Griffin Enjoying Bowl Trip, But Thinking 2012

It's the annual question for underclassmen. What looms larger in their minds: the end of this season, or getting a jump on the next? "I guess you could say the bowl," Nick Griffin opines, admittedly after thinking it over. "You've just got to take it one game at a time. So I can't look too far ahead, I just come out here and work hard and compete."

Which Griffin has certainly done over the course of Music City Bowl preparations. The second-year freshman running back has worked hard and competed well, whether in practices or scrimmages or whatever December situation thrown at him. It is to Griffin's credit because, as the depth chart reminds, older Dogs can expect to carry the ball against Wake Forest this Friday. Especially as seniors Vick Ballard and Robert Elliott are wearing the uniform for their final times.

Instead of standing back and letting peers have all the bowl camp fun, though, Griffin has stuck his facemask right into the middle of every opportunity. "Like I said, right now I'm just taking it a day at a time and working towards winning this bowl game." True…which in no way negates at least some thoughts turning to the future, eh?

But that's the point, according to Griffin.

"I think about it all the time. I'm just trying to stay hungry and one day at a time," he said. "Get better, work hard, and good things will happen."

Of course Griffin had hoped such things would have already happened by now. Perhaps not a prime-time role here in 2011, understand. Ballard and LaDarius Perkins were going to be the lead Dogs this season anyway. Still he had excellent reason to anticipate a larger role after redshirting through 2010. The best reason? Griffin's outstanding work during Gator Bowl camp which put a whole lot of potential on display.

Then came the April knee injury, surgery, a summer of recovery, and a long-delayed debut in October at UAB. Griffin only got to haul the ball in two more games, against Tennessee-Martin and Ole Miss…hmmm, all three of them victories. For the season he got 16 rushes, 108 yards, and a touchdown on Scott Field against UTM.

Modest stats maybe, but a major step ahead for this Dog. "It just feels good to get a couple of reps and see what I can do, finally," Griffin said. "I think I needed it for a confidence boost more than anything. That I can do this, I can see where I'm at and I can do this."

Where Griffin is at this week is, again, the twilight zone of practicing for his first bowl turn while preparing for his first full season. Those who saw him at work early in bowl work saw one excited kid. First, because the knee held up under camp contact. "It's just a little sore, that's all. No big deal." And second was how Griffin got to work with the first offense. Just like Ballard or Perkins.

"It feels real good with that number-one line, I can tell you that!" he grinned. Like something a fellow could get used to real quick, too. Need one really ask Griffin if he would like to do a lot more of the same in 2012? But for the record, yes.

"I say I'm an every-down back," Griffin said. "Probably like a power runner right now. I'm trying to get more balanced and make all aspects of my game pretty good." And he means ‘all' aspects. Even power runners have to fit into any potential State play call, after all. To that end Griffin avows he can do his part in the passing game. Both part, that is.

"Yeah, I can do that. I think I've got pretty good hands." As for blocking, "I'm getting there, I'm getting there! That's like the biggest thing I need to work on, is blocking."

Still if Griffin gets waved onto the field Friday, he is up to speed as far as the gameplan. Unlike a year ago when wearing the metaphorical redshirt in Jacksonville, he is expected to know all his peers do. Back in September while awaiting the doctor's clearance, or in November awaiting mop-up time turns, Griffin stayed mentally in the game like any veteran would have.

"You can't waste time. And Coach will tell you it's more about the mental aspects than the physical aspect when you come out here. I was trying to understand the offense better, so I could know what everybody else's job is and make my job easier. And just read defenses better and stuff like that."

Something else Griffin was attending to during the long wait for action were those physical aspects, though. He claims a bowl weight of 222 pounds, up a few from summer. "It's those Balis workouts, he gets you right!" Griffin said. "I feel like I'm ready for anything! I think I'm pretty good where I'm at. I think I'm a little faster now, and trying to get even faster! Stronger, bigger, faster."

He must be. See, for all the good things his coaches have to say for a young man that has waited, and waited some more, his time to get in the game, Griffin isn't being handed anything at all this coming off-season. Perkins has two more seasons ahead of course and a head-start on everyone. That Griffin respects. It is the pressure from behind that is new to him.

Pressure provided by Josh Robinson, who this week wraps up his own redshirting season. And at the campus bowl scrimmage last week the younger back put on the show. "I say it does make me want to go harder!" said Griffin. Meaning, he takes nothing for granted about the spring backfield pecking order.

"Oh, I know! I'm just going to have to come out here and compete. Because those guys are pretty good, they're real fast. So I have to come out here and work hard." But, Griffin agreed, the best part is whoever comes out first in the depth chart will still be sharing the ball as Mississippi State's offense tries to expand. That is something he's seen during bowl camp.

Something else he's noticed: between he, Perkins, Robinson, and others, this will be a powerful and versatile Bulldog backfield again. Maybe even better than these two bowl years?

"Yeah, I don't see how anybody can stop us, really. I mean we've got good running backs. We've got great running backs." Who, he expects, will be running fast-forward based on how the offense wants to operate in the bowl game.

"We've got to keep it fast, keep the defense off-guard. Whatever works! It doesn't matter to me, whatever works."

And speaking of work…it begins again for 2011 underclassmen soon enough. The new semester opens on January 9 after all, and not long after the first spring class will come the first off-season meeting with strength coach Matt Balis. For that matter spring football is not so very far away, and along with it Griffin's big chance to stake his claim on 2012 tailback. Yes, he said, he has heard fan and media predictions of big things ahead.

"But I think my expectations are higher than what everybody else's is. I've got to prove to myself first, that I'm pretty good."

Mississippi State has a closed Wednesday practice, the last real work in preparation for Friday's 5:40 kickoff. Coach Dan Mullen will put the Bulldogs through a short Thursday walk-through session in final tune-up for their meeting with the Demon Deacons. State is trying to both achieve consecutive winning seasons, and bowl victories, for the first time since 1999-2000.

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