When Anthony Strauder got redshirted two years ago, he took it to heart to better himself, moreso off the field and in the classroom.
The Mississippi State offensive lineman expects to get his bachelor's degree in only three years, set to graduate next spring with a degree in kinesiology. Instead of taking the minimum requirements as a rookie, Strauder decided to use the year and take every opportunity to get a leg up, academically along with athletically.
"It hasn't been too tough," said Strauder. "During my redshirt year, I did manage to get ahead. But since then, I've taken a regular road and just gone to summer school. I would like to get into physical therapy in grad school. But I may try to get my master's in sports administration, you know, to be either an athletic director or coach."
Just five games into his senior season at Natchez, Strauder suffered a broken leg that had him sidelined the rest of the year.
But he admits he appreciates where he is now even more, hopefully leaving the injuries in the past.
"It's a thing of the past," said Strauder. "But it did teach me some things. I know now what type of shape you have to be in with this game and how things can change in a second and you will have to work hard to overcome something like that.
"It taught me how to overcome adversity and really, that's what football is all about. That also helps you with everyday life."
Last season, Strauder got his first opportunity on the field and passed that crash course with flying colors. He started all 11 games as a redshirt freshman, and exited spring practice holding down his left guard spot on the offensive line.
"In this league, it was a good accomplishment," said Strauder of playing last year. "Most of us took our bumps and bruises during the season but you can't put a price on that experience. I am looking for a breakout year this year."
During his prep career at Natchez High School, Strauder played on the O-line along with other spots on the field. He played both sides of the ball and came to Mississippi State as a defensive lineman.
"You know, I played a little offensive line in high school," said Strauder. "But I was really everywhere and they move me around on the field a lot. So it was no big deal to make the move to offensive line. I knew it was something I could do on a full-time basis."
And it's a move that he just sorta fell into. Head coach Sylvester Croom didn't exactly ask the 6-foot-3 and 298-pound Strauder to move to offense. It just happened one day in practice when Strauder was working out with the scout team.
"Really, Coach Croom didn't have to ask me," said Strauder. "My first year, we had a lot of injuries on the offensive line and had some young guys. So one day in practice, they needed me to help out on the offensive line so I moved. They liked the way I blocked so they kept me there. And it's for the best. Coach Grimes will get the best out of you.
"Coach Croom told me I could be a good defensive lineman at the college level. But he told me I could be an NFL right guard, too. I got some valuable experience on the line last year but this will be my breakout year. And really, for all of us up front."
While there will be a new face competing for time up front for the Bulldogs, junior college transfer J.D. Hamilton is no stranger to Strauder.
The two big bodies have known each other since childhood, and both played at Natchez and called each other neighbors.
"We grew up in the same neighborhood, went to the same school and I've been knowing (Hamilton) since he was a little boy," said Strauder of Hamilton, who is expected to push for starting time at a tackle slot. "He is in really good shape and a strong player. Obviously, our offensive line has been weak the past couple of years. But with J.D. and Mike Brown, they will help right away. I know Mike is hoping he can play this year. Whenever he does get to play, he will step right in with us and not miss a beat. He's that good."
And with two-a-days right around the corner, Strauder feels just as good about the offensive line this fall. He's heard all about the struggles of State's O-line the past couple of years, and experienced it.
Yet it's a type of experience that Strauder strongly believes will pay off in 2006.
"We saw in the spring that the offensive line continued to get better," said Strauder. "We really moved the ball during the scrimmages. And that's against our defense, one of the best defenses in the Southeastern Conference.
"With our new receivers and our depth at receiver now and depth on the offensive line and experience, we are going to surprise some people this year. But we won't be surprised. We expect this to happen.
"I really believe we are bowl bound. With the experience on defense and the offense getting better, we will have a good year, one we've been waiting on."
Paul Jones is a writer for the Dawgs' Bite, Powered by GenesPage.com website. Paul, also a sports writer for the Columbus Commercial Dispatch, can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.