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OXFORD, Miss. — As we count down the days until the Ole Miss season opener against Memphis in the Liberty Bowl, we are releasing who we think the Top 50 Most Impactful Players will be for the Rebels this season. This series is a way for Ole Miss fans to learn more about players to keep an eye on this fall.
With 33 days before kickoff, coming in at No. 33…
Willie Hibbler was a four-star tight end according to Scout and Rivals when he signed with Ole Miss in the class of 2015. As a senior at North Panola (Miss.), Hibbler was limited to eight games due to injury, but he still caught fifteen passes for four touchdowns and rushed fourteen times for 106 yards and one touchdown.
Hibbler redshirted during his first season in Oxford before then being asked to move from tight end to middle linebacker in spring camp. During his redshirt freshman season, he made eight game appearances and one start where he finished with nine tackles on the season. As a sophomore in 2017, Hibbler played in eleven games as a backup at middle linebacker, finishing the season with thirteen tackles and one forced fumble.
Last season, the 6-foot-3, 262-pound Hibbler really hit his stride, appearing in all 12 games and starting in the last seven games at outside linebacker. He finished his junior season with 50 tackles, one sack, five and a half tackles for loss, three pass breakups, and one forced fumble.
Hibbler also finished his degree in just 3.5 years, earning a degree in Criminal Justice with an emphasis in Homeland Security.
After graduating in 3.5 years @williehibbler will be wearing the SEC Graduate patch in the 2019 season! The growth he made in the last year as a teammate, player and student is just the beginning! pic.twitter.com/YC3yEh08kH
— Jon Sumrall (@CoachJonSumrall) December 21, 2018
Entering this year’s fall camp, the senior linebacker is listed as the starter at one of the two inside linebacker positions in new defensive coordinator Mike MacIntyre’s 3-4 defense, along with MoMo Sanogo at the other. Hibbler has continued to show improvement in the off-season while trying to hold off sophomore linebacker Jacquez Jones who was named to the SEC All-Freshman team last fall.
In the offseason, the Rebels signed the No. 1 JUCO inside linebacker prospect in the country, Lakia Henry, so defensive coordinator Mike Macintyre will definitely have a talented group of LBs at his disposal.
“It’s different,” Hibbler said earlier this spring when asked about his new responsibilities in MacIntyre’s defense. “We’re free-form players as linebackers from A (gap) to C to A. Then we have a lot of support on the outside with the big defensive ends standing up as outside linebackers,” Hibbler said. “We’re free a lot, so we get to free roam. I always get to make one-on-one tackles, so I like it.”
Ole Miss inside linebackers coach Jeff Koonz spoke about Hibbler with Rebels247 earlier this summer.
“Willie Hibbler’s an older guy that’s been in the program and been through a lot here at Ole Miss with the position change and learning it the last two years or so. He’s another guy that knows there’s things to work on, and he’s bought into those things better in trying to improve himself. When you see guys working to improve their craft and improve their game, that bleeds into the rest of the room.”
ILB Coach Jeff Koonz
As for Hibbler, he spoke this spring of his new position coach, Coach Koonz, who was hired from North Texas to replace LBs coach Jon Sumrall after Sumrall left for his alma mater, Kentucky.
“Great guy. He’s real laid back, but he still expects you to work just like every other coach,” Hibbler said of Coach Koonz. “He has his own system in the way he approaches things, and I like it. He really cares about the players. Coach Luke always finds the right guys to hire in any room. I think he picked the right guy,” Hibbler added.
We believe Hibbler will finish strong in his final season in Oxford and look for him to improve upon his breakout junior season. He is the largest of the inside linebackers, and since the defense has moved to a 3-4 base defense, we believe he will be able to play more downhill than in previous seasons in the 4-2-5, further maximizing Hibbler’s potential at linebacker this fall.
Keep an eye out for No. 17!
33. Willie Hibbler
34. Isaiah Woullard
35. Jadon Jackson
36. Grant Tisdale, Kinkead Dent, John Rhys Plumlee
37. Keidron Smith
38. Snoop Conner
39. Michael Howard
40. Vernon Dasher
41. Ryder Anderson
42. D’Vaughn Pennamon
43. C.J. Miller
44. Charles Wiley
45. Sincere David
46. Mac Brown
47. Jason Pellerin
48. Chandler Tuitt
49. Dannis Jackson
50. Jonathan Mingo
Derrell has covered Ole Miss athletics in the past for Rebels247 at 247Sports. He attended Delta State University where he graduated with a B.S. in Biology. He is currently pursuing his Pharm.D. at the University of Mississippi School of Pharmacy with an expected graduation of May, 2020.