Last night, I did something for the first time since I was 10. I got in the autograph line for the football players. Now, I didn’t want Tyler Russell to sign my forehead or for Cam Lawrence to take a picture with me and my grandmother, though there were a couple thousand people at the Central Mississippi Extravaganza in Jackson last night who had somewhat similar plans.
I just wanted to talk to a few of Mississippi State’s guys and find out how their summers had been going, and a few of them were kind enough to do so in between signing posters.
Though, truth be told, the best thing any of them did all day may have gone unnoticed, as Dan Mullen and a baker’s dozen of his players visited the Blair Batson Children’s Hospital in Jackson and spent the afternoon playing games and hanging out with sick and injured children.
The highlight: 6’4”, 280-pound defensive lineman Kaleb Eulls playing Dance Central on Xbox with a little girl named Ashya. Although, Jameon Lewis getting mad at Justin Malone for looking at his cards during a game of Uno was pretty funny, though ultimately both were defeated by the young girls they were playing with. Lewis had significantly better luck playing basketball on the Wii with one of the smallest boys in the hospital on his team.
After playing games all afternoon, the team – as well as volleyball coach Jenny Hazelwood and several of her players, a couple soccer players, Bully and half the cheerleading squad – headed out from the hospital to the extravaganza, where most of them spent the evening signing posters, shaking hands and occasionally getting advice on how to punt better from older MSU fans.
After it all, Lawrence, Eulls and sophomore running back Nick Griffin shared a bit about their summer and a few other topics, the highlights of which we’ll share here.
So, how have summer workouts with strength coach Matt Balis been?
- Griffin: Coach Balis, he gives something a little new every year. If you want to get better every year, you can’t do the same thing. It gets harder and harder.
- Lawrence: So far so good. Just a constant grind.
- Eulls: Summer is going pretty great. We’re out there lifting hard, running fast, trying to get better and strengthen our weaknesses, even strengthen our strengths. We’re getting better.
Have any of the young players impressed you in workouts?
- Lawrence: A couple guys that stand out to me are the young linebackers, Richie Brown, Beniquez Brown. Those guys have impressed me, they stick out. [Defensive lineman] Torrey Dale, he’s another one that comes to mind.
- Eulls: All our leaders. Starting with our old guys, Josh Boyd, Johnthan Banks, Gabe Jackson, Dillon Day, those guys have stepped up. Devin Jones has been a great leader. You have some of your young guys. [Quarterback]Dak Prescott that’s coming up. You got the young linebackers that’s coming up.
- Griffin: [Tight end] Gus Walley is looking pretty good to me. [Receiver] Brandon Holloway is looking pretty good to me. He’s real fast. It’s not hype. [Defensive back] Will Redmond. They’re gonna help us a lot.
I hear freshman defensive tackle Nick James, at 6’4”, 340-pounds, is a pretty massive dude.
- Eulls: He’s been looking pretty good. As a young guy he’s been working, trying to get into the program, make himself better. … He really is [nimble].
- Griffin: I’m trying not to run into him, that’s a big guy. It’s hard to do. … He really does [have a lot of athleticism]. I’ve seen him run a couple sprints. He’s got good form, he’s pretty fast.
Mullen and Banks at SEC Media Days both said there was a lot of complacency last season, but that your sense of urgency is coming back now.
- Lawrence: Coming off a 9-4 bowl game season, that was a pretty good season, but we want to be great. I think we kind of let it get to our heads last year and finished 7-6. Kind of got complacent. Now we’ve got our chip back on our shoulder, bigger than ever.
- Eulls: We’re not trying to get too complacent or comfortable. We wanna be great and that’s what we strive for.
What’s your role with the team this year heading into fall camp in August?
- Eulls: I consider myself a leader. I have a voice in some things, try to help the young guys out because I experienced what they’re going to experience. I can help them get ready. Our older guys, they all got me ready.
- Griffin: I’m just ready to compete and push my teammates, make everybody better so we can have a good season.
- Lawrence: I really wanna step up as a leader. It’s hard, you’re not gonna be flawless. But I wanna be as close as you can get to being flawless and just dominate the field, dominate opponents, do my part.
With most of your non-conference games in the first half of the season, does it seem like the schedule sets up well for y’all to get some momentum going early on?
- Lawrence: It never hurts to have a good schedule like that. The last couple seasons it’s been one of the toughest ones, and this year I think we sit pretty good.
- Griffin: It does, but you can’t take any game lightly. It doesn’t matter if you get to Alabama and you’ve lost all these other games before it.
How big is that game against Auburn at home on September 8?
- Lawrence: Huge. I can’t stress that enough. That’s definitely one we’ve got circled on our calendar.
- Griffin: It’s huge, man. If we plan on getting on top of the west we gotta start with them, that’s our first game.
Cam, I see you’re growing the hair back out.
- Lawrence: I’m bringing it back. It’s a slow process.
Was that a request from the ladies?
- Lawrence: [laughs] I don’t think they’ll be disappointed with it.
Does it mean anything to you to be the leading returning tackler in the SEC this year?
- Lawrence: I mean, it’s good. But really, I’m going out there doing my job and trying to win games. Everything else just kind of works out for itself.
Banks talked about the difference in LSU and Alabama’s defense from everyone else being the depth behind the starters. Do you feel like MSU is getting close to that level?
- Lawrence: Definitely. Coach Wilson made a really good point at one time in the season. He said, “Good teams have really good depth.” Playing in the conference we play in, guys are gonna get injured. That’s just part of the game. And it’s a long season, so you’ve got to have good No. 2 players. I think we’ve established a good, solid No. 2 depth chart.
Nick, with Tyler Russell taking over at quarterback, it probably means more passing. Do you think the running backs will see some of those throws coming their way?
- Griffin: I hope so. I think all of us got pretty good hands and I think we’re gonna be open a lot. They might be sleeping on backs coming out of the backfield, they might be covering downfield.
As a running back, how do you feel about an offense with more passing?
- Griffin: I’m really excited about that. It just means easier running lanes for us. The better we throw it, the better we can run it.
I hear you’ve spent the little free time you have playing NCAA 2013. Have you made yourself the starter or are you splitting time with LaDarius Perkins?
- Griffin: I feel like a coach. I think Perk got a little priority. I give myself some carries now, don’t get me wrong. I get myself some carries.
Do you only play as MSU?
- Griffin: I haven’t played as anyone else yet.
Do you say the words “Ole Miss?”
- Griffin: I say “TSUN.”