At this past Tuesday's press conference, Melissa and I talked with football players Titus Brown, Lance Long and Royce Blackledge.
Melissa: You aren't a southern boy are you Lance?
Lance Long - "No ma'am."
Melissa: Oh, no ma'am! (loud laughter from the other players). That was polite. Before you came to Mississippi State where did you live, where did you grow up?
Lance - "It's a city about 5 or 10 miles right outside of Detroit. It's called Sterling Heights."
Melissa: Lance, why did you come to Mississippi State and the south from Michigan?
Lance - "It was due to Coach Croom. We have a family friend that I worked with in high school. His name is Tommy Boyd. He was actually a receivers coach for one year at my high school. He played for Coach Croom and told me about him, how he was one of the best coaches that he had ever had."
Melissa: Lance, tell me the story about walking to Wal-Mart.
Lance - "(Other players laughed). It was awhile ago. Back at my house everything is very close. When I first got down here, I didn't really know that many people. I didn't go through two-a-days and it was right before the first game. I think it was the fall break about three years ago. The power was out in the dorms because they had shut it off. And everybody had left and went home. So, I went up to the music store and bought a CD. I asked the lady at the store how far Wal-Mart was and she said was it was only about two miles down the road. I just wanted to go to a grocery store. I was new and I was missing home and I just wanted something that reminded me of home. So, I started walking and went to Wal-Mart and walked around. On my way back, I started getting tired walking with my groceries ... I was struggling. Back at my home, everything is so close you can walk to it, so I didn't know it was going to be that far."
Melissa: You've guys have watched this program change from the beginning. And you've had to deal with all the muck. What does it feel like to be coming out on the (winning) side while following what Croom said he was going to do?
Titus Brown - "It was kind of like having to buy into what he was saying. The guys who are here are here for one reason and that is because they want to win. We lost several guys due to bad behavior and bad character issues. But I think he made two-a-days harder because he knew the guys who really wanted it were going to stay, to stick around. And it was tough. There were some days when I wondered if football was really for me. But deep down, I knew I wanted to play here and I knew it was going to take a lot of hard work to get to where we are now. And Lance and Royce endured the same thing that I did. And they are good character guys like the other people here. We all want to win."
Melissa: I said this on the (Bully BarkLine) show the other night. I see a cohesiveness with this group of guys that has not existed in the past ....
Titus Brown - "It's a team..."
Royce Blackledge - "It's pretty much what he said. We have gone through a lot of stuff. The guys who are here want to win. And I feel like we are going to get that done."
Gene: But what drives you? Winning drives a lot of players, but the team has only won 9 games the past three years.
Royce - "You have to want to play the game, you have to want to win. And I feel like we have a lot of guys here now who want to work hard and win. And that means a lot to them, enough to want to go out there and work hard."
Gene: Coach Croom is a strong disciplinarian and demands a great deal from each of you. Titus, you said you survived, but it was tough to do that. How did you survive? What drove you considering the victories weren't occurring as often as you would like?
Titus - "Coach has coached for almost 30 years. He's been coaching longer than I have been living. It's kind of like you either know what you are doing or you don't. And he knows what he is doing. He will put more on you than you think you can handle. He sees that in you when you don't. He might say run 20 gassers when you don't think you can run 15. He knows that you have 5 more in you."
Lance: "When I first came down here, like you said Gene, things weren't working out ... and I guess it was a matter of believing ... and we believed one day we would be winning, like we are now. Just (Coach Croom's) character made us believe we would win. The stories he used to tell and he still does ... he came from Alabama, he's won, he's won a national championship, he's been to the Super Bowl, he's been to the top. That's important to us because none of us have really been that successful. He knows what it takes to have that kind of success. And we believe it. All it is is a matter of believing."
Royce: - "Like these guys both said, he's been on top and he's been down where we are. But he knows how to get a championship team because he's been a part of a lot of championship teams. And I believe, like all these other guys, that he knows how to get us there. And that's what we are working toward. You just have to believe."
Melissa: I know how intense and physical this season has been so far, but how are you able to recover after each game and come back and play another game, not just physically but mentally?
Titus - "I may get tired in my mind sometimes, but not in my body. I could go out to practice each and every day, just like these guys can. That's what the offseason is for, what two-a-days is for ... to prepare us for the season and what we do everyday. It's partly mental ... and that's what Coach (Croom) stresses, your mental discipline. Your body may tell you one thing, but you can make your mind tell it to do more."
Lance - "For me, and most of the other guys out there, you just have to have a one-track mind. Yeah, you might get kind of tired, but like Titus said, we've trained so hard that you have to tell your mind that you can keep going. You come in Monday after having a day off on Sunday and everything you do the rest of the week is for one game. We treat that game like it's the last game of the season and the only game of the season. And Coach Croom has a rule called the 24-hour rule. If we win or lose a game, we have 24 hours to think about it, then, after that, you put it behind you and think about the next game. But what keeps you going is winning."
Titus - "Winning is kind of like having a good job to go to each morning. You will be happy to go to that job. The same thing can be said for football, if you have a good team that you are going to and you know they can win, you will be happy to get up and do that work."
Gene: Then, it's probably been hard at times the last few years. I guess that's where believing in the coaches take up the slack of not winning.
Titus - "Yeah, that's where your coaches step in and demand leadership from the seniors."
Melissa: I had a coach tell me when I played basketball that to succeed you have to see the ball go into the net in your mind. In your case, you have to go out on the field knowing beforehand that you see the win in your mind. Am I correct in saying that?
Royce - "We expect to win. Just like we talked about in chapel a couple of weeks ago, we expect it. You have to expect to win before you can win. And we all expect to win now."
Gene: I'm going to ask each of you to describe the player sitting next to you as far as the kind of player he is. At least, how, as a teammate, you see him. Titus, describe Lance as a player.
Titus - "Lance is one of the hardest workers that I have ever seen. Lance practices and plays better than some of our scholarship players. And that says a lot about a guy who has come here from such a long way away. Now, he's experienced the joy of being a scholarship player after enduring so much."
Gene: Do you take more pride in a guy like Lance who came here as a walk-on and earned a scholarship?
Titus - "Oh yeah. Yes sir."
Gene: Lance, describe Royce.
Lance - "He's a winner. Everyday (in practice), when I go into the huddle I always see a smile from Royce. And he's always giving 100%. He gives everything he has and never loafs. And it's the same thing in a game. You feel comfortable with a person like that. When I step into the huddle and look across and see Royce, I feel comfortable. I know I'm not suppose to talk about Titus, but I feel the same way about him. When I see him out there on the field, I feel comfortable. He's dependable and accountable."
Gene: Royce, describe Titus.
Royce - "This goes for Lance as well, but I think consistency. Both of these guys play consistent every week. You know when Titus and Lance go on the field on Saturday that they are going to give 100%. And that's important."
Gene: Just listening to you guys, I feel like you think of each other as brothers.
Titus - "Yeah, that's what we are."
In the next few weeks we will include a recording of portions of 'Outside The Helmet' on the Bully BarkLine Show.
Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the Dawgs' Bite, Powered by GenesPage.com website, the source for Mississippi State sports on the Scout.com sports network. You can contact him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.