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Surprise and disbelief seem to be the common themes among those who knew Hugh Freeze as they respond to his sudden resignation.
"It was shocking," offensive lineman Javon Patterson said Monday, the first time Ole Miss players and coaches have been available to the media since Freeze resigned.
It's been a hectic year for Ole Miss players, who were told in February the university would self impose a postseason ban.
"We keep getting hit with stones. We're going to keep getting up," Javon Patterson said. "Like one of our players said, 'Someone is going to have to feel this frustration.'"
Shea Patterson, Freeze's premier quarterback recruit during his five-year tenure, also focused on the future.
"Right now I'm just kind of praying for Coach Freeze," he said. "Me, the coaches and players had no influence in what happened. ... All we're worried about is playing."
He also expanded on the turbulent time that has been his career at Ole Miss.
"Two head coaches, two coordinators and a redshirt is not ideal," Shea Patterson said. "But I think as a team, as a coaching staff ... with all this outside stuff going on, we're just ready to play."
Interim head coach Matt Luke said he spoke briefly to Freeze, who told his former assistant to be himself.
"We had a great five-year run," Luke said. "My job is to get the team ready to play. ... My focus is on moving forward. Our focus is on the players."
Ole Miss athletics director Ross Bjork said he hadn't spoken to Freeze since the day Freeze resigned. Bjork and the rest of the university's administration stood firmly by Freeze during the NCAA's investigation into the program. He was asked if he was angry at Freeze for his pattern of personal misconduct.
"I've got to move forward, I really do," Bjork said. "There's a lot of emotions that you have any time you go through something like that."
Bo Wallace, the starting quarterback for every game during Hugh Freeze's first three seasons at Ole Miss, said Monday, "I didn't think it was fathomable that he would lose his job for something like this."
Wallace, now an assistant coach at East Mississippi Community College, said Freeze talked to players about life issues "at nearly every team meeting."
"The first thing he would say is, 'I'm not perfect. Nobody is,'" Wallace recalled. "He was always saying that. And he taught us a lot about life."
Wallace said he was "shocked like everybody else" to learn why Freeze was forced to resign. Wallace spent his redshirt freshman season under Freeze at Arkansas State, then was a member of Freeze's first signing class at Ole Miss.
"Who am I to judge him? Everybody makes mistakes. He was my coach, and I'll always stick by him."
Dean Lee, the former athletics director at Arkansas State who hired Freeze, said he never saw anything that would make him question Freeze's sincerity and integrity. "He was a model coach all the way around, and I'd have to put (him) up there as one of the best that I've worked with," Lee said. "(He was) just a model citizen, model coach, great role model. I'm in major shock."
Lee said he remembers holding voluntary Bible studies in the mornings before coaches meetings to start the day.
"This is totally out of the blue. I don't know what to think and what to believe," Lee said.
Johnny Flynt served as Freeze's associate pastor at North Oxford Baptist Church during Freeze's first stint at Ole Miss. Before each game, Flynt, who coached baseball at Ole Miss for 12 years, would text Freeze, offering him encouragement and prayer.
Last week, Flynt texted Freeze again.
"The night that all this broke, I told him that I loved him and I understood from a man's point of view that you have fallen," he said.
Flynt said Freeze texted him back, saying, "I love you too, brother."
Flynt said he's still shocked by the news but believes Freeze will "bounce back" and coach again one day.
"A lot of folks think he's a fake, but I don't believe that. I think he got caught in sin," Flynt said. "Nobody knows how long it will take, but I really believe Hugh Freeze is the kind of man who will bounce back. I believe God will give him another chance to coach again and to prove to people that he truly is a man of God."
For their part, the Rebels open training camp Aug. 2.
"They're tired of the noise, tired of the distractions," Luke said of his players. "They just want to move forward and play football."
Antonio Morales writes for The (Jackson, Miss.) Clarion-Ledger, part of the USA TODAY Network.
Contributing: Sarah Fowler and Billy Watkins, The Clarion-Ledger; Dan Wolken, USA TODAY Sports.
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