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 JACKSON, Miss. (AP) -Mississippi's Brent Schaeffer thought he might never play college football again, his career dashed after so many disappointments, mistakes and rebirths.
Even so, he seems set to finish his college career the way it began - as a starting quarterback in the Southeastern Conference. The player once anointed Ole Miss' savior will lead the Rebels against Mississippi State on Friday.
It's his last chance to show the promise that made him the first true freshman quarterback to start a season-opening game in the SEC in six decades when he debuted at Tennessee. It's also a chance to salve the disappointment of a lost career.
``I came in as a freshmen and started my first game in college football and helped carry a team to the SEC championship, you know three points away from the Sugar Bowl,'' Schaeffer said. ``Then you come to your senior season and you don't play.''
Schaeffer saw his first significant action of the season last week against top-ranked LSU, and he was spectacular. He slashed the confidence of the nation's No. 1 defense and finished with 302 total yards, including 94 yards rushing, in less than three quarters.
He showed flashes of the ability that caused Tennessee's Phillip Fulmer and then Ole Miss' Ed Orgeron to offer him scholarships.
``I know when I recruited him, I know what I saw, and I saw some of that on Saturday,'' Orgeron said. ``I would like to see more of that Friday.''
Schaeffer, a 6-foot-2, 205-pound Deerfield Beach, Fla., native, was named a ``co-starter'' with fellow freshman Erik Ainge to start the season in 2004. He played in eight games, eventually giving way to Ainge before injuries ended both of their seasons.
Ainge has become one of Tennessee's most successful quarterbacks and is leading the Volunteers' charge for an SEC East title.
Poor decisions both off and on the field cost Schaeffer the opportunity to guide his own conference title run.
He lost his first chance when he got into fight with a fellow student at Tennessee and was arrested. He rebuilt his career at College of the Sequoias in California where he set 11 school records, accounted for 50 touchdowns and convinced Orgeron he was just what the Rebels needed to accelerate the rebuilding effort.
Orgeron named him the starter before he ever practiced, but eventually grew tired of Schaeffer's turnovers and poor decisions. Schaeffer passed for 1,442 yards and nine touchdowns, but threw 10 interceptions and completed 47 percent of his passes. The coach opened the position to competition in the offseason and gave the job to former walk-on Seth Adams.
Adams started strong and Schaeffer could have quit. Instead, he began his second comeback, playing the role of backup quarterback and keeping Orgeron happy.
``He just had to straighten up on a couple of deals, class attendance, being intent on the task at hand,'' Orgeron said. ``He's adhered to the team rules, and hopefully that will help him the rest of his career as a player or a professional, whatever he chooses to do.''
When Adams began to have turnover problems, questions about Schaeffer became more frequent. He played briefly in the four games for the Rebels (3-8, 0-7 SEC). Then when Adams struggled to open the LSU game, Orgeron put in Schaeffer. He finished with a 38-yard touchdown run, a 33-yard scoring pass and career highs in both rushing and passing.
Mississippi State (6-5, 3-4) expects to see plenty of him in the Egg Bowl no matter how coy Orgeron is about his plans. And the Bulldogs think Schaeffer will run the Rebels' offense wide open.
``An athletic quarterback is a defense's worst nightmare,'' Mississippi State defensive end Titus Brown said. ``A guy like that, he can take off and get 20, maybe 30 yards off of guys being in the right position.''
Schaeffer said he felt a rhythm in the LSU game he's been searching for over much of his career. He thinks the spread offense Ole Miss is installing in increments fits his skills.
One game can't wipe away the disappointment of his senior season. But he's glad he earned one last chance.
``There's really nothing I could do about it, (other than) just show good character and have an optimistic point of view for everything,'' Schaeffer said.
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