A Fan Day For Dogs Of All Ages

He's used to grabbing opposing ballcarriers. Or even getting his own hands on the football, whether as a Bulldog linebacker now or back in the high school quarterbacking days. But taking the hand-off of an infant for a photograph request? Now this had Cameron Lawrence suddenly channeling his inner Ricky Bobby.

"That's what I think about, he says ‘kissing hand and shaking babies'!" an amused Lawrence said…once he'd safely handed the baby back to parental care. "But it's fun. I tell you, I think it's funny!"

Funny and just fun. Lawrence's unexpected posing-partner was part of Fan Day festivities to complete Mississippi State's preseason. From now until next Saturday afternoon the Bulldogs and their boosters can focus—obsess even—over kicking everything off at Scott Field.

For players Fan Day serves as a sort-of milestone in the annual August regimen; the end of training camp and start of game week. For supporters? It was their chance to meet and greet the 2012 team in-person, and an estimated crowd of 3,000 showed up. This despite morning rains which didn't dampen the enthusiasm, most obviously from the 300 or so who endured the drizzle waiting for Palmeiro Center doors to open at noon.

Once inside they took turns posing for photos with the Bullys, both the cheerleader mascot and noble Champ himself; or with the Golden Egg, which by purest coincidence was commemorating a 1,000th day of uninterrupted Mississippi State possession. A special backdrop was ordered just for this, costing a reported $700 and good for this date only with the ‘1,000 days' designation. These Bulldogs will try to make Dan Mullen the first State coach to win four-straight games against Ole Miss since Allyn McKeen in1939-42. Mullen is already 3-0 in the rivalry.

Such reminders of this ongoing success motivated the masses to turn out on Fan Day, and line-up for player autographs in string doubling-around the Center floor. Yes, the Bulldogs noticed And appreciated.

"I mean this is what its all about," said Lawrence, who was attending his fourth and final Fan Day. "We put in the hard work, and when we come here and see fans fired-up and excited about the season? Honestly, we wouldn't do it if it wasn't for the fans. Loyal fans like this are the reason we do what we do."

Well, that and the chance to prove their own prowess in the twelve regular season games ahead and hoped-for bowl trip to boot. The real grind is about to begin…but compared to what they've been doing this month State players regard the next three months as, well, as play. The prospect of a real game had Lawrence calling on the typical first game-week cliché.

"Absolutely. We've been beating-up on each other, you know, maroon-vs.-maroon for three weeks it seems like now. We're ready to hit somebody in another jersey now. I know I am."

Any player will express this need for real action at this point of preseason. And any honest athlete will claim confidence that it will be a good year. Thing is, when these Mississippi State players talk in such upbeat terms there is real strength behind the words. Especially here in 2012 from the defensive squad. Lawrence has seen some pretty good groups already at State, not to mention played some great ones in the Southeastern Conference.

So his opinion must be accepted seriously.

"Right now we've got all the confidence in the world," Lawrence said today. "We've got top talent, we've got guys that have bought into the program. We've got good number two players. We've got what it takes to be a great defense this year."

Lawrence is correct that this Dog defense should have all the pieces in all the places. This could be one of if not the deepest defenses in many, many Mississippi State seasons. The official two-deep lineup published by media relations on Friday is just that, a two-deep, and so doesn't have room to list everyone expected to contribute.

Take linebackers for a good instance. Senior Lawrence returns for a second season starting on one outside, while on the other is listed junior Deonte Skinner who came on so strong the second half of '11. One ‘official' adjustment is showing OLB Matthew Wells now behind Lawrence and not Skinner, as was the case in spring practices and early preseason. The fact is, both will play whether in alternating with each other or spelling Lawrence too. Coordinator Chris Wilson is serious about reducing total snaps for his starters. Just the fact he could consider resting a 123-tackler producer (last season) like Lawrence speaks volumes about confidence in the alternates, the backups, even the reserves of this squad.

And, as Lawrence reminds, the variety.

"We've got all kind of packages. That's the thing about our defense, we're so versatile. We've got Matt Wells and his speed outside, an in-space linebacker. We've got Deonte Skinner who is big, strong run-stopper. We've kind of got it all." Ditto for the front line where the interior tackle spots really are three-deep. Or cornerbacks, so seasoned that one of them, senior Corey Broomfield, is tentatively listed to start at safety so Darius Slay can open on a corner. And on and on it goes.

Then again expectations of the 2012 defense have been sky-high all along. What has raised eyebrows and hopes both this preseason are reports from the other side. So much good has been said so often by Bulldog coaches about the offense that, well, it sounds too good to be true.

Yet it is true per Lawrence, who as a proud linebacker doesn't like giving his counterparts too much credit you know. "I hate to hype them up too much!" he smiles. "You know, I'd like to kind of surprise the MSU nation. But the sky is the limit for our offense right now. That's what I can say."

A week from now actions replace words anyway. So Lawrence and teammates can now turn attention from preparing themselves, to preparing for a real opponent. Just in time says the linebacker, who has let the hair grow back out lately from the summer cut. "It's a slow process but it's coming back."

But there will still be one Lawrence involved with camping a little longer. '11 alumnus and offensive tackle Addison Lawrence is on a free-agent contract with Baltimore and battling to make the roster, as a guard. "They just had their third preseason game Thursday," reports Cam. "So he's hanging in there, going in and getting reps late in the fourth quarter. So I'm proud for him."

And glad to cross another day off his own preseason countdown. Not least because getting a grip on halfbacks is much less stressful than taking hold of somebody's child. No, Lawrence had no idea who that fan family was. "But I feel like they trust me to hand me their baby! So it's fun.

"I'm definitely not the greatest with kids but I guess I do have a little gentle side to me, somewhere."

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