Ole Miss’ Ryan Rolison: a star on the rise

Ryan Rolison approached the mound on opening day 2018 as the Rebels’ new ace. He forced the the first batter he faced to strike out swinging, not a bad start for the sophomore lefty. The game would prove to be a springboard to a breakout year for Rolison as he struck out 12 on the day and would continue to shine as the new Friday night starter in Oxford.

“He’s a special kid, a special kind of talent and a fun-loving kid thats got the ability to become an intense competitor when it’s game time,” Spencer Nelson, Rolison’s high school pitching coach said.

Ole Miss starting pitcher Ryan Rolison has been a star in the making since his high school days at the University School of Jackson in Jackson, Tennessee. His coaches knew early on that he was special, and now that he is projected as a top 10 prospect in the upcoming MLB Draft, they have been proven right.

“His whole senior year (was dominant), he gave up three earned runs the whole year,” Jack Peel, University School of Jackson head coach said. “I think he was 10-0 and I think he gave up 12 hits all year. He threw three or four no hitters and a perfect game, it was just the most dominant high school pitching performance I’ve seen, ever.”

Rolison struck fear in opposing coaches knowing that their team would have major problems against the lefty phenom. As a sophomore in high school he pitched in the state championship game on just two days rest and after throwing over 100 pitches in his last outing.

“Somebody asked, ‘Who are you throwing today?’ And the answer was Rolison,” Nelson said. “You could just see his face drop.”

Although he ruined opposing coaches and players days when he was on the mound, Rolison is known in the Ole Miss’ locker room as a cheerful and goofy guy that loves to have fun. His best friend on the team, Greer Holston, first met Rolison back when they were both juniors in high school and were both committed to play at Ole Miss. It was a trip that Holston will not soon forget.

“We went down to Tampa for East Coast Pro which is a tournament for commits and we actually got to room together,” Holston said jokingly. “It was me, Grae (Kessinger) and Rolo and that’s the first time I met both of them. That was a fun trip because they both messed with me. They would throw pizza slices at me when I was sleeping and stuff like that.”

His teammates have taken to calling him Rolo instead of Ryan. He isn’t a cocky or arrogant guy, and that’s a testament to his character and his upbringing. A lot of kids would let the hype, like Ryan has surrounding him, get to their head.

“Everybody was kind of reserved (at the East Coast Pro tournament), but the one person that wasn’t reserved was of course Rolo,” Holston said. “He just let everything on the table. He was outgoing, he’s an out-there kind of person so that’s what he is and that’s who he always is.”

Rolison started his baseball career at the age of four when his dad encouraged him to play T-ball with his older brother. He would soon be playing other sports, such as football and basketball, but quickly realized that baseball was what he wanted to do full-time.

“I played football and basketball up till probably middle school and I played football through my freshman year of high school,” Rolison said. “I wanted to get serious about baseball so I kinda put that aside and focused everything on baseball.”

Ryan credits his dad as the biggest influence on his baseball career. His father coached him in little league and would always make time to throw with him after he got home from work.

“He’s always been a baseball fan and would always push me to be in the backyard no matter what time it was,” Rolison said. “He would be there to throw with me out there and, you know, push me in the weight room and push me to pursue something that I wanted to do.”

Coming out of high school, Rolison was the No. 1 player in the state of Tennessee and the 10th ranked left handed pitcher in the country. He was a major commitment for Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco and was a part of the Rebels’ No. 1 ranked recruiting class in 2016.

“There would be 30-35 scouts in the stands (to see him pitch),” Nelson said. “It was like nothing our high school guys had ever seen but he in no way tried to make it about him.”

Ryan Rolison is very talented and was blessed with a great arm, but a lot of his success can be attributed to his impeccable work ethic. His coaches describe him as a little kid that can’t wait to get to the ballpark and play. He even started doing yoga in his senior year because he believed it would help his game.

“He did yoga on his own his senior year without telling anybody,” Nelson said. “He thought he needed to work on his flexibility and his core strength and that wasn’t something anybody had to tell him to do, he did that on his own.”

He committed to Ole Miss early on in the recruiting process and never wavered from his decision. He was lightly recruited by some small schools his sophomore year but he already had his mind set on Oxford.

“Coach Lafferty took me on a visit here and I thought it would be the best fit for me,” Rolison said. “What can you not like about this place? You look at the atmosphere here, you look at the campus, and it’s two hours away from home so it’s just a good fit for me.”

In his freshman campaign Rolison was very impressive. He posted a 3.06 ERA in 61.2 innings of work and struck out 64 in the process, good enough for second on the team behind David Parkinson. Prior to the 2018 season, Mike Bianco named Rolison as the Friday night starter. Traditionally, the best pitcher on a staff gets to go on Friday, so that was a big vote of confidence from Bianco.

“I was really fortunate to have a good pitching coach,” Rolison said. “He really honed in on the mechanics and learning how to pitch. He made me work on pitching more than velocity. Just kind of worked on my mechanics and how to pitch early on and that really helped me.”

Rolison hasn’t disappointed in his new role as the Rebels’ ace. With just three weeks left in the regular season he has posted an ERA of 3.26 in 66.1 innings on the mound. He also has 82 K’s on the year which is by far the most on the team. Brady Feigl sits at 58 in 64.0 innings, second on the team.

“Playing on this staff pushes you to be your best every single day,” Rolison said. “You’ve got a guy coming for your job and I’ve said it before, we’ve got several guys that could all be Friday night starters. It really pushes us to get better every single day and pick each other’s brains about what they do best.”

Rolison is having a very good sophomore campaign as the Rebels’ ace. He has racked up multiple double digit strikeout games and has helped Ole Miss to a 35-11 record on the year. On the other hand, he has had a couple of games that weren’t Rolison-esk, but he bounced back every time and performed at a high level.

“(Rolison) is a great competitor, good kid, very coachable,” Peel said. “Even though he probably hasn’t shaved yet, he’s tough as nails.”

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ROUGH DRAFT: Ryan Rolison: a star in the making

“He’s a special kid, a special kind of talent and a fun-loving kid thats got the ability to become an intense competitor when it’s game time,” Spencer Nelson, Rolison’s high school pitching coach said.

Ole Miss starting pitcher Ryan Rolison has been a star in the making since his high school days at the University School of Jackson in Jackson, Tennessee. His coaches knew early on that he was special, and now that he is projected as a top 10 prospect in the upcoming MLB Draft, they have been proven right.

“His whole senior year (was dominant), he gave up three earned runs the whole year,” Jack Peel, University School of Jackson head coach said. “I think he was 10-0 and I think he gave up 12 hits all year. He threw three or four no hitters and a perfect game, it was just the most dominant high school pitching performance I’ve seen, ever.”

Rolison struck fear in opposing coaches knowing that their team would have major problems against the lefty phenom. As a sophomore in high school he pitched in the state championship game on just two days rest and after throwing over 100 pitches in his last outing.

“Somebody asked, ‘Who are you throwing today?’ And the answer was Rolison,” Nelson said. “You could just see his face drop.”

Although he ruined opposing coaches and players days when he was on the mound, Rolison is known in the Ole Miss’ locker room as a cheerful and goofy guy that loves to have fun. His best friend on the team, Greer Holston, first met Rolison back when they were both in high school and both committed to play at Ole Miss. It was a trip that Holston will not soon forget.

“We went down to Tampa for East Coast Pro which is a tournament for commits and we actually got to room together,” Holston said jokingly. “It was me, Grae (Kessinger) and Rolo and that’s the first time I met both of them. That was a fun trip because they both messed with me. They would throw pizza slices at me when I was sleeping and stuff like that.”

Ryan, according to close friends, is very likable and easy to talk to. His teammates have taken to calling him Rolo instead of Ryan. He isn’t cocky or arrogant, and that’s a testament to him and his upbringing. A lot of kids would let the hype, like Ryan has, surrounding them get to their head.**

“Everybody was kind of reserved (at the East Coast Pro tournament), but the one person that wasn’t reserved was of course Rolo,” Holston said. “He just let everything on the table. He was outgoing, he’s an out-there kind of person so that’s what he is and that’s who he always is.”

Rolison started his baseball career at the age of four when his dad encouraged him to play T-ball with his older brother. He would soon be playing other sports, such as football and basketball, but quickly realized that baseball was what he wanted to do.

“I played football and basketball up till probably middle school and I played football through my freshman year of high school,” Rolison said. “I wanted to get serious about baseball so I kinda put that aside and focused everything on baseball.”

Ryan credits his dad as the biggest influence on his baseball career. His father coached him in little league and would always make time to throw with him after work.

“He’s always been a baseball fan and would always push me to be in the backyard no matter what time it was,” Rolison said. “He would be there to throw with me out there and, you know, push me in the weight room and push me to pursue something that I wanted to do.”

Coming out of high school, Rolison was the No. 1 player in the state of Tennessee and the 10th ranked lefty in the country. He was a part of the Rebels’ No. 1 ranked recruiting class in 2016.

“There would be 30-35 scouts in the stands,” Nelson said. “It was like nothing our high school guys had ever seen but he in no way tried to make it about him.”

Ryan Rolison is very talented and was blessed with a great arm, but a lot of his success can be attributed to his impeccable work ethic. His coaches describe him as a little kid that can’t wait to get to the ballpark and play. He even started doing yoga in his senior year because he believed it would help his game.

“He did yoga on his own his senior year without telling anybody,” Nelson said. “He thought he needed to work on his flexibility and his core strength and that wasn’t something anybody had to tell him to do, he did that on his own.”

He committed to Ole Miss early on in the recruiting process and never wavered. He was lightly recruited by some small schools his sophomore year but he already had his mind set on Oxford.

“Coach Lafferty took me on a visit here and I thought it would be the best fit for me,” Rolison said. “What can you not like about this place? You look at the atmosphere here, you look at the campus, and it’s two hours away from home so it’s just a good fit for me.”

In his freshman campaign Rolison was very impressive. He posted a 3.06 ERA in 61.2 innings of work and struck out 64 in the process, good enough for second on the team behind David Parkinson. Prior to the 2018 season, head coach Mike Bianco named Rolison as the Friday night starter. Traditionally, the best pitcher on a staff gets to go on Friday, so that was a big vote of confidence from Bianco.

“I was really fortunate to have a good pitching coach,” Rolison said. “He really honed in on the mechanics and learning how to pitch. He made me work on pitching more than velocity. Just kind of worked on my mechanics and how to pitch early on and that really helped me.”

Rolison hasn’t disappointed in his new role as the Rebels’ ace. With just three weeks left in the regular season he’s posted an ERA of 3.26 in 66.1 innings on the mound. He also has 82 K’s on the year which is by far the most on the team. Brady Feigl sits at 58 in 64.0 innings, second on the team.

“Playing on this staff pushes you to be your best every single day,” Rolison said. “You’ve got a guy coming for your job and I’ve said it before, we’ve got several guys that could all be Friday night starters. It really pushes us to get better every single day and pick each other’s brains about what they do best.”

What works

Top Memphis basketball targets discuss Penny Hardaway, Mike Miller and recruiting process

The storied Memphis basketball program has not been in the national spotlight since John Calipari’s departure following the 2008-09 season that saw the Tigers reach the Sweet Sixteen. In fact, you could argue it has been in disarray.

Penny Hardaway is now changing the narrative at his alma mater.

Hardaway is a Memphis legend. Tiger fans were ecstatic about the hire back in March, but Hardaway still has his critics.

He has spent the past few seasons as a successful high-school basketball coach at East High School in Memphis, leading them to state titles along the way. People question if Penny can coach at the college level, but if his track record is any indication he will be perfectly fine.

Hardaway is going to recruit well on his name alone. The name Penny Hardaway is infamous in the basketball world. Who wouldn’t want to play for Penny? Who wouldn’t want to play for a former NBA star that people were calling the reincarnation of Magic Johnson? He is bringing excitement to the program before coaching his first game, which is something Memphis basketball has desperately lacked under Tubby Smith.

I came across this story on Twitter and I read it because I am quite interested in Memphis basketball recruiting at the moment, as a lot of people are in the Memphis area and beyond. I would say this story uses a hard news lead, although it is not breaking news, because it is providing updates on top Memphis recruiting targets.

The first two graphs give an explanation of the article, which is that the Commercial Appeal talked to some of the recruits about Hardaway and Memphis. The author talks to a total of eight prospects about the possibility of committing to Memphis.

I think anyone remotely interested in Memphis recruiting after Penny Hardaway’s hire will be inclined to read the article. It does a good job of giving quick updates on a number of nationally ranked prospects.

Ole Miss team morale still high despite dropping first two SEC series

The Rebels are coming off of an up-and-down three weeks, to say the least. After starting the season red-hot, Ole Miss has come back down to earth a bit after losing it’s last two series.

Head coach Mike Bianco is hopeful that his team can bounce back on Wednesday against Arkansas State. He spoke to the media during Tuesday’s practice.

“One of the things that these guys have done all year, and I would be surprised if it would be different now, is they’ve always handled it (well),” Bianco said. “When it didn’t go our way, either because of the way we played or the other team just played better, they’ve answered and showed up the next day.”

Players were upbeat and showing no signs of a team that had just lost the last two conference series, despite a rollercoaster three weeks.

“We just need to make a play to get off the field,” Tyler Keenan said. “Our pitchers are doing good and we’re hitting the ball, we just need to make that one play.”

Three weeks ago, the Rebels hosted Arkansas and defeated them 2-1 in the series to solidify their position as a consensus top-five team.

A week later, they traveled to Starkville to take on heated in-state rival Mississippi State, who has struggled mightily after firing their coach three games into the season. Ole Miss would lose the series on a walk-off homer in game three, their first series loss in SEC play.

“I don’t think it’s (our) mentality or anything,” Keenan said. “It’s just baseball, it happens.”

They followed that up with an impressive midweek win over then No. 16 Southern Miss, their second win of the year over the Golden Eagles.

Finally, Ole Miss traveled to Nashville to take on No. 14 Vanderbilt. The Rebels took game one, 11-3, but dropped the final two with a score of 8-7 in both contests.

“You can’t just blame the bullpen or blame one guy,” Ryan Olenek said. “We’re just trying to work on little stuff to get better as a team.”

Ole Miss is set to play Arkansas State on Wednesday in what will likely be the worst team Ole Miss has played to this point. The Red Wolves are sitting at 12-20 on the year. The matchup should provide a much-needed win going into a tough weekend series against No. 23 Georgia.

“We’re very confident,” Olenek said. “We’re starting to realize how good we really are and we’re a tough team to beat.”

What works

2017 Dodgers review: Clayton Kershaw

Clayton Kershaw is widely accepted as the best pitcher in baseball. I read this article at the end of last year because Kershaw is one of my favorite players in the game today and he didn’t have his best season. I wanted to delve deeper into the numbers.

Kershaw has been known to “choke” in the postseason, sort of like Peyton Manning in his prime. Although many think that Kershaw can’t perform in the clutch, he still competes at a high level, higher than probably 85 percent of the pitchers today. But, since he doesn’t dominate, he gets crap for it.

This story is similar to my final project as I hope to profile Rebel ace, Ryan Rolison. This article is not a feature, but instead, just a rundown of his numbers and what he did that was good, and what he did that wasn’t good.

For my final project, I am going to include Rolison’s numbers from this year, but I want to do more of a feature on him than they did in the Kershaw story. What is his background? How did he end up in Oxford? And I would also include his numbers from this year along with last year.

The story uses a narrative lead because it only focuses on one aspect of the Los Angeles Dodgers season.

There aren’t any quotes here, however, they use tons of data from his stats and even throw in some interesting things. For example, Kershaw is the first pitcher since 1984 that led his league in wins and ERA but didn’t win the Cy Young Award.

They use pictures of Kershaw for multimedia. Overall it is a short story. My feature on Ryan Rolison will be much lengthier.

Oxford food trucks face growing competition

Food trucks in Oxford have been steadily growing in popularity over the past few months and years. LB’s meat market now has a truck, Fergndan’s has a truck that sets up on University Ave and the Yoknapa taco truck has become a staple for students at Rebel baseball games.

In most places, food truck regulations are a lot less strict than in Oxford. In Austin, Texas, for example, one could see 10 food trucks within a square mile. Oxford also places food trucks under restaurant regulations, rather than food truck regulations which makes it harder for food truck owners to operate.

“There’s just so many rules and regulations you have to go through here,” Greg Jones, owner of LB’s Meat Market, said. “We had to put in an $1800 suppression system and we don’t even need it, but they’re going by restaurant guides instead of food truck guides.”

LB’s meat market has been in Oxford since 2008, but since then they’ve gotten new ownership along with just recently getting their own food truck.

“We’ve had to get permits and work with the city of Oxford to try and get set up,” Jones said. “We’ve had the food truck open for about eight months. We usually set up between Soulshine and Abners.”

While LB’s has experienced success in the past few months with their food truck, they are looking to expand even further. They currently sponsor the Ole Miss baseball and softball teams and have for a few years now. However, despite their close relationship with baseball, they are not allowed to set up alongside the taco truck in right field, Yoknapa.

“Of course we would love to set up in right field,” Jones said. “We’ve had a lot of people ask why we haven’t set up. That’s not our call, that’s Centerplate’s call.”

Centerplate provides food services for all Ole Miss sporting events, including baseball. They work with the university to determine what food trucks, if any, will be allowed at Swayze. They currently have an agreement with Yoknapa that runs through the 2018 season.

“Baseball is really important to us because we’ve established a good relationship with all the players and coaches,” Jones said. “Is it hard for me to sit here, watch the taco truck set up in right field whenever there’s the fourth largest crowd at the stadium? Yeah, that’s really hard for me.”

Ole Miss dining services are responsible for the dining services provided on campus such as The Student Union, Pavillion, Rebel Market, P.O.D. Markets, Starbucks and more. However, Centerplate Catering Services is responsible for the supply and management of Ole Miss sporting events.

YoknapaTaco has been serving Ole Miss students along the right field wall at Swayze Park since 2015. They are currently the only food truck permitted to operate in right field as Ole Miss has already experimented with multiple trucks prior to 2015.

“When we had multiple food trucks out there three years ago, no one company made money. When we first started doing it we had three or four trucks. It’s not a big enough market to sustain more than one truck.” Darren Hubbard, Regional General Manager of Centerplate, said.

Greg Jones doesn’t see it that way. He feels like a two truck system would definitely work and improve the fan experience, especially considering the outstanding attendance that the Rebels have been getting this year.

“It would only be fair to have two options out there,” Jones said. “I know they’re redoing right field and there’s not a lot of room. We’ve been told that having two trucks out there would be too much and we’ve also been told that we would be selling similar products to the concessions.”

Jones says he will continue to pursue a spot for his truck in right field and is hopeful that his relationship with the baseball program will benefit him in doing so. LB’s won’t be at Swayze this year, but it’s status for next season and beyond is still up in the air.

“I’m more than willing to look at other options next year,” Hubbard said. “Every year we go into the review process with ole miss athletics and look at what we want to do differently. At that moment Yoknapa taco was still interested and they’ve been a very good partner to us for three years now.”

What works

Conor McGregor Is Charged With Assault Before UFC 223

This story came out late last week and was the top story in the sports media over the weekend. Coming into this story, I knew what had taken place at the Barclay’s Center in New York last week but I wanted to know more. Conor McGregor is fascinating to me, in, and out of the octagon. Especially with the rumors of he and Floyd Mayweather working out another fight.

This is a hard news lead because the story talks about McGregor getting arrested, which is kind of a big deal in the sports world. However, many people think this was a publicity stunt to get his name in the headlines, which is a tactic fighters often use to hype future fights.

Anyone with an interest in combat sports, or sports in general, is likely going to be drawn to this story. People either love that he got arrested and is facing a felony charge, or hate it. This is generally true for all high profile athletes.

The nutgraph of the story describes what transpired last week at the UFC event. Conor McGregor was arrested and is being charged with three counts of assault and one count of criminal mischief for throwing a dolly at a bus with other UFC fighters on it. He shattered the window of the bus in the process and two of the fighters on the bus, who were scheduled to fight at UFC 223, had to be taken off of the fight card due to injuries.

This story uses quotes from Sophia Mason, a spokeswoman for the New York Police Department, Dana White, president of the UFC, an official statement from the UFC and quotes from anonymous police.

The story doesn’t use any data. However, it does talk about the last time McGregor fought in the UFC which was in 2016 and when he fought Mayweather last year.

This story was huge and still is. I find it interesting that people are claiming this as a publicity stunt because it really does make sense. Mayweather came out and said after the incident that if he returns to fighting “it will be in the octagon” which I don’t think is a coincidence. People are starting to talk about Mayweather McGregor 2, which is exactly what both of the fighters want.

Final project pitch

I am considering a review, of some sort, of the baseball season. As you may know, Ole Miss is currently the consensus No. 3 team in the country. By the time our final project rolls around, there will only be two weekends left in the season. I think it would be cool to do a story on how the team did, especially compared to a disappointing 2017 season. The team will certainly know its postseason fate by this time and I could talk about that and their chances of making the College World Series. I would have plenty of data to work with and I was thinking about making a story map on every series they’ve played around the country this year.

PGA Golf tournament coming to Oxford

The first annual North Mississippi Classic will be held on April 28 at the Oxford Country Club. It will be the first professional athletic event held in Oxford and will join the Sanderson Farms Championship and the Mississippi Gulf Resort Classic as the third PGA Tour-sanctioned event in the state. The purse for this year’s tournament is $550,000.

The North Mississippi Classic is part of the web.com tour, which is affiliated with the PGA Tour. Participants play in smaller tournaments such as the North Mississippi Classic in order to qualify for the official PGA Tour in the future.

“The web.com tour is kinda like the PGA Tour’s triple-A system,” Steve Jent, executive director of the North Mississippi Classic, said. “Players are playing the web.com events in order to get to the PGA Tour.”

Mississippi is now just one of five states to host an annual tournament on all three tours, joining California, Georgia, Florida and North Carolina.

“It’s a good golf state with good golf courses,” Jonah Beck, director of operations for the North Mississippi Classic, said. “From a competing standpoint, were not really competing with the [Mississippi Gulf Resort Classic] and were not really competing with [Sanderson Farms Championship], It’s a different market.”

The host organization, Century Club Charities, who also hosts the Sanderson Farms Championship in Jackson, was looking around Mississippi for a place outside of Jackson that could raise a lot of charity dollars. They decided that Oxford fit the bill.

“We were looking for ways to raise charity dollars in the state, when we were looking for locations Oxford was a good location for that,” Beck said. “The Oxford Country Club is a great course and the community supports sports around here. We met with the web.com tour they came in and actually looked at it and liked the idea of being in a college town, so Oxford made a lot of sense for both sides.”

The majority of North Mississippi Classic golfers will be professional players, including Shaun Micheel who won the 2003 PGA Championship. However, Ole Miss’ own and 2017 NCAA individual champion Braden Thornberry is set to compete next month.

“It’s mostly professionals,” Jent said. “But we did give a sponsor exemption to Braden Thornberry from Ole Miss. He’s the only amateur in the field at the moment, but there could be an amateur coming through the qualifying process.”

The Oxford Country Club’s course is known for being a difficult course to play, therefore, it should be an excellent course to hold a tournament at. Not to mention that the scenery rivals some of the most beautiful courses in the country.

“I would say It’s challenging, not an easy course,” Brad Baker, a regular golfer who has played at Oxford Country Club, said. “I’d say its one of the top golf courses in North Mississippi.”