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Welcome. Brace yourself.

Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

I honestly didn't know what I was going to write for this year's rallying cry for the new freshmen. I spent most of last season punched out for personal reasons (don't worry, it's all good now) and haven't been entirely plugged into what to expect this year.  So instead, let me offer you an extended quote from Nick Hornby, whose alma mater I visited just last week:

"I used to believe, although I don’t now, that growing and growing up are analogous, that both are inevitable and uncontrollable processes. Now it seems to me that growing up is governed by the will, that one can choose to become an adult, but only at given moments. These moments come along fairly infrequently - during crises in relationships, for example, or when one has been given the chance to start afresh somewhere - and one can ignore them or seize them. At Cambridge I could have reinvented myself if I had been smart enough; I could have shed the little boy whose Arsenal fixation had helped him through a tricky patch in his childhood and early teens, and become somebody else completely, a swaggeringly confident and ambitious young man sure of his route through the world. But I didn’t. For some reason, I hung on to my boyhood self for dear life, and I let him guide me through my undergraduate years; and thus football, not for the first or last time, and through no fault of its own, served both as a backbone and as a retardant."

(Hornby, Nick (1998-03-01). Fever Pitch (pp. 99-100). Penguin Group US. Kindle Edition.)

You have come to that most anomalous of places: an SEC school that has chosen not to be defined through its football team. Almost without exception, everyone you'll see in the home stands tonight has connections to this school through attendance, employment or family.  (And those that have none of the above are to be cherished and blessed; they chose this as surely as you did.)  Football is just another thing we do, like baseball or tennis or medicine or Nobel Peace Prizes in back-to-back years.

But as in all things, 90% of your college experience will consist of showing up. Of saying "you know what, I'll take a swing at this." At making the active transitive choice to say, to do, to be. Our football Hype Coach, Javon Marshall, told us that the people who say history repeats itself are crazy, and he's right - the future is unwritten and past performance is no indicator of future results.  Now history may rhyme, if not repeat, but one thing you have in your power is to decide whether the rhymes are Kendrick Lamar or Dee Dee King.

Your classmates are running out there Thursday night because they choose not to be defined by what happened last year, or the year before that. Or even the year before that, or in 2008, or 1996, or 1982, or 1969. We know our history. We understand it. But we make our own future, and we define our own Now. You could cling to what was, but how much better to go make what is?

So when you charge out of that tunnel tonight, you are emerging into a new world. Your world. Shape it to your own will and make it come along for the ride.

Anchor Down. Beat the Cocks.