OXFORD — Spring was somewhat of a crash course for Ole Miss sophomore quarterback Jaxson Dart.
Dart began his career at USC but transferred following the 2021 season. He, of course, chose to continue at Ole Miss and arrived on campus for the spring semester.
Dart was among the highest-rated players in the transfer portal and was considered one of the biggest signings of the offseason. But he didn’t necessarily have the best spring. In addition to turnovers in practice — which was a problem for both Dart and sophomore Luke Altmyer, head coach Lane Kiffin said — Dart had an up-and-down Grove Bowl, completing just 11 of 30 passes for 166 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions with an additional 66 yards on the ground.
But nearly four months have passed since then, and Dart is more familiar with Ole Miss on nearly every possible level. That includes football and being a regular college student who packed his bags, moved across the country midway through his freshman year and had to make new friends for the second time in a year.
“I feel a lot more comfortable now. It was almost like a flashback to my freshman year at USC, you know? You’re just coming into a brand-new place, brand-new culture, with brand-new guys,” Dart said. “You’re trying to find your fit around the team, you’re trying to just build relationships with other people. And then on top of that, then you’re trying to get the football side of things.
“All that just takes a little bit of time. For me to say, compare it to how I feel now vs. how I felt in spring, I feel a lot better now for sure.”
New co-offensive coordinator Charlie Weis Jr. says he has seen a more comfortable version of Dart in recent months, too.
“Over the summer, he did a great job of making sure to continue to watch everything from the spring, learn from his past mistakes, take that and grow,” Weis said. “And so, I’m really excited to watch throughout fall camp to see how he improves each and every day.”
Dart is locked in a competition with Altmyer for the starting quarterback job; both are splitting reps with the first-team offense in practice at the moment. That’s nothing new for Dart, though; the Utah-native didn’t receive his first full scholarship offer until a few weeks into his senior season at Corner Canyon High School. Dart said he worked with top recruits but was never mentioned in the same breath as they were despite feeling he was on their level. He also had to earn his early playing time at USC, where an entrenched quarterback was ahead of him on the depth chart.
Dart has had to earn his accolades — which included Gatorade National Player of the Year his senior season of high school — and has no expectation of being handed the starting quarterback job without having earned it.
“I’ve always been somebody that really tried to work and strive after the things that I want,” Dart said.
Expectations are high for Dart. He did, however, just turn 19 and is still just a college sophomore. When he does eventually figure everything out, though? Sophomore tight end and fellow USC transfer Michael Trigg thinks it’s a scary proposition.
“Honestly, once he’s fully comfortable, I know it’s wraps,” Trigg said. “So, I’m not really tripping on him, honestly.”
Quinshon Judkins impressing
Freshman running back Quinshon Judkins has a crowded backfield to maneuver through if he wants to get carries — TCU transfer Zach Evans, SMU transfer Ulysses Bentley IV and junior Kentrel Bullock are all vying for carries as well. But Judkins began turning heads in the spring and has continued to get better.
And it’s catching the attention of his backfield mates.
“He’s literally the most improved in the room. For him to be (so young), that’s crazy,” Evans said. “That boy’s explosive, he has a stiff arm on him. He has a bright future.”
Bentley shared similar sentiments.
“He’s going to be good. He’s going to be a good running back for a while. Man, I like him. He runs real hard,” Bentley said. “So, it’s competitive in the room, so I have to get going, too.”