is in the National Undergraduate Fellowship Program. After graduation, he plans to obtain a master’s degree in higher education/student personnel. He is the son of Sesame Hall and grandson of Nancy Hall of Bruce.

Debra Whitley. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

Debra Whitley. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

Whitley, a member of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College and Omicron Delta Kappa honor society, is majoring in integrated marketing communications. She is a member of the Black Student Union and Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority. Whitley is in the Student Alumni Council and UM Gospel Choir and was on Freshmen Council. She is a MOST mentor and has worked with More Than a Meal and Leap Frog, and is an Episcopal Kids Community volunteer. She was also an Ole Miss Women’s Council scholar. After graduation, she plans to move to Texas to pursue a career in marketing or public relations. Her parents are the late Robert Whitley and Connie Whitley of Natchez.

Elizabeth Wicks. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

Elizabeth Wicks. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

An international studies and French major, Wicks is a member of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College, where she was a senator, and the Croft Institute, where she was a senator and vice chair for social activities. She co-founded the Honors College Student Union and was an Associated Student Body senator. She is an NSHSS Di Yerbury International Scholar, and a member of Phi Kappa Phi, Gamma Beta Phi and Phi Eta Sigma honor societies, Alpha Epsilon Delta pre-medical honor society, Alpha Lambda Delta freshman honor society and Pi Delta Phi French honor society. She served as community service chair for Omicron Delta Kappa and on Mortar Board. Wicks also worked with the Lazarus Project multispectral digital imaging team and was a Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine summer scholar and research intern in 2014 and 2015. She helped to organize TEDxUM and is in the Columns Society. Wicks is an Ole Miss Ambassador, Global Ambassador appropriations committee chair and a member of its rules committee. She has volunteered for numerous events and organizations in Oxford, including Boys and Girls Club of North Mississippi, Big Event, RebelTHON, Green Grove Initiative and Operation Christmas Child. After graduation, she plans to attend medical school. She is the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Wicks of Ocean Springs.