By Connor Hennessey, Ole Miss Athletics Media Relations
Story Featured in the Ole Miss vs. New Mexico State Football Game Program (Oct. 10)
It is one of the most important pieces of any football team. The biggest and strongest guys on every team play here and are charged with the task of protecting their teammates from their counterparts lining up across from them. The offensive line is the group that often gets a lot of blame when things go wrong and little recognition when things go right. At Ole Miss, the trenches are some of the most talked about areas on the field, but that’s not because they don’t earn it.
There is a great history of offensive linemen at Ole Miss. There are currently six of those former Rebels playing on Sundays in the NFL, including former All-SEC and Super Bowl XLVII Champion Michael Oher and 2009 All-SEC honoree John Jerry, among others.
Though Ole Miss has a solid history of getting linemen to the next level, there’s a nice, and perhaps more unique story of friendship and brotherhood in the trenches that not many know about.
When seniors Justin Bell and Aaron Morris came to Ole Miss in 2011, they were more than just new teammates in the SEC. Bell and Morris have been playing together since their Powell Middle School days, and are now almost halfway through their senior season at Ole Miss. It’s a long journey of grit and hard work for two homegrown Mississippi boys from Callaway High.
Bell, ranked the No. 23 player in Mississippi, was honored with SuperPrep All-Region honors and was named first team all-state his senior year. Though he racked up those honors and more, one of his biggest accomplishments is playing big-time football in his home state.
“Growing up all I knew was Jackson State-Alcorn, but through the recruiting process I fell in love with Ole Miss,” Bell said. “It’s an amazing feeling being from Mississippi and playing for the flagship school.
Morris was the ninth-ranked player in the state out of high school, receiving PrepStar All-America and first team all-state honors, among other awards. He knew all along where he wanted to be.
“The beginning of my senior year I already knew where I was going,” Morris said. “I wanted to stay in my home state, and bring something special to the state of Mississippi.”
The offensive line duo has been on the football field together longer than most people know. Neither Morris or Bell can really remember what it’s like not having the other strap up on game day.
“Me and Aaron have been together (on the field) for about 10 years,” Bell said. “We’ve had fights and arguments, but that’s how family is. That’s my brother and I love him.”
For Morris, he’s thankful he’s had his decade-long teammate with him the whole way.
“It makes this journey that much better,” Morris added. “College isn’t the easiest thing. When we came here together, we pushed each other and got through all of it.”
When coming to Ole Miss, it was unbeknownst to the pair that they were starting a trend. For both players, it’s nice to pave the way for other Callaway Chargers.
“I feel like we gave them a sense that they can do it too,” Bell said. “Before us, Derek Odom was the only one to go Division I, and he went to LSU. I feel like by us making it here, working hard and being successful, younger guys have the sense that they can do it too.”
There are already two other former Chargers on the Ole Miss roster in offensive guard Rod Taylor and defensive tackleBreeland Speaks.
“From when we first got up here, the younger guys were looking up to us,” Morris said. “Of course I was on Rod (Taylor) from the second I got here. We try to get players like him up here to keep something going.”
Bell hopes all of the younger guys on the team see his work ethic, and he pushes them to improve their game, especially those from Callaway High.
“I feel like my leadership comes from them seeing me work and my passion for the game,” Bell remarked. “I’m always trying to show them where I messed up and how I got better.”
The careers at Ole Miss for Bell and Morris are coming to a close soon, but not without memories of a lifetime and a list of accomplishments.
Bell graduated in December 2014 with a degree in exercise science and is currently pursuing a second degree in business management. He was named to the UMAA Honor Roll in both 2013 and 2014 and earned SEC Academic Honor Roll honors for the 2014-15 school year. Morris will graduate from Ole Miss soon with a degree in general studies.
So when you are cheering on the Rebels today in the stands of Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, remember the term “do it for your brothers” means more to No. 68 and No. 72.
Connor Hennessey is a writer in Oxford, Miss. He works in the Ole Miss Athletics media relations office, and this story was first featured on OleMissSports.com. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or @ConnorUM on Twitter.