Safe to say this 300-pound guard won't perform too many undercover duties for the S.P.D. Yet Saulsberry, the outstanding senior on Mississippi State's offensive line, really is enjoying his unique off-season job. So are his teammates, for that matter. After all, players typically report to the locker room to put on working gear.
Saulsberry shows up to exchange one uniform for another. An intern's uniform, true, with no badges and just the stenciled title to make sure all understand his status. Still… "Oh, man, they let me have it!" he says of the locker room reaction. "They call me ‘Officer!'" Of course should any Bulldog cross paths with Saulsberry around town when on his other job, they'd best use the same title more sincerely.
For that matter the man (or is he now the Man?) doesn't let the occasional fun facets take away from a very serious task. A sociology major on track for December graduation, Saulsberry is not taking these two months as a summer lark at all. In fact, his academic preparation has come in handy in handling exposure to all aspects of human behavior.
"Some days it will make you think, some days it will make you laugh. And some days you just stand there and say wow, why would you do something like that?"
As to why a ballplayer who has an excellent chance of finding himself on a professional roster a year from now wants to pursue this interesting parallel career path, well, that is simple. And not at all surprising to anyone who has gotten to know the Coldwater, Miss., native over the course of his Mississippi State career. Saulsberry, like a lot of offensive linemen, has always been a big-picture guy.
"I've been thinking about life after football, because football isn't forever. I had to pick some kind of profession and I picked something I loved." Oh, he loves football, too, and should Saulsberry perform to 2011 expectations he will get his NFL shot next summer. At the same time he—like a good blocker or good officer—always has a backup plan.
"If football doesn't work out I hopefully want to go federal, if that doesn't then go with state troopers or something local. But it's fun, I like it. My Grandma says she's really proud of me. She said she didn't want me always worrying about football, football, football, you have to have life after that."
What Grandma might not appreciate is the similarities Saulsberry has already found in both his ‘jobs'. Put it this way: this is one guy very familiar with scouting reports and practical preparations already. So getting in a small group of officers to set the assignment's script is eerily similar, he says.
"It's the same thing. We always have staff meetings just like Coach has meetings. We go through the gameplan of what everybody is going to do, who is going to be where, who is going to do the negotiation, who is going to be posted here. It's the same thing in a game, you have to have a plan going into anything." And that ‘scouting' bit is no joke, by the way. "Criminals strategize everything, what they do is strategize around what they know you do." So, it really can be a case of who out-schemes and then out-executes who…admittedly with much more often at stake than a first down or touchdown.
The S.P.D. has done a good job giving their intern a fair exposure to the realities of this profession without putting him in situations a youngster isn't prepared for. All the same, Saulsberry has been shown lots of the rough stuff and sad situtations.
"It's interesting, I'll tell you that. It's something every day. You see the conditions some people live in and the elements they're living in and…you're blessed. You just really don't know it until you see what, I'm not going to say on the other side, but what is deep in the community." But, make no mistake; empathy only goes so far when a public servant has a job to do. Here, too, Saulsberry can compare.
"Coach Balis and Coach Mullen always talk about the choices we make in life. You see people making those bad decisions, then you see that nine times out of ten they're repeat offenders. Always in the books, always in the station, and then they play like they're the victim. At the same time, you made a bad decision and you have to live with that decision."
Along that line, what would happen should #55 come across somebody else on the Bulldog roster who just made a bad choice? It's summer, a college town, a bunch of high-energy young men with off-season time on their hands. The opportunities seem obvious.
"That was my biggest fear when I got in, rolling up on a guy in a bad situation," Saulsberry says. And yes, he'd understand the temptations. "But at the same time I'm looking at it from law enforcement's point of view. All you have to tell yourself is, you're going home." If this sounds like an old man's comment to a youngster how nothing good happens in the wee hours…yeah, got it.
"It doesn't matter what the situation may be. Just like for us, as a football player if have to prepare myself because somebody doesn't want me to make it in my football career. So I have to tell myself I'm going home, you do what you want to do." Fortunately so far the closest anyone has come to trouble is a teammate with an expired tag.
"But I tell them all the time why I do it and that if I tell them something I'm not trying to get on to them, nothing like that."
Saulsberry's stint began in June and runs through July, at which time he pulls on the more familiar colors for preseason practices. He's put plenty of summer time into preparing for the season; lifting, running, doing individual and group drills, just as previous off-seasons. The difference now is Saulsberry is accepting the squad leadership role. He's not the only one to be sure. Saulsberry praises quarterback Chris Relf for not just being a leader, which he always was. "He's been a lot more vocal," the guard explains.
"Vick Ballard, Wade Bonner, Ricco Sanders put something in my eye like he's going to be ready to take on the position of being a leader for the receivers. More guys, Sean Ferguson, Charles Mitchell is a big-time leader. I mean a lot of guys have potential to be leaders, and you can be a leader in your own kind of way, an individual leader, as long as you're accountable for everybody else. One guy I'm looking to see a lot out of is Nickoe Whitley, we always stay on to him and encourage him every day."
So Saulsberry knows his leadership role. Funny thing, he isn't as sure what position he'll be leading from. He moved to first center (a job he filled eight-straight quarters middle of last season) in spring yet is also the top guard on the team, and has old experience at right tackle to boot. Still if Saulsberry isn't certain of his lineup spot, he is assured of being lined-up.
"Right now I'm still at center. Anything can happen, like when we do two-minutes and stuff like that I switch to guard. I help some out with the tackles. You know, I need to know every position because you never know what might happen." Hey, what about the only position he has NOT played as a Bulldog starter, left tackle? The job is open after all?
"If that's what it takes, I will try it! I'm all about the team, whatever it takes for the team to win and for us to win the West." Though, Saulsberry has hopes James Carmon and Blaine Clausell can fill the big spot left open by Derek Sherrod. For that matter he is high on younger centers Dillon Day and Sam Watts. Should they develop quickly enough Saulsberry can resume the three-guard rotation that made MSU's interior blocking so productive last fall.
"The coaches can't touch us right now, but I tell my guys all the time let's switch this, go right here, put me right there, put them here. All Coach Hevesy said that he wants is ten guys. Ten guys just to be ready. Now if he can switch us out he said he'd love to, but he wants ten guys."
Meanwhile Saulsberry has a couple weeks left on the internship to keep him off-field busy. He's learned many tricks of the police trade already, whether routine patrolling or serving warrants. Yes, he is a favorite pick for the latter job as a 300-pound figure behind the paper does make an impression. Though Saulsberry said his pro-peers put too much stock in his sports credentials.
"They tell me if they (the subject) takes off running you've got to take off after them because we can't do that!" Well, it is a compliment on how fast they expect a Bulldog blocker to be. Saulsberry hasn't had any real shooting time as an intern but knows how to handle firearms, what with a shotgun and deer rifle back at home.
Most of the S.P.D. has welcomed the young, if sizable, internist, even serving as mentors already. "All of them have really too me under their wing and are showed me the ropes, showed me different things, introduced me to people as far as state troopers and guys in the federal bureaus. So I'm getting exposed to a lot of things at different times. It's good networking and I like that a lot."
Dan Mullen certainly likes the example Saulsberry is setting for an entire squad, too. Hmmm…it makes one wonder, does the Bulldog coach really now need the escort services of Mississippi Highway Patrol officers?
Saulsberry smiles at the suggesting he do double-postgame-duty. "Yeah, pull my helmet and pads off and have a bullet-proof vest on!"
Well, it does offer a different perspective on the ideal of ‘to serve and protect'…