Day Focused For First State Starting Shot

Technically they were still on the proverbial same page. There was just one item John Hevesy did not tell just one player. The Bulldog blocking coach informed only the rest of the squad their substitute center was going to mess something up. "No, I didn't know that!" Dillon Day said. "I'm glad I know it now! That does sound like him."

Thing is, such inside information is no longer of any use to Day. With almost five complete SEC quarters' worth of snaps under his Bulldog belt, the young center has used up that debut-error quota. Especially so because come Saturday, there is every chance Dillon Day doesn't just play; he is tentatively scheduled to start.

"It's crazy, the luck of the draw," said Day. "You never want it to happen but it happened."

Understand Day is not saying he didn't want to start here at Mississippi State. That status was surely going to come in time. The redshirt freshman means he expected to spend 2011 handling any mop-up duties left by senior Quentin Saulsberry. This normal schedule has undergone rather radical rewrites the last two weeks after a rash of injuries to the offensive line of scrimmage.

So, here Day is, spending this whole week with the first team as they scheme for Saturday's home contest with Louisiana Tech. Quite a sudden change of practice pace, eh?

"I was always prepared to play, but yeah, I never expected to. In the back of my mind I was like if anything happens to someone, God forbid but I would be the next guy stepping up. So I was always prepared." In fact, Day added, preparing just about the same way as before when he was running backup to Saulsberry. For that matter he finds actual game action not all that different from how Hevesy drills his Dogs.

"Yeah, it's basically just like practice out there a lot. I guess it will be faster! But we kind of know what they're doing and I'm getting a feel for the game."

A forced feel, that is. After redshirting all of 2010, Day definitely figured to play on opening night as soon as State got Memphis under control. They did and he did. Auburn was another matter.

But when Saulsberry was helped off the field with a sprained knee early in the second half, Day found himself triggering a SEC offense into action. "I would say I did good but could have done a lot better," is his evaluation. The record shows State went on one touchdown drive and came up a yard short on the next one, with most of the ground gained via rushing at that. Vick Ballard's scoring lunge went right through Day's gap, too.

"Man, it wasn't all me but I knew I had to do it. I didn't want to be the guy to let everyone down, ‘oh, Dillon messed us up'. That's what I was thinking, so I was playing the best I could." The effort was acceptable against Auburn. But five days later the call came much earlier, when a third-snap injury to Tobias Smith moved Saulsberry over to right guard, and against a much more daunting Tiger team.

"LSU was a complete different defensive line! Playing the whole game was intense." So much so Day was seriously sore afterwards and in need of the three-day break Dan Mullen gave all his Dogs.

Now Mullen and Hevesy are awaiting last looks at LT James Carmon, out the last six quarters with his own knee injury, to settle the starting lineup for Louisiana Tech. Alternate tackle Blaine Clausell could move to a guard spot in that case and let Saulsberry back at center…but no one will know for another day at least. Day takes the practical approach: prepare to start and await assignment.

"Practicing with the twos you do everything hard, don't get me wrong. But it's a different mindset because you're like I'm going to be starting, everyone is watching. It's in your hand so you've got to do it."

Day doesn't lack for confidence, understand. He served his redshirt time, took his scout team shots, spent spring getting lots of first- and second-squad snaps. He was as prepared as any second-fall frosh could be for these unexpected demands. Still, the 19-year-old (with an October 17 birthday) isn't so self-assured as not to welcome alllllll the aid he can get. Specifically, from a seasoned snapper like Saulsberry to his right side, and old hand Gabe Jackson on the left. "It helps a ton," he said.

"But center is kind of the role you have to take over control, you have to ID everything, tell everybody which way they're going. But having Quentin and Gabe there is a huge asset to me and what I do." Oh, and there is another sizable asset close to hand…literally. Day doesn't deny a high or off-line hike at times, and how quarterback Chris Relf has saved the, ummm, day.

"Oh, it's amazing. He helps me out sometimes too because I'll do something wrong and he'll fix it. He's a tremendous factor too and a great player. I guess he's helping me look good!" The larger point is that anything and everything about the line of scrimmage is a tag-team affair and it only takes one weak link for the whole crew to look bad.

"I couldn't do without them. I mean, I know everything to do, but everybody is going to mess up and I'm the youngest one so I guess they expect me to mess up more! I prepare so much and I don't want it to happen."

Not this or any week. West Monroe native Day would like the shot at starting against another home-state squad. Two fellow WMHS alumni are on the Tech team, both a few years older; and there are others from Monroe proper coming to town. "There's a defensive lineman that went to a rival school," he said, referring to 330-pound Justin Ellis. "They call him ‘Jellybean'!" said Day, who for the record reported a 296 playing weight Tuesday.

The real test for Day and all MSU Dogs is treating Louisiana Tech with the same focus and effort as they did Louisiana State. If anything Day is glad the other Bulldogs put on an offensive show at Houston as a reminder State can't relax for a non-conference foe.

"Oh, man, you take every game seriously. But that definitely is a factor."

The larger factor is that Day is spending a week working number-one, with all the attention it will bring for Saturday's first snap. This won't be coming off a bench, it will be setting a tone right from the start and no excuses are accepted any more.

"It puts a lot of weight on my shoulders. But it makes me feel good that they can count on me and I can be I guess like a go-to guy." Oh, and about that no-excuses bit…yeah, Day really wished he'd known about that alleged leeway Hevesy allowed last week.

"It's too late, now," he shrugged.


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