That first day is Wednesday, when Mississippi State opens 2007 fall camp with a 5:00 afternoon practice. It is the day all the Dogs who have been in town and in school for one or both the summer semesters transition to true pre-season mode. True, they will continue to condition and lift around practices, and all enrolled the past month still have to complete the semester with exams. But now the emphasis shifts to preparing for play with their coordinators and position coaches present, pointing to the August 30 season-opener.
The reporting roster of 105 included 19 true freshmen, 18 of whom had been in school and thus able to work out in July. The lone new arrival was quarterback Chris Relf who did not receive NCAA clearance in time to enroll for the July semester. Eight other February-signed freshmen will attend junior colleges, six who did not qualify for college and two who did but have chosen to delay senior college enrollment for at least one scholarship-year.
Even if they were on campus this summer all players, new or varsity, had until 5:00 to check in, and all but a couple had taken care of this formality with a half-hour to spare. One of the very latest arrivals was freshman halfback Robert Elliot, who seemed surprised when told he was late checking in. “I had to stay late for study hall,” the physical therapy major explained, giving a reason to respect.
The day’s schedule actually began at 12:00 when players could begin reporting to the Shira Complex for weigh-ins. Senior Royce Blackledge arrived right at noon so he could get on the scales before going to lunch. It worked—“I weighed 293!” the senior center beamed, meaning he’d hit his reporting-day target. By contrast runner Elliot was exactly 100 pounds lighter than the veteran blocker, though he said he’d hit a life-high 197 in July. He’s still ahead of his prep playing weight of 188, though “I think I’ve turned some fat into muscle,” Elliot said.
For his part Sherrod, listed at 298 on signing day, said he came to campus after 4th of July at 313. On the last day of the month the scales showed 299, his target. Official player weights will come out on the official revised season roster midway of camp, after letting the work and conditions take a toll. Sherrod isn’t worried. “I’m not overweight or anything,” he said, obviously pleased. “It’s been different because they had us doing a lot of workouts I’m not used to. But I’ve gotten adjusted and like it.”
Easy to say that now, because there are some older Dogs who are trying to make things a bit harder on the pups. In fun, that is. “It’s basically trash-talking,” senior defensive end Titus Brown explained. “Instill a little fear to bring out the best in them!” So, what are the vets telling the rooks?
“That they’re going to die!” grinned Brown. “We’re going to try our best to punish them, you know. Some of them buy into it, some of them don’t.”
Probably more fall into the latter category as few of these freshmen appear intimidated by talk. A vigorous July has served as sufficient initiation into the realities of college ball for most, though there are other adjustments that come harder. “The real hard thing is just waking up in the morning-time, about 5:00, and trying to go to school and study hall!” admits Elliot. “Other than that practice has been going fine.” Make that, pre-practices, because all Elliot and his classmates have done on a practice field so far has been in small groups and unsupervised by a coach.
That changes tomorrow and Elliot knows things are about to get more demanding. “Just come in and work hard, there’s no spots guaranteed to nobody so you just have to work hard day-to-day.” If that sounds like a rookie who is not thinking of redshirting, correct. “I want to play, come in and make an immediate impact,” Elliot said.
Certainly the all-star recruit has the prep credentials to bid for immediate action, and he wore his ‘Dandy Dozen’ shirt to check-in. That, he admitted, will come off sometime Tuesday night. “It’s all just hype, not even in my mind.” But his intentions to get on the field as a freshman isn’t overblown a bit. “Me and Anthony Dixon could be a one-two punch,” Elliot said. Asked which would be which…”He can be one, I could be two! And Marcus (Green) is going to play. The best man is going to play. It’s competition and not just us two but everywhere, all over.”
As a new lineman, even one in good freshman shape, Sherrod is not so set on his ambitions for 2007. “I’m not sure, it all depends on how I practice. But I’m willing to do whatever Coach Croom feels is best for me and best for the team. Whatever he thinks is the best choice for everybody.” Certainly Croom hopes to change how he and the offensive staff have been forced to operate the past three seasons and not throw any first-year lineman on the field if at all possible.
At the same time both Sherrod and Elliot are sky-high on the rookie class of 2007. “Oh, we’re athletic all over the field,” Elliot said. “And everybody was on-point (making their weights and times in pre-camp tests).” Senior Brown agrees that the group looks impressive. “I’ve seen film on Sherrod, he looks like he could be a good player. And the cornerback Wade Bonner, they moved him to safety, he’s caught my eye during the one-on-ones. You really can’t see too much about the running backs until they actually tote the ball, so I’ll be excited to see what they can do.”
Of course, that’s after he and the SEC-tested Dogs give the kids their on-field introduction to big-time football. And this won’t be mere talking trash, as veterans can’t resist laying waste to puppy egos…just as happened to them years before at the hands of their own elders.
“It’s fixing to get shown-up pretty good these next few days,” Brown said, grinning again. “Especially Saturday when we put those pads on and see what these three- and four-star players can do!” But it’s just part of getting another generation of Dogs up to college speed, a process that also included talks to the entire team Tuesday night about all aspects of college life following the 6:00 dinner.
“They’re making sure we’re all prepared, know what we have to do during the fall and that everything is alright with us,” said Sherrod. “So we can be comfortable and get our mind on our studies and on football.” Of course this freshman had an inside-advantage over most freshmen in brother and senior tight end Dezmond Sherrod tipping him off on what to expect. “I wouldn’t say he’s tried scare me, but he’s tried to prepare me and tell me to be heads-up for a lot of running, for the heat, for a lot of drills. I think he’s done a good job.”
The Bulldogs will practice these next three weekdays at 5:00, then at 4:15 Saturday when they work in pads as per NCAA pre-season regulations. There will be no Sunday session, and Monday’s single practice will be at 6:30 a.m. The three two-a-day dates start Tuesday, with no consecutive days of double-drills.