Offensive Line Coach Says Season Results are Set by Off-Season Effort

This will likely surprise and possibly aggravate some. But to hear Coach John Hevesy, a football team’s winter record is not determined in fall. That’s what he is telling his offensive linemen, at least.

“I told them we’re 8-4 for a reason. Not what we did this season, what we did January-February-March-April-May-June-July last year. That’s where you win and lose games. You don’t win or lose games during seasons, that happened off-season.”

Interesting idea, that Mississippi State’s fate was settled before August practicing. Hevesy does make a case though, based on staff review of 2015 for the full calendar campaign.

“We went back and looked at all the little things, from the weight room to the summer to development to individual drill work we did in the off-season. Spring practice. That’s to me where we need to develop better.”

There’s no argument Bulldog blocking needs much, much better development if the 2016 offense is to succeed. To be fair this ’15 line wasn’t as bad as perceived. It was just not good enough to beat the best SEC opponents on the schedule.

Thus, and for more reasons beyond the blocking, the 8-4 with a 4-4 league record. Which is also why a year after the Orange Bowl, this team will bowl in Charlotte. No, no position coach predicted it would be an eight-win club in August. In retrospect though the stage was set.

That’s the message Hevesy gives every returning and redshirted linemen. “We need to work harder. We need to take care of little things.” As little as being late for a class or not posting as strong a grade average as possible.

“Everything else that goes into this season. That’s what we have to do a better job at, especially my group. We have to do a better job starting for next season. I’m not talking about into this bowl game, from January 1 on to this time next year. If our off-season is better than last year, we’ll be better than last year.”

Objectivity requires reminding that even non-coaches with no knowledge of off-season work had concerns about Bulldog blocking. Replacing three proven ’14 players of 113 combined starts raised alarms that State downplayed spring and summer. Inside the offices, they had to know…and apparently they did just by comparing clubs.

“Two years ago we had a great off-season, we had a great gpa in the spring,” Hevesy said. “We had great workouts, great leadership in the summer workouts, that’s why we won ten games. That’s where they have to get to.” ‘They’ as in the 2016 line candidates.

Mississippi State returns four players with 37 combined starts from the past season before the bowl game. Center Jamaal Clayborn and right guard Devon Desper have opened all 12 regular season games, right tackle 11, and the lone backup tackle Elgton Jenkins twice at each end of the line. Guard Deion Calhoun has yet to start but did see plenty of action.

Well and good, but past is…well, it’s about to be past. “I tell them all once the season’s over, it’s a free-for-all,” Hevesy said. “There’s no starters. There’s no one that graded out 95% every game, I’d say if there was he’s got a head start.”

Speaking of head starts… Bowl games mean many things. Reward, party, opportunity, just playing one more game, and so on. Hevesy and his fellow Bulldog position coaches lean to ‘so on’.

It’s about preparing for the next season.

“That’s the whole reason for going to a bowl game. You get to take those freshmen, the redshirted kids, the kids that haven’t played really all season; and get them really back to base fundamentals.”

He was referring to the first phase of Bulldog bowl camp. That ended Tuesday, before Coach Dan Mullen turned attention to preparing to play North Carolina State in the Belk Bowl. That job is ongoing right now.

But once the bowl is played, the 2016 season takes priority. And what Hevesy saw over five December practices will loom large come March.

“It really becomes five days of spring practice so you get kind of a little bit of what they can do, but more of teaching them base fundamentals. And all our kids go back to base fundamentals, instead of worry about schemes and all the other stuff go back to fundamentals.”

It isn’t ‘all’ linemen that Hevesy has focused on up to now. It is all the blockers who did not get many or even any live snaps in 2015. “They’ve been playing on scout team almost all the season.” For almost a week they got to operate the real Mississippi State offense, which to maybe the line coach more than most makes earning bowl trips every year vital.

“We have a long way to go. But just the fact they get to be coached, learn things. Now it’s the stuff you have to retain, and watch the film of those guys in the off-season of what you did, how you’ve got to change, how you get better. But overall it was decent.”

Then again by historical standards 8-4, 4-4 was better than decent at Mississippi State. It’s just that standards are held higher now.

And that sometime next July, these coaches must develop a Dog team capable of better than decent.

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