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Here Comes Tony Conner

By BJ Bennett
SouthernPigskin.com
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The talent is there for Tony Conner. So, too, is the motivation

A lot of teams have called to see how I'm doing and how healthy I am and I've told them that I'm 100% and ready to go.
~Tony Conner

Early in his career, Ole Miss safety Tony Conner was one of college football's most dynamic defenders. The five-star standout was an immediate-impact player for the Rebels, earning Freshman All-American recognition as part of the most-heralded recruiting class in program history. As a sophomore, Conner earned second-team All-SEC honors as Ole Miss led the nation in scoring defense. He was thriving in a hybrid role fine-tuned to his unique abilities.

Conner, entering year three, was spotted on various pre-season All-American teams and was an all-conference fixture. He was ranked as the top safety in the league by The Birmingham News, the seventh-best defensive back in the country by Sporting News and was labeled the second-most physical player in all of college football by NFL.com. After starting 28 consecutive games, an unfortunate meniscus tear against Alabama put some of that progression on pause. Conner rested the injury before returning later in the year, ultimately stepping away once again.

Rehabilitation was the theme of Conner's most-recent spring and summer. Through dedication and drive after two surgeries, he returned to start all 12 games as a senior, working himself back onto the field and showing flashes of the talent that made him a high school and college award winner alike. 

Ahead of the 2017 NFL Draft, Conner has a resume that includes 42 starts at an SEC school, 193 total tackles, 21 tackles for loss and 13 pass break-ups. He has shown an ability to push through adversity and overcome obstacles in chase of his dreams. Conner is now ready to prove himself on the big stage. Healthy, Conner is excited about the opportunities that lie ahead.  

"I've gotten a whole lot better and stronger all of the way around," he explained. "I'm just ready to take on the next level."

Versatility is a trait that may prove especially-key for Conner as he pursues a professional career. Today's football requires some interchangeability and Conner, who played a very specific role with the Rebels, has a skill set that fits that distinction. In addition to making a start at outside linebacker, he lined up as a pseudo-safety in Oxford, a position known as "Huskie". Conner is listed as a defensive back, but can clearly do much more.   

"A guy that they needed to cover and be a big help in the box, somebody able to make plays inside the box, but be prepared in coverage," he explained of his defensive responsibilities.

At 6'0'', 213 pounds, Conner is now back in the national conversation. His potential for production, as his first couple of seasons at Ole Miss showed, is off the charts. Conner, with the NFL Draft upcoming, has answered countless questions about his knee; the answer has been a consistent one.    

"A lot of teams have called to see how I'm doing and how healthy I am and I've told them that I'm 100% and ready to go," Conner added.     

The talent is there. So, too, is the motivation. Conner is eager to prove that he is the player he once was and that he, even still, is improving as a prospect. A chance at the NFL is the next chapter in a football story still being written.

"I'm from Batesville, Mississippi. It's about 25 miles from Ole Miss," Conner explained. "Growing up, I always wanted to play close to home and do something to put Mississippi on the map."

What's next for Conner remains to be seen; his expectation is a return to form.

BJ Bennett - B.J. Bennett is SouthernPigskin.com's founder and publisher. He is the co-host of "Three & Out" with Kevin Thomas and Ben Troupe on the "Southern Pigskin Radio Network". Email: bj@espncoastal.com / Twitter: @BJBennettSports