VIDEO: Ole Miss defensive lineman Breeland Speaks from the Manning Center on Monday
Ole Miss junior defensive lineman Breeland Speaks, a native of Jackson, Miss., needs no lesson on the importance of the Rebels' game this week with Mississippi State.
"It means a lot," Speaks said. "It always has meant a lot. Guys are ready to play ball on both sides."
This year's Egg Bowl might mean just a little bit more. It is no secret that Mississippi State friendlies and even some Bulldog players have played a key role in the nearly 5-year-old NCAA investigation into the Ole Miss football program. Things could get chippy Thursday night in Starkville.
Speaks, though, deflected a question asked on Monday about the potential toxicity of the game.
"I haven't really heard much about it or tried to hear about it," Speaks deadpanned.
Speaks was tried again by the media. He was asked if he was aware of any "smack" Mississippi State players have been talking on social media this week. Once again, he was diplomatic with his answer.
"I haven't really paid much attention to it," he responded. "I have my twitter and my Instagram. I don't pretty much post too much or try to look at it too often during the season. So, if they're talking noise, I haven't seen it."
Speaks was then asked, considering Mississippi State's involvement in the NCAA case against Ole Miss, if the players will take this game personal.
"We always take this game personal, regardless of the situation," said Speaks. "I guess now we have more incentive to play for."
There are 32 players on the Ole Miss roster who grew up in the state of Mississippi and know well the importance of the Egg Bowl in the Magnolia State. Those Rebels make sure the importance of the game is not lost to their teammates from other parts of the country.
"I feel like that's something we've always done, but it's also something that they've always understood, regardless. They know that's a team in Mississippi that it's just our mission to try to beat them," Speaks related.
The Ole Miss player are acutely aware that change within the program is in the wind. If it is Matt Luke's final game as the Ole Miss head coach, the Rebels want to send him out as a winner.
"I know he really wants it," said Speaks. "I know his heart. Everybody on the team wants it. That's what we're playing for...Coach Luke and the Rebs." Mississippi State won last year's Egg Bowl in Oxford. It is something Speaks has wiped from his memory.
"I really don't even remember last year. To be honest, I've just been really focused on this year. I haven't even watched film from last year...Like I said, it's the Egg Bowl. Guys know it's time to play ball," shared Speaks.
If there is transition coming for the Rebels following Thanksgiving night, Speaks is prepared to lead.
"Just helping guys stay focused. That's one thing I can think of right now. Just being the leader they need me to be and making sure guys understand that we've got to play ball regardless of the situation," said Speaks.
Ole Miss and Mississippi State kick off at 6:30 p.m. CT Thursday in Starkville. The game will be televised on ESPN.