"It really is. They've taught me a lot out here, they're like big brothers to me. I just have to take on that leadership role in the corner room and have the guys ready by next year." The other guys being himself, Taveze Calhoun, and some even younger contenders for cornerback jobs come spring training.
In fact it is slightly startling for Love to recognize come January 2 he is the ‘old guy' among scholarship cornerbacks in that meeting room. Love turned 22 back in November so he's got both live-time and age on his cohorts. With tenure comes responsibility, too.
"But I think I can handle it, me and Taveze just have to be focused and play to our best abilities."
Love has been refreshing those abilities here during Gator Bowl practices, a lot. For the first eight sessions he and Calhoun had the temporary privilege of being first-team cornerbacks too, as departing starters Banks, Slay, and Broomfield took their well-earned breaks. That changed Monday when specific scheming for bowl opponent Northwestern began; the seniors resumed their first-squad status.
But as 2012 showed, Love and Calhoun can expect post-season snaps of their own since they are the backups. They aren't serving scout-team duty this week, they are practicing for real…and for '13 too in a sense. "That's why I come out here to play my best every day," Love said. "And this time right now is really helping me and all the other guys. Because some teams aren't getting this chance to rep during this time and it's giving us an advantage for the next season."
Love already had something of a leg-up on the next season. He had 23 tackles in the regular '12 slate (Calhoun got in on 24, interestingly) whether in defensive back work or on special teams. Not only that but Love got to start a SEC game, when State opened in a nickel-package against Texas A&M, as a sophomore. This pointed up what the defensive staff thinks of his talents not just at corner but as an extra safety-type too.
His highlight was obvious. It came early in the third quarter in State's home-field finale as Love stepped in front of the intended Arkansas receiver and came away with his first collegiate interception. The theft really gave Love the feeling that he finally belonged in a secondary that as of now boasts no less than 40 combined interceptions.
"Oh man, it was a great feeling to get my first pick. I'd been waiting on it all year, you know! And it finally came."
Getting on the interceptions chart is one proof of progress. An even better gauge though comes in that corner (position, not literally) room when Love watches the current #24 going about business…and compares him to the redshirt rookie of 2011. To be sure he got in on 18 tackles that year, one of them in the Music City Bowl, and showed the expected potential. But this year Love can watch himself on the screen from a much, much more experienced perspective. Just as it should be, he agreed.
"When I first got here I wasn't really sure how to play this game. But I see you have to play with fast, relentless effort. And now that I know that go wide-open all the time."
That theory continues on into 2013 too. Even though Love returns with the most individual experience on the cornerbacks roster he is far from assured of, well, anything. Part of becoming a veteran is helping develop some kids who come March will want the job for themselves.
And from what Love has seen, Cedric Jiles and Will Redmond have the tools to take it.
"Those guys are young, talented guys," Love said. Redmond redshirted this year but Jiles got on the field immediately as a true freshman, playing three games before a cracked hand put him on the sideline. Keeping this kid there will take a lot more in 2013, and Love has actually been assisting his top competitor already!
"This year I've been helping Jiles out because we play the same position, field corner. I just try to teach him some things I'm doing and he's a very talented young guy. So I try to show him the ropes and do everything the right way. He's a true corner, he's got it all."
That presumably pits Calhoun against Redmond for boundary cornerback, assuming State sticks with this sort of scheme. Lurking as well is redshirt Xavier Grindle, who suffered a summer setback with his knee injury. He should be good to go in spring. "You just have to teach the guys," said Love. "Anything they mess-up on I just try to teach them the right thing to do, and keep guiding those guys in the right direction to be better."
"All of us are going to work hard and by the time next year we'll see what the results will be, who are going to be the starters."
By virtue of his defensive position Love is qualified to comment on another group of Bulldog underclassmen. It's not just the secondary that has to replace its primary players after all; the offense is losing all three starting wide receivers. Love has been testing his own skills against the '12 backups and redshirts this fall and can offer his insights.
"I know Joe Morrow, Fred Brown, Gus Walley, they're really going to contribute to this team. I feel those guys are real good. Fred has the speed and Joe, y'all see what he can do. Gus is one to watch out for, man, because he is giving us a lot of trouble during scout-team this year. He does his job every day, he goes hard and when the ball comes to him he's going to haul it in. I put him in the category of Malcolm, more like a receiver."
What of the name not mentioned, then? No need to fret about Brandon Holloway, because this redshirt is in category to himself. Cornerback Love doesn't often have to chase the slot receivers but he has gotten a gauge on Holloway. A fast one.
"Ohhh, man, that guy! I've lined up on him a couple of times. He's super-fast and has a lot of talent, I'm pretty sure he's going to help this team in a lot of ways, special teams or offense." So fears about fall-off in Mississippi State's receiving corps ought to be eased a little, based on Love's expert opinion. "We're going to be young but that's what this time is for, and the off-season, to get better."
And, to accustom himself to a different, larger position when Bulldog cornerbacks gather for their first 2013 meetings. "I'm just going to take on my role in the corner room and lead the guys and just try to be the leader Banks was to this team. And just keep it going."