Green is correct. Not many collegians at all are granted a sixth season of eligibility. Nor seek it for that matter, since such situations almost inevitably involve injuries and setbacks which…well, which take the fun out of playing the game. Goodness knows Green falls into the first category with his shaky health record.
But not the latter category. To all appearances the 24-year-old tight end is having as much fun now as any rookie on the roster. More, even.
"I'm just about helping the team any possible way I can. With me being the oldest guy on the team, it's just playing a leadership role."
Don't get any idea Green's role is purely intangible. Old he may be in college years, and only Tobias Smith has a longer injury history on this team. Yet this is one veteran Bulldog who has plenty of tricks left to show Mississippi State opponents. Green's return was a very welcome boost at the tight end position.
Any doubts that he was ready to roll again were settled quickly and emphatically during the season opener. On the second snap of the second quarter, Green got open over the middle for Tyler Russell's completed 18-yard throw and rambled to the one-yard line. In the process he collided with a Jackson State safety and rattled the Tiger's helmet free, while Green shrugged off the contact. LaDarius Perkins finished things off with a touchdown dive.
Actually Green had been involved in another contact at the end of the first quarter, drawing an offensive interference call. It didn't stop the series concluding successfully though. And next time Mississippi State got the ball it was Green completing a drive. On 3rd-and-6 at the 13-yard line after a couple of Nick Griffin dives, Green got ahead of his coverage running right-to-left in back of the end zone.
Russell found him for Green's fifth career touchdown catch and the first since last October at UAB. "It felt great, just representing the home team," said Green. A low-key comment maybe but the big grin told the true tale. Besides, on that particular series Green had also checked-up in a route and missed a wide-open throw from Russell. "I got kind of frustrated, but at the end of the day either make the play or come back and make the next one." Which Green obviously did.
Russell had no post-game complaints, either. The quarterback is just delighted that the old Dog is on the job again.
"It's a good feeling to have Marcus Green back. Just from a leadership standpoint, he's been in the program a long time, he knows what to expect. I know I can trust him and can make some of the tougher throws I wouldn't try to make, just because he's going to be in the right spot and make those tough catches."
A two-grab game was a fine way to celebrate an unexpected return, as Green didn't get good word of the sixth season until middle of summer. In fact he already had a job offer lined up at another college. But Green hung around State just in case.
"He kept himself going, he was still working out with team in summer," Coach Dan Mullen said. It showed as soon as preseason camp opened, too, as Green practiced like the old hand he is. "I guess when you've been around as long as he has, you know what the season is all about. It's not like it took him a long time to get ready for the season, and even improvements he makes are very slight." Because, Mullen meant, Green was already operating at such an advanced system level.
"Two-a-days kind of took care of the rust," Green said. "So for me it was getting out there and having fun."
Having a proven tight end, and a physical one at that, was made much more important when sophomore Malcolm Johnson tore a pectoral muscle in an off-campus July accident. Johnson is due back soon fortunately, but Mississippi State didn't need to go into SEC season this week with only two scholarship tight ends and one of those a just-activated redshirt.
Now Green has added some coaching responsibility to the to-do list, working with Brandon Hill. The sophomore had a pair of opening-game catches too. "Brandon understands it comes down to me and him with Malcolm being out. And if I go down he has step up. For him it's paying attention to my mistakes and me paying attention and trying to help him out."
This Saturday marks something of an anniversary for Green, though not one he cares to recall. Two years ago with Auburn in town Green had to limp to the Scott Field sideline with a gimpy knee. "It was like a sharp pain. Like anything you try to shake pain off but that was one pain that wouldn't go away."
Hopes that it was merely a sprain faded, and Green would miss the rest of the season. This was all the more frustrating as a pelvic muscle and joint condition limited him to one 2008 appearance and a lengthy recovery once a specialist found the exact problem and fixed it. Green came back strong in 2009 with 27 catches, 306 yards, and three touchdowns…including the memorable leaping end-zone grab that put State in control of Mullen's first Egg Bowl victory.
So while Green doesn't regard the Tigers as responsible for the last setback, this weekend has some special meaning. "It was two years ago I got hurt in this game. So for me this game is very important, its very emotional." Not just for Green, either. Last year at Auburn a slow start and frustrating finish cost the Bulldogs a winnable SEC game. Green went catch-less in it, too, though State did pile up big yards otherwise.
"We just stopped ourselves. In a game like this it's just all about execution. We look back on the film and realize hey, we put ourselves in a position where we didn't get over the hump. We're focusing on just being focused, and execution."
Meanwhile Green is taking care of off-field business. He already has a bachelors degree and is on track for a masters this winter in education leadership, something he says can be used in many professional ways and at different levels. Of course he maintains the goal that some NFL franchise will give him a shot next summer.
"I ain't planning on giving up, hopefully I'm in somebody's camp." Though one can't resist asking: with all the time spent around doctors and trainers and rehab over his career, what about a medical career? "I kind of thought about it!" he laughed.
For now though all thought are on the all-important Western Division showdown Saturday. Green was redshirting back in 2007, the last time a Bulldog team beat Auburn, but he saw what an early-season Division victory means to the overall season. State has proven a loss won't break anything…but the Dogs do know a win can make so much more possible down the road.
"The main thing is just about execution for us."