Ole Miss’s Jake Springer Knows a Thing or Two About Rivalry Games – by Billy Watkins
By Billy Watkins
Ole Miss’s Jake Springer likely won’t be overwhelmed Thursday night by the pressure that comes with playing in an Egg Bowl.
He once played in the world’s most famous college football rivalry: Army vs. Navy. As a junior outside linebacker or forward as the position is known in the Navy, Springer helped the Midshipmen secure a 31-7 victory over the Black Knights in Philadelphia, Pa., With seven tackles, one sack and 2.5. tackles for a loss.
So what does the game look like in this game?
“Surreal,” Springer said in a telephone interview. “It’s the kind of game you dream of playing as a kid. We play the game at an NFL stadium (usually in Philadelphia). It is packed with 70,000 fans. It’s crazy, all the pageantry that goes with it. You hardly even recognize it when you’re in the field. The president often attends the game.
“It’s an honor to be part of this and to play in front of so many people who have a connection with the military or who appreciate it. You learn the expectations that come with this game as soon as you arrive at the Academy.
“But you know what? The Army has been one of the most comfortable weeks of play we’ve had. It doesn’t matter who we play every week of the season – even if the team were on a four- or five-width attack. – we always took time to work on the army attack (triple option).
“When you’re so familiar with it, it’s almost like playing soccer in your backyard with your boys.”
After watching him on the service squad after his transfer in 2020, Ole coach Miss Lane Kiffin knew Springer was special.
When asked how his defense could improve after giving up 93 points in his first two SEC games, he replied in two words: “Jake Springer”. (Springer was out after sustaining an upper-body injury in the season opener against Louisville.)
After the defense played considerably better in a 31-26 win on Oct. 16 at Tennessee, Kiffin was asked for the key to the defense’s resurgence. “Jake Springer,” he replied.
Yes, Springer came back and contributed 11 tackles, one sack and one stoppage for a loss.
Springer, 23, played a major role in the Rebels’ defensive improvement. His 44 tackles don’t really measure his impact. His teammates consider him a leader. Linebacker Montrell Custis came up with another description: “He’s a beast.”
Along with linebacker Chance Campbell and defensive end Sam Williams, he helped galvanize a unit that badly needed a guy to say ‘follow me’.
Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo isn’t surprised by Springer’s success in the SEC.
“I love this kid and I’m really happy for him and I do well in the DJ (Durkin) system there. Lane gave him a chance. I’m thankful that he landed in an obviously great place and played well, ”Niumatalolo said in a Zoom interview. “He was a phenomenal player for us and fitted in perfectly with Coach (Brian) Newberry’s (defensive coordinator) system.”
Ahead of the 2019 season, Newberry shifted Springer from safety to outside linebacker. Springer said it allows him to make more plays. He’s in the same post for the Rebels.
“I think for me that was definitely a big step and I appreciate that Coach Newberry sees the versatility in me and gives me that chance at Navy,” said Springer, who is 6ft 1in and 205lbs. “It helped me with my footballing IQ, my technique. It took me to be just a safety where I feel like just a ball player now.”
In his first year there, he led the Navy in sacks (8) and casualty tackles (16).
It’s surprising that Springer, who grew up in Kansas City, only had two FBS scholarship offers outside of high school – the Army and the Navy.
“I don’t know, maybe he wasn’t the full burner that schools are looking for,” Niumatalolo said. “But he had it all for us. He could have played on the offensive side of the ball. He has very good hands. I see he returned punters for Ole Miss (when Dontario Drummond was injured), and he did it for us too.
“And I think the one thing you can’t say about a kid before you train him every day is that he’s a very smart player. I remember once during a spring training I was calling plays. We came to the line of scrimmage and he called them. “Look at him, he’s coming here! I mean, I’m the head coach and I can’t yell at him for that, but I meant, “Do you want to shut up Springer?” “”
After his junior season, Springer decided to enter the transfer portal. He told Navy Capital Gazette writer Bill Wagner that he wanted to play in the NFL and felt he needed to participate in the SEC to show off his talent.
“We were hoping he would stay,” Niumatalolo said. “But I understand, I’ve been here for a long time. It’s not for everyone, I understand. But when we saw that he was going to leave, we tried to help him. And it was interesting to see that he had quite a few people watching him. We had duct tape. And I’m sure the coaches looked at it and was like “Whoa! They could see that he was playing well against very good teams.
This is one of the reasons he chose Navy. “They play in a big conference (American Athletic), play Notre Dame every year,” Springer said. “I learned a lot from being up there in terms of discipline, as a man. I enjoy my time up there, for sure.
He chose Ole Miss over Michigan, Missouri, Notre Dame, Texas Tech, Illinois, Iowa State and others.
“I liked the buzz and the coaching staff with Coach Kiffin and Coach Durkin and Coach (Chris) Partridge,” Springer said. “I was hearing a lot of good things about these guys from some of the connections I had through Navy.
“It’s an SEC team. It was very exciting around this program, and talking to the coaches, listening to their confidence and what they were building here, I wanted to be a part of it.
So far, he’s been part of a 9-2 Ole Miss team that is ranked No.8 nationally and vying for a New Years Six Bowl game. But the Rebels will likely have to beat Mississippi State, which has won four of its last five games and is looking to improve its own bowl chances.
State, 7-4, is favored at home among the Cowbells by two points.
Springer watched the Egg Bowl last season – a 31-24 Ole Miss victory at Oxford.
“Just like Army-Navy, I feel like the Egg Bowl is one of the top 5 rivalries in the country,” Springer said. “And being around last year’s one, seeing how the players handled this rivalry, it was nice to get a feel for it and see how much of a fun rivalry it is.
“It’s a pride game because it’s so close to home. A lot of guys growing up here, it’s Ole Miss or it’s Mississippi State. Same thing with a lot of guys who go to the Navy or one of the other military academies. Growing up, they had to choose sides. And knowing that any year the outcome of this game is like flipping a coin. That’s what makes a rivalry.