OXFORD, Miss. — Here's a news bulletin for those of you who may have spent the last six months living under a rock, hibernating in a cave or wandering the desert investigating life's greatest mysteries:
His name is Juice. He's a 5-month-old golden English lab. And, unwittingly, he's become the new face of Rebels football.
Juice's star power can't be overstated. He's amassed more than 17,000 Twitter followers, more than every Rebels player except running back Zach Evans. Ole Miss named its last recruiting weekend before preseason practices "Juice Fest" and snagged four commitments in his honor. Juice gets to run around Ole Miss practices with a GoPro camera strapped to his back.
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"I think a lot of things in my career maybe seem like they're planned when they come out," Kiffin said. "This was not. It looks pretty brilliant. The dog is a recruiting tool. 'College GameDay' has already been here for a special on him whenever they go on. He has a Twitter and Juice Fest and all that. But this was just my daughter wanting a dog."
Come September, it'd hardly be a shock if Juice leads the Rebels down the Walk of Champions and out of the tunnel at Vaught-Hemingway before games and needs his own get-back coach to stay kenneled on the sideline during the action.
Why not? He's already an honorary member of the quarterback room.
"He's always in the meetings, stuff like that," quarterback Luke Altmyer said. "He's always in there, running around, making his rounds. ... He's an awesome little lab."
"Trying to watch film and having a dog bite on your shirt or trying to eat your food, that's something I don't think you can get anywhere else," fellow quarterback Jaxson Dart added.
On Aug. 1, Juice started a training camp of his own, enrolling at Wildrose Kennel for obedience training. Kiffin is the first to admit Juice isn't that well-behaved yet. Receiver Jordan Watkins said he remembers Juice following Kiffin around and biting at the coach's ankles before an offseason training activity when Juice was a puppy.
Two days after Juice started at Wildrose, Kiffin's squad began preseason practices. And oddly, he started to notice the similarities between training a dog and coaching an SEC team in the transfer portal era.
"We're brining him in and all of a sudden he's around other dogs and how well he's trained has a lot to do with how he does around the other dogs and him not being distracted," Kiffin says. "I was like, 'You guys are going through the same thing we're going through when you bring people in your organization, transfers in, getting them to buy in.' Here's the puppy he's bringing in with all the other dogs who have been trained the whole time and he's not listening; I feel like that's kind of similar to our transfers."
Now that Kiffin's kids are back in school, the responsibility of looking after Juice has fallen on his shoulders. Juice even sleeps in Kiffin's bed at night.
Their growing relationship is obvious. During a water break at Monday's practice, Juice was let off his leash. He darted around, looking for water and attention, until he heard a whistle. Then, with the instincts of a running back breaking free past the secondary, he made a beeline for Kiffin nearly 40 yards away.
He ran into Kiffin's outstretched arms. Kiffin told Juice to sit. It took two tries, but the dog listened. That's a week of obedience training at work.
Rule 1 that I learned from the QBs: if the head coach whistles at you, you run and see what he wants pic.twitter.com/HddPfWC8bn
— Juice Kiffin (@JuiceKiffin) August 8, 2022
The saga was captured on Juice's GoPro and posted to his Twitter account. Within 90 minutes of going live, the video had been watched more than 15,000 times. By comparison, a 35-second video of highlights from the first day of practice posted to the Ole Miss football Twitter account only attracted 14,000 views in a week.
It might sound weird or unconventional or flat-out silly, but a puppy is establishing himself as the Rebels' most marketable star.
The Rebels' other players are just rolling with it.
"I think here, in our culture, it's not weird," defensive end Jared Ivey said. "That's just us."
Contact Nick Suss at 601-408-2674 or email@example.com. Follow @nicksuss on Twitter.
This article originally appeared on Mississippi Clarion Ledger: How Lane Kiffin's dog, Juice, has become the face of Ole Miss football