Senior Says “It’s Time To Show Up”

His first reaction was hurting for an injured teammate. The second thought? “Get better at everything I have to do,” says Justin Senior, who finds himself a rung higher on the offensive tackle depth chart ten days before kickoff.

“Before, when you’re a two you feel like you have time to get better. But now every day I really want to be perfect.”

Senior has a point, that whatever extra time he had to keep learning the craft has abruptly run out for reasons beyond any control. When senior OT Damien Robinson was ruled out for the 2014 season with a knee injury, suddenly Senior was thrust into the spotlight. On Monday he found himself taking first-team snaps at right tackle.

Senior isn’t a solo act at that end of the Mississippi State offensive line of course. Converted tight end Rufus Warren has been matching practice snaps with him on the second rotation. Sophomore Cole Carter has been put into the tackle mix as well since spring and is making strides. Then there is OG Justin Malone, now asked to work at tackle too.

What it means is competition only intensifies for everyone…while Senior sees his shot at first-team status suddenly turn much more promising. “If you’re talking about competition, it just makes it real,” he says.

”Before you felt you had no chance starting just because the guy (Robinson) had been there a while. But now it feels like it’s competition every single day not to mess up, to be the one to be perfect that day.”

Competition is part of Senior’s extra incentive this month. Perfection, now, might be a lot to ask of himself. It’s encouraging to hear a still-developing offensive lineman set such an optimistic standard, not that Senior expects any slack to be allowed.

“No, I should have been good by now. Every day it’s work. I’ve been doing the same reps as Damien, the same reps as Justin was doing. So really now it’s time to show up.” And show up 100% every drill, every scrimmage snap, or “I personally think everything. Even when I have a good day I still feel like I need to get better.”

Fans familiar with Senior’s background understand why. First, he’s an import from Montreal with just a couple of year’ high school football in Canada and another year of American prep school play. Second, he’s still young as a third-year sophomore having turned 20 in July. He signed with Mississippi State at age 17, in fact!

And third, only now has Senior come into his ‘college body’. Coach Dan Mullen figured the youngster would ultimately put pounds on his 6-5 frame and after three heavy years of work Senior now looks every ounce the part. Having come to campus around 250 pounds “Now I’m 300.” And yes, Senior welcomes the weight.

“Well definitely. Because now I can’t get bull-rushed. Before I was just too small and going against people 300 pounds running the same speed I’m running, it just isn’t going to work out no matter technique.”

By the same token now his technique is being held to a higher standard, and not just by Coach John Hevesy. Perfection, remember? It would be interesting though to know what Senior considers flawless form because he doesn’t even care much about all the compliments sent his way this preseason by even his demanding line boss.

“I’ve been getting a lot of praise for fall camp. But personally I don’t know, maybe I’m a perfectionist. But I think I got a little bit better than I was before. Really I just want to be perfect and until that my fall camp was OK.” So, each day Senior pesters his peers for honest evaluation. Or each snap for that matter. He wants every extra tip a veteran might offer, too.

“I really just ask the entire offensive line to be watching what I’m doing. Every time I take a rep I want everybody’s feedback. Usually it’s my timing, just be better with my hand timing. My hands have gotten way better but can still get better.” By the way, it isn’t just his offensive cohorts assisting Senior’s development. Much as Dog defensive ends want to beat him every drill, they also want to aid their own offense by honing the young tackle’s skills.

“I love going against those guys, Preston and Ryan. Because I feel until I can lock them down I have a lot of work to do. Especially people like Preston!” Yeah, since senior Smith doesn’t often bull-rush a tackle, he just races on past. Senior welcomes each such test though he admits noticing a tendency to ‘hurry’ in pass blocking situations.

“And I don’t want to say be more aggressive but be under control. Like Coach says slow down a little bit, because I want to go faster.”

Senior does has one trump card in his tackle-deck so far; he was in the opening lineup for the Bowling Green game last year when LT Blaine Clausell was sidelined. One start, sure, but there are few mental transitions for a developing Dog than getting that first start.

“It got rid of any kind of jitters, basically. I ran in and started at 270, and now I’m better so really it should be easier. But I don’t know.” As in, only opening game 2014 will prove how far Senior has truly matured…just the same as all his fellow tackle contenders. Malone looks to be the most immediate competitor based on coach talk this week, though the junior guard only stepped over to tackle Tuesday for the first time this camp.

”And he’s doing pretty good too,” Senior says. “And I want to be better than him for sure.” Because three years into the system Senior figures now is his time, regardless of fewer years in football or fewer years than most Bulldog blockers period.

“Yeah, age really doesn’t mean anything to me. Just body-wise I’m the same size, same build. I still have the same responsibility to step up like the rest of my teammates. The fact I’m younger means I have more time in the long run but doesn’t mean I can slack off or take excuses.”

No slack, no excuses, and for that matter now no fears. This is opportunity, says Senior. “I’ve got to a pretty good place.”

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