September 19, 2014

OXFORD, Miss. (AP) Mississippi cornerback Senquez Golson's biggest claim to fame had been an embarrassing play against Alabama in 2011, when Trent Richardson faked him two different times during a 76-yard touchdown run.

Now the senior is finally making some highlights that he's proud to have shown.

The 5-foot-9, 176-pounder leads the Southeastern Conference with three interceptions so far this season, including one that was returned 59 yards for a touchdown in last weekend's 56-15 victory over Louisiana-Lafayette.

''It took me about three years to get it right,'' Golson said with a grin.

The 10th-ranked Rebels (3-0, 1-0 SEC) are off this weekend before a home game against Memphis on Sept. 27. A big reason for the team's fast start - and highest national ranking since 2009 - is an opportunistic defense that already has eight interceptions.

Safeties Cody Prewitt, Tony Connor and Trae Elston were supposed to be the strength of the secondary coming into the season, and all three have been very good, but the emergence of Golson has given the Rebels a quality cover cornerback that is consistently making big plays.

Golson has always been a gifted athlete and there was some question if he'd even come to Ole Miss to play football. The Pascagoula, Mississippi, native was also a star baseball player in high school and drafted by the Boston Red Sox in the eighth round of the 2011 draft.

He chose college football and it's a decision that's looking much better in recent days after a mostly non-descript first three years in the program.

Freeze said Golson's improvement can be traced back to a better attitude. He said Golson was never a serious problem child, but both the coach and the player said he wasn't always focused enough on improving.

''This is, in my opinion, the first year he decided to really buy in,'' Freeze said. ''Not that he was anti-good things the last couple years, but there's no question the way he comes to work every day, the way he allows me to coach him, he's just a different guy. And when somebody does that and has success on the field it's very rewarding.''

Golson said there was no epiphany that led to his better attitude, just the gradual realization that his college career was coming to a close.

''It was best for the team,'' Golson said. ''I'm a senior this year and I wanted to go out with a tradition with the corners, the secondary and the defense period. I just wanted to leave them with all the knowledge I've had from four years.''

Freeze and Golson both credit cornerbacks coach Jason Jones with aiding the secondary's noticeable improvement. Freeze said Jones has ''done a good job of coaching them technique and staying in the correct position on deep balls.''

Golson said Jones' advice on the mental side of the game - and about life in general - has been just as valuable.

''We're playing some good football and my teammates are keeping everyone up,'' Golson said. ''As far as the defense and the offense, we're just one team now and it makes a big difference. The atmosphere around here is different.''

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Follow David Brandt on Twitter: www.twitter.com/davidbrandtAP

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