It was a shorter practice not just because it was the last full working day of the week, but because a number of assistant coaches were headed out to watch high school games being played in other states. They will re-join the rest of the staff Saturday morning. With almost all high school games and all junior college contests in this state cancelled for the weekend in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, MSU coaches are adjusting plans to check on prospects in surrounding states.
The Bulldogs are generally in as good a health as at any point this month, though a couple of offensive players were in red-cross jerseys Thursday who had been in regular first-team gear the day before. Flanker Will Prosser, who nursed a foot stress-fracture much of the preseason, did not work this day and wore a protective boot on the right leg. It was merely a protective measure and Prosser is expected to play in Saturday’s opener.
Tight end Jason Husband, who banged his right shoulder early in Wednesday’s workout, came out in a sling Thursday after a mild separation was diagnosed. His status for Saturday is now questionable. Depth here is not an issue since Eric Butler will start at one tight end and H-back Dezmond Sherrod can spend more time at his old position if needed.
In a positive point, running back and kick returner Jonathan Lowe was in a normal first-team Maroon jersey for the day’s non-contact work and is cleared to play Saturday. In early segments Lowe alternated with freshman Derek Pegues in deep-kickoff return. Demarcus Johnson and Brandon Thornton are the other backups to starting halfback Jerious Norwood, who shows no signs of the early-August knee strain. At halfback Bryson Davis will be backed by freshman Brandon Hart.
The starting teams on the offensive and defensive lines are unchanged after the week’s work, and State’s coaches have stuck with the blocking rotations they announced last week. Brian Anderson and Avery House will start at tackles, with LT Anderson moving over to the right side and freshman Michael Gates stepping up. Freshman Anthony Dunning is the second guard to both Johnny Wadley and Anthony Strauder.
It also appears that Blake McAdams will get the nod as starting punter in the opening game, as the true freshman has surpassed veteran Brooks Crabtree this week.
The Bulldogs will have a short walk-through session Friday afternoon, eat a team meal on campus, then leave to spend the night in Columbus. While there the players will likely see persons and families temporarily staying in north Mississippi after their homes were damaged or destroyed by Monday’s hurricane.
The scope of the storm and the havoc wreaked on the Gulf Coast have caused some to question if any sporting events should be played by teams from the affected states. Croom, whose own daughter went through the storm in Mobile with minimal damage, understands the attitude. He also believes the scheduled game should go on at Scott Field, right on the 6:00 kickoff time.
“This is a great, great tragedy and I don’t think it’s far from anyone’s mind,” Croom said. “We’ve got four or five players on this team whose families lost everything. They came out here and practiced all week, and it shows great strength of character on their part. I think they’re stronger than I am.”
Croom also reported that cornerback David Heard lost his father last week, before the storm came through his Vicksburg home town, and the veteran is still going to be on the field Saturday evening. “He never missed a day of practice. His mother didn’t want him to miss it, he didn’t want to miss it.
“Our football team has been hit with a lot the last five days. None of them have complained, it’s hurt but they’ve come out and worked and I have a lot of respect for them and their families. They want them to play.” So Mississippi State will play, even if there inevitably are criticisms as a result. At the same time the head coach believes sticking to the rites of another campus fall as much as possible might help in the long, hard healing process, somehow.
“It’s hard to divert your attention from the tragedy because all of us are affected by it in some way,” Croom agreed. “If you’re human and have any normal compassion, red blood in your veins, I can’t see how you cannot be devastated by what we see on TV every day. Now, how does football play in it? It’s like anything else, you have to continue to move on, to live, and what I hope the game will do is help people do that. And maybe use our game to be a little source of strength and to think about something else, for a little while any way.
“What I’m hoping for out of the game is our players will play as best they possibly can, and to let the game be a source of strength and a diversion from what has happened for a little while. Right now I’m sure any relief is great help.”