The slowest stretch of the college football offseason – from the end of spring practice to the beginning of fall camp – is the toughest for coaches. They get vacation, sure, but those summer months are the longest they ever go without getting to practice with their players, and that can be kind of scary.
It’s for that reason Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen has said the strength and conditioning coach is one of the most important hires he makes. He’s the only person who gets to work with the players in those hot Mississippi months.
But, it’s not unusual for players to do a little extra work on their own, too. Receivers and quarterbacks often get together and run routes after workouts, working on their timing and staying in some kind of shape. Perhaps an occasional cornerback will even join to make it more competitive.
This summer, however, MSU’s players have taken it a little farther. A lot farther, really.
After weights and running, junior quarterback Dak Prescott said, he and sophomore QB Damian Williams will go out and “get some extra work in.” Shortly after that, the serious stuff starts.
Prescott and junior linebacker Benardrick McKinney host what they call ‘Skills and Drills’ every night, something the entire team shows up for, not just a few pass catchers and throwers. Offense, defense, special teams – the works.
“Everybody comes out there,” Prescott said. “It’s almost like a practice, to be honest. We’re out there for about an hour every day.”
In fact, it’s just about exactly like a practice. No real coaches, of course, or even pads, for that matter. But there are the leaders who direct it.
Prescott and McKinney are the coaches and they run the thing like a real mid-season practice.
McKinney takes the defense, Prescott takes the offense and they do their individual drills. Once they’re ready, everyone gathers for 7-on-7.
Ball handling, Prescott said, positional drills, two-minute drills, team-apart and team-together exercises – all on the daily rundown. They even lead film sessions sometimes.
“It’s been fun,” Prescott said. “Everybody’s got the right attitude in the building and it’s been exciting … Honestly, we’ve never really done that since I’ve been here. Just the excitement and attitude everybody has – nobody ever misses it, it’s been fun.”
It’s not mandatory, of course, but no one wants to skip it. As Prescott explained it, they all know how good the team can be in 2014, and none of them want to be the reason they don’t meet their potential. That’s why they decided to get together and do this in the first place.
They want to stay sharp, for one, but they also don’t want to show up at fall camp in August and have to spend time fixing little things or getting back in a rhythm and routine. If it’s up to them, the Bulldogs will be the proverbial well-oiled machine on the very first practice of two-a-days.
What MSU has now is something the young group at this time in 2013 may have lacked – leadership. State had charismatic and talented guys, to be sure, but Mullen himself said it’s difficult for anyone to lead if they haven’t done it before. In the past, when a play needed to be made, people like Johnthan Banks or Chad Bumphis were always going to step up and make it.
As Mullen described it, State started last year with a team full of men capable of making the necessary plays, but without the experience of ever having done so.
Now, MSU has those guys. Established veterans and leaders are present before camp even begins, and the difference is clear as can be.
“We’ve got the best attitudes since I’ve been here,” Prescott said. “Guys trust other guys. It’s just going out and doing extra stuff, things that aren’t mandatory. You don’t have to go if you don’t want to go, but that’s just being accountable. They’re not showing up just to say they came, they’re showing up to get work and they’re staying beyond the time limit that’s asked.
“It’s just the best attitude that I’ve seen. Guys just seem really hungry. They know what we can do as a team and they don’t want to be the reason why we don’t.”