Sure, it’s a modern marketing cliché. But that didn’t stop the audience from responding with an affirming cheer when Sylvester Croom asked “Are you ready for some football?!”
The guesstimated 1,500 or so who waited through the usual round of official-type speakers apparently are indeed ready for the 2005 Mississippi State season. They, and a few hundred more who had to leave the Central Mississippi Extravaganza before the program began, enjoyed a Thursday evening in the Mississippi Coliseum, and the chance to chat with Croom, his entire assistant staff, and a half-dozen Bulldog veterans. Of course it was easy for those coaches and players to smile now, as team practices don’t begin for another two weeks.
But since this July event serves as the unofficial kickoff of the Mississippi State preseason, everyone present was in agreement with the head coach. “It’s time to go,” said Croom, “I can’t wait.”
While awaiting August 3 and official reporting day for all eligible Bulldogs, Croom had some thoughts and even a few news items to share with the faithful. This was his second extravaganza, and the natural enthusiasm and curiosity about a new coach which was present in 2004 has been replaced by more normal sorts of preseason attitudes among staff and fans alike. That is, everybody knows each other by now.
Everybody also better understands the job that Croom has accepted, and how he is trying to get it done. Croom himself commented on the changes this second time around. “This time last year I didn’t know what to expect,” he said, adding “I knew we were not very good.” A 3-8 record, 2-6 SEC, confirmed that opinion and made all-too-clear the dimensions of this task. “We know how good we have to be to get better. The SEC has improved a lot since I was last here.”
If the crowd wanted to know how much improvement they can hope to see from State here in 2005, the coach again pointed to the hard lessons learned in year-one. “We got a lot of things done off the field that didn’t have anything directly to do with what happened on the scoreboard. The biggest thing is we laid a foundation for a championship team.
“Now, we were never a football team at any time last year, even in the Florida game. We were a bunch of guys trying to find our way, a bunch of people wandering around in the dark and trying to find how to win. We just kept trying.” But that in itself was a victory of sorts, and now Croom expects 2004’s persistence to pay off in ’05. “We stamped an identity of what Mississippi State football will be about.”
That identity is still being hammered out right now as the nearly-90 eligible and healthy Bulldogs already on campus for summer school continue strength and conditioning workouts. Croom, who cannot observe the work in-person, was proud to pass along reports strength coach Jim Nowell provides daily on team and individual efforts…especially the newest Dogs on the roster.
“Most of the (freshmen) were in the second semester, except two that were not cleared in time. So we had 19 that we signed in the second session of summer school and they are working extremely hard. Big guys, strong guys, fast guys…some of them a little too big, but we’ll get some pounds off.”
Croom also said that the two un-cleared freshmen will be certified in time for preseason camp. Though he did not call them by name, a staff member confirmed that defensive lineman Anthony Dunning was cleared today and wide receiver Corey Gardhigh’s clearance is expected any day now.
Croom dropped another item on the crowd without calling names, this time out of NCAA necessity. It turns out the freshman class of 2005 is expecting at least one and maybe a pair of new members to join up with State before this week is out. “We’re still recruiting,” Croom said. “We’re hoping to bring some more players in. We just got a message tonight that we hopefully will announce in the next day or so a signee, and possibily two more.” Until these prospects (check the latest recruiting updates on this site) turn in signed papers their names can’t be spoken publicly by the coach.
Such late additions were made possible because several February signees will not be certified by the NCAA clearinghouse, or are not expected to now. Three high school signees will definitely not clear and two possibles, Archie Sims and Anthony Johnson, are looking increasingly unlikely to. That is a shame because Croom has made it clear that all incoming rookies will be given every opportunity to do more than find a spot on the depth chart this first fall.
He expects many of his freshman to play, many in position rotations and some even as starters. “We had a great recruiting class. We’d better because they’re going to play. They’re going to have to play and play fast.” How fast? Croom said there very easily could be a freshman at one and maybe both offensive tackle positions; one at right cornerback; and two more at wide receivers.
As if anticipating unspoken questions from a quiet crowd, the coach stated his case. “Can we beat Murray State starting two freshmen at tackles? To that I say yes we can. Can we go into Auburn and beat Auburn down there? Yes we can? Can we beat Alabama when they come to our place? By that time, yes, we can. And can we beat those guys in Oxford who embarrassed us last year? Yes, we dog-gone will.”
Bold comments even for a summer party, but there was conviction in the voice. Even Croom’s jokes had a serious edge, such as when stating how pleasant it was to be able to open the morning newspaper without fear of a legal surprise. “At no time this summer did you see a Mississippi State player in the paper for breaking the law,” he said. “It was peaceful.
Joking aside, that was another sign of the changes Croom has seen in the program over a long, demanding first year with Mississippi State. Now the coach is telling Bulldog fans they should start seeing the results here in year-two. “Our attitudes are better, our systems are in place,” he said. And yes, Croom repeated the same thing he has said since assuming this post—that the ultimate and to his mind eventual goal is putting a championship football team on Scott Field. That hasn’t changed.
“Our time will come,” Croom said.