It has been two years, since Elijah Staley has taken a snap that was recorded in the official box score. After seeing his senior season shortened, Staley enrolled at Mississippi State the summer of his true freshman year ready to compete.
A knee injury sidelined Staley before the Bulldogs were done with their 2014 season. The lingering effects of that ailment limited Staley's play this spring. Two games into his redshirt freshman season, Staley could see the field this weekend in a non-conference match-up with Northwestern State.
"I'm excited. I'm ready to play," Staley said with a smile. "I'm kind of nervous honestly. That's how I am. I always get nervous before I go play. I am anxious to play, so I am studying making sure I am ready to play. I am just read for Saturday to get here, so if I get in the game I can go do what I do."
Recently given the all clear medically, Staley took part in some of the fall scrimmages. While those practice reps helped him get back into the flow of things, the Georgia native is ready for that first hit of a real college game.
"It felt good," Staley said of the scrimmage action. "I ran like I run and I passed. It didn't really affect me. The first few plays, I was sort of scared. I didn't want anybody to roll into it. I am ready to go now.
"I am just ready to go. Being hit just clears my nerves. Every time I get hit, I'm ready to go. It's been a while since I've played, so I am anxious."
While the Bulldogs hope to have some breathing room between them and their opposition, the Northwestern State Demons, there is no plan in place that Staley can look towards and know when his time may come.
"We're all just getting ready to play like we're going to start," Staley said. "We all prepare the same way. Maybe when I knew I wasn't going to play last year, I didn't pay attention. Now I have to go home and look at the game plan and look at the scouting report. When I get in meetings the next day, Coach is not just going to ask Dak. He is going to ask me and ask Nick. I just have to be ready for whatever comes at me."
Having a Heisman candidate as a mentor has helped Staley learn how to prepare to compete on high level as a college player.
"Dak just kind of guides me," Staley said. "He's making sure I'm ready to play. On the way to the Southern Miss game, I didn't know if I was going to play or not. I sat in the back of the bus with Dak and we went through the whole game plan to make sure that I was ready. He helps me whenever I need it if I text him or call him. If I need him to sit down with me or explain something to me at practice, he will just tell me."
The life of the back-up quarterback is not always an easy one. They simply know when their number will be called, so they ride the roller coaster between being ever ready and holding a clipboard watching the starter play.
Staley reports that working through all of the drills and meetings enables him to keep his mind sharp, so when he is called into action he will be prepared to play at a high level.
"You just have to stay prepared at all times," Staley said. "It's like Coach Mullen said to me and Nick at halftime the other day, 'You're one play away'. I have to prepare like I am getting in the game in one play. That's just how I look at it and I keep studying to get better and better."
There was talk that Staley may give basketball another go once the Bulldogs' football season is complete, but those discussions have been tabled for now. The talented left hander reports that his focus right now is on the season at hand.
"I feel like I am more calm as a football player," Staley said. "I am not as anxious anymore. I feel like I'm a lot stronger. I feel like I'm ready to go. I'm a lot stronger mentally too. It's like Coach Mullen says, 'Strain your brain'. I've been straining a lot more this year learning all of these plays. I'm learning all of the checks and learning different defenses and all of the coverages. I am just mentally stronger as a player."
The Bulldogs came up just short last week against LSU in the first home game of the season. Staley reports that his team is eager to return to the field to push the sting of last week's loss further away.
"Everybody is anxious and ready to go," Staley said. "Everybody is ready to go win. Everybody is excited. The coaches are turnt up, everybody is just turnt up."
Mississippi State returns to action this weekend against Northwestern State. Kickoff is set for 3 PM and tickets remain available.