Now, this first question is going to be tough. The Sporting News was quoted as saying that "Tommy Kelly didn't play hard last season." Were they right?
"They aren't lying."
You didn't play hard? Why?
"I didn't play hard enough to the point where I was able to satisfy everybody. I wasn't in condition. Plus, you have to learn to play hard. Learn to play so that you satisfy the coaches. Plus, I got hurt against Tennessee."
Hurt against Tennessee? Tell me about that.
"I messed my ankle up against Tennessee."
Did you really run a 4.72 forty on NFL scout day this past spring?
Is that the fastest that you have ever run the 40 yard dash?
"No, I ran faster in high school but that's the fastest I've run it in college because this is the best shape that I've been in."
What do you weigh?
What do you want to weigh?
You look great, Tommy. I think almost anybody would like to look like you do.
"(Laugh) I just wish it had happened a long time ago."
That's up to you. What has changed that caused you to get in such great shape?
What is it about Coach Blake that has caused such a change in you?
"First, is his background. I know he can get it done. When he tells me something, he has the proof behind what he is saying. He has coached and trained people who have played in the (NFL) Pro Bowl. He has trained first-rounders. Why wouldn't you listen to him?"
You have so much talent and have experience playing in this league. What is left for you to do to become the player you can be?
"Just play hard and never be satisfied."
Then the only difference has been your work ethic?
"Yeah, that's the only problem that I've ever had. It has never been the talent or knowing the game."
Do you really believe you will be able to play as hard as you need to? I ask that because having a very good work ethic is something that is hard to develop?
"It's hard to change but you have to take it one day at a time."
How much does the dream of playing in the NFL after this season drive you?
"That's one of the forces driving me. I've seen guys that I've played with, such as McDougal and Andrew Williams, Tyrone Roberson. I've played with these folks in junior college and I was better than them in junior college. They would tell you that themselves."
Switching over to your position, how do you like playing defensive end? Is that almost the perfect position for your special talent?
"Yeah, I like it. I like the new scheme because we play a conventional scheme, four linemen and three linebackers."
What is your job in this new scheme?
"Create havoc all over the field. Destroy the run and kill the quarterback."
Do you have any individual goals this year?
"No, all I want to do is is prove that I'm the best defensive player in the SEC. That's all. I'm just tripping when they talk about those other guys at Georgia and Alabama. I know I'm better than them. There's no doubt in my mind that I'm better."
What is the difference in the Tommy Kelly when you first got here and the Tommy Kelly that I'm talking to right now?
I don't mean to insult you, but are you admitting you were lazy before?
Were you lazy because everything came so easy to you because of your talent?
"No, it was never easy for me. I think it started when I got kicked out of (junior college) and gained all that weight. I worked hard when I was at Provine (High School). I wasn't lazy then like I was when I first got up here. I just think when I gained all that weight, I just thought it was going to come easy for me because I had all that talent even though I had gained weight. I then kind of got in a rut that was hard to get out of."
Since you are now a senior, do you feel you have to be more of a leader?
"Yeah, Coach Hendrick wanted me to be a leader last year, but I kind of deferred that to Kahlil and Michael. But Coach Hendrick always told me a leader doesn't have to be a senior, a leader can be a freshman.
"I figure if they see me do it now, as lazy as I was, there is no excuse that they can't do it."
What are your feelings about the new defensive scheme, overall? Is it complicated or simple?
"It is very simple. You have four down linemen. We have a few check-offs. We have a cover check-off in a couple of formations. Other than that, it's four down linemen and you beat your man."
Coach Cooper has something I would consider a motivational tool, the Black Jersey. Is that something that you are striving to earn?
"It would be good to have, but I'm more worried about winning games. A black shirt isn't going to win games."
No more three-win seasons?
"I want to show everybody that we can play. We have lost a lot of respect the past couple of years. I want to go to a bowl game for a change. They were going to bowl games before we got here."
Do you feel everybody on the defensive line is working hard?
"I'm not worried about anybody not working hard because Coach Blake won't stand for that. With his personality, he is the type person you don't want to let down."
When did you realize he was like that?
"The first day he talked to me. He came to me straight from the door. He talked to me about what I did in the past. He told me that was the past and we aren't in the past any longer. He told me today is day one and we will start from here."
Gene Swindoll is the publisher and owner of Gene's Page, the unofficial site for Mississippi State sports since October, 1996. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org