Staley “Challenges Are Always Fun”

Of all the unlikely things an athlete may say in preseason, Elijah Staley likely set the standard this week. The subject was that injured right knee, the question how it has impacted his development. The answer? “It really helped me being hurt.”

We’ll pause while the statement is absorbed.

Now. As strange as it will read to outsiders, those close to Mississippi State know exactly what Elijah Staley means. And why he is exactly correct.

Because while Staley limped through most of his redshirt freshman spring, his learning pace as a college quarterback took flight. What seemed a setback at the time has put him in a much stronger position to perform here in preseason, and hopefully get into real game action during the real season.

Call it a great bad break, huh? “Yeah, it definitely was,” Staley said. Limited mobility meant becoming a better-rounded ballplayer without defaulting so soon to his still-raw and very impressive athletic gifts. Or be a true quarterback.

“Especially in the red zone areas, I used to just tuck the ball and run. Because I didn’t like reading defenses. But now that I had to sit in the pocket and see what’s going on it’s really helped me mature a lot offensive-wise and knowing what I’m looking at and stuff.”

What Mississippi State’s staff looks at when Staley is on the field, in the shotgun set and judging the defense, is pure unlimited potential. Staley has proven even more impressive a specimen since coming to college than his recruiting reputation, and that’s saying lots. Standing an honest 6’6” and packing something like 230-240 pounds depending on time of day, Staley is the easiest offensive ID on the practice field.

And when he fires a pass… Tales of young quarterback arm strength are legion everywhere. Staley, though, is legit. “I feel I can throw the ball forever!” he boasted, and all who saw him mimic State’s punters in spring camp—often achieving better distance and hang time than anything kicked—won’t argue.

So the tools are abundant. Knowledge how to put them to good use? That is where Staley is playing some serious catch-up. Which he is wise enough to understand.

Welcome, even.

“It’s fun. And challenging. I mean, now I’m starting to get into a more complicated things. Last year I was more like basics, now they’re trying to show me the things that Dak (Prescott) goes through. So it’s fun and challenging. Challenges are always fun to me.”

First is getting back to complete health. Staley still wears a brace on the right knee, and remains a little limited. Quarterbacks Coach Brian Johnson is patient; Staley finds dialing it back a little tougher.

“Man, I’m just attacking everything I do right now. Everything that we do I try to give 110%. I’m not pacing myself at all. I just want to make sure I get healthy, that’s what I’m focusing on right now. Making sure I get 100% before I get ready to step back on the field in team situations.”

We’re talking physical health remember. Mentally, Staley finds himself making fast strides thanks to some veteran tutoring. “Being in the film room with Dak and Damian (Williams), they really help me out a lot. Being on the side during practice I get to see a lot of things that I would have missed previously or if I was on the field. So I really feel I’m more comfortable. I’m being able to see a lot more coverages of the defense. I’m doing better.”

It does make maturing a little smoother for Staley that he figures his services should not be required in 2015. “I’ve got time, Dak is here so I’m not worried about trying to hurry up and get on the field,” he said. By the same token Staley can see classmate Nick Fitzgerald already working his way up to #2, partly because Williams was also slowed in spring ball.

Still Staley downplays suggestions of urgency and the idea Fitzgerald is moving way in front for the starting job in 2016. The relationship among all the young quarterbacks is fine, he said.

“Oh, man, we’re all cool. We really don’t think about it like that. I help Nick, he helps me. I help (Nick) Tiano. We all help each other. So we know once the spring comes it’s competition time. But we’re all good friends, we hang out, we text every day, we talk every day. So it’s all good.”

Meanwhile Staley continues to consider another option. Up to his January 2014 signing with Mississippi State he was regarded as a better basketball prospect than football recruit. Certainly Staley looks like a pure power forward, and he did get a taste of college hoops as a winter walk-on for the previous staff.

Now Ben Howland is in charge of Bulldog basketball, and Staley said he’d still like a chance to be a two-sport man for MSU. “I talked to Coach Howland last spring, he said after the season is over make sure I’m healthy and everything, I could come back out there and try again.”

Or maybe as Staley gets into varsity football and finds his footing on that field, he’ll choose to focus on his scholarship sport. One where all that pure potential remains to be developed and displayed.

“I’m excited about this season coming up,” Staley said. “I feel a lot a lot smarter, I feel stronger upper body-wise, my leg is getting stronger. I’m just excited.”


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