[Premium Article] Senior middle linebacker T. J. Mawhinney talked to members of the media at Thursday's SEC football media days."> [Premium Article] Senior middle linebacker T. J. Mawhinney talked to members of the media at Thursday's SEC football media days.">

T. J. Mawhinney Talks to the Media

<img src="http://www.genespage.com/images/01players/football/2003/mediaday/mawhinney.jpg" align="left" width="200" height="131"> [Premium Article] Senior middle linebacker T. J. Mawhinney talked to members of the media at Thursday's SEC football media days.

T. J. Mawhinney quotes.

What do you think of Coach Sherrill as a coach?
"He is a great coach. He is a good person year-round and treats you with a lot of respect. He is a player's coach."

Even though he is the dean of coaches in the SEC, do you believe he receives the respect that he deserves from the media and other coaches?
" I would say probably not, but he is a great coach and a good person. So, I have nothing to complain about."

Are you sensing an urgency from Coach Sherrill in terms of how he will approach this season?
"I haven't seen him change anything. I would say he was a little more hands on this spring in terms he was a little more quick to jump on somebody when they were doing wrong. But overall, I haven't seen much difference. It hasn't been anything different in the summer. He has been the same every summer since I have been here. It was just a few times in the spring. He was just trying to help you out."

How much has the talent level changed from the time you stepped foot on the Mississippi State campus to now?
"I don't think the talent level has changed a whole lot. I just think the mental part of it has changed. When I first got here, they were just coming off 8-3, 9-2, 7-4 seasons. The team was upbeat. There wasn't any doubt that that the team was going to beat the team they were lining up against. The year before last we still had that, but it just seemed like everything was going against us and going against us. Last year, it seemed like we just didn't have a strong sense of feeling that we were going out there and win. I'm not saying that was everyone, but it just felt like from little comments here and there that everybody wasn't on the same page."

Are you guys about where you want to be in the preseason rankings? Usually when you are picked last, this is usually when this schools performs the best?
"Yeah, we were picked to win the West a couple of years ago and had a rough year. Maybe it will be the opposite. I know they were picked last in '98 and they went on to win the West. We don't really care where we are picked. It only matters how you finish."

How much easier will be for you as a linebacker knowing that Kevin Dockery and Darren Williams have a year of experience under their belt?
"They were true freshmen last year, but they didn't play like true freshmen. They played good. All of our DBs played pretty good last year at times. It is comforting to know that you do have experience back there. Darren is our vocal leader in the secondary right now. I'm also excited about our front seven."

What do you think about the new pre-season practice where you don't have a lot of two-a-days as you did in the past?
"It will be easier on our bodies. It's a week longer but it's not as congested. It's not two-a-days every day. It's only like every other day after the first week. It will be easier."

How has it gone with the new coaches coming in?
"It is going good. We haven't missed a beat since they have gotten in. Everything has gone smooth, so far. There were a few ruffles at the start of spring due to new schemes and new people."

Have you seen a different attitude from a personnel standpoint?
"Yeah, people aren't running their mouths as much. We had a lot of talking going on from the past couple of years about what people were going to do instead of doing it. Now, nobody is saying anything. Everybody is working harder than I have seen since I have been here. I think everybody is ready to prove what should have been a couple of years ago. I think our action will speak for itself."

There have been a lot of coaching changes but your coach, Coach Tompkins, is still there.
"Yeah, Coach T is still there. That is comforting to know that he is still there. He has helped me a lot. He is a good coach, along with all the others."

Now, you are the linebacker. Last year it was Mario Haggan.
"I don't consider myself the linebacker. Jason is a senior, too. We have a bunch of good linebackers, Kenny Kern and Brandon Downing."

What are the strengths that the other starting linebackers, Jason Clark and Marvin Byrdsong, bring to the team?
"The things I like about them is they never complain, they always play hard, always play fast and they are always aggressive. You have those qualities and you are going to have good players and Jason and Byrd are good players. I figure our linebackers are going to be pretty good this year."

How does having a four-man defensive line change the linebackers responsibilities?
"It actually makes them a little bit easier, to be honest with you. It's a lot easier, especially when teams were lining up with double tight ends and trying to pound you. They were getting us on the corners. Playing four, sometimes five, will allow us to run more like linebackers are supposed to do."

Are you lining up as a pure middle linebacker or will you still be an inside backer like last year?
"This year I get to play pure middle, which I did my sophomore year. Last year, I had to move around outside. I'm more comfortable where I'm at now. It is more of a conventional spot due to how I play. I'm pretty excited about it."

How is playing middle linebacker in the new defense different compared to last season?
"Gap control, meaning that you have certain responsibilities in your gap. The angles are different because we play more defensive linemen. I get to run left to right a little more in terms of last year when I even had to stick my hand on the ground at times. I was so out of positions at times."

Who is your favorite player?
"Zack Thomas of the Dolphins. I like watching him play."

Do you consider yourself that type player?
"I'm not going to say I consider myself the same type player. It's who I enjoy watching. He's probably the most aggressive player that I watch play, although all linebackers in the NFL are aggressive. He's just so fiery that he makes the defense click."

You talk about being aggressive but a middle linebacker's key sometimes is to wait, wait, wait, then go.
"Yeah, I've had it happened to me. It happens to everybody in this league. You get anxious and want to go splatter somebody and they made you look bad. There's too many good backs in this league that will just juke you. We get good practice against them. Unless you have the shot on them and you go in there and try to be aggressive, they will make you look bad."

When you first got to State you were a walk-on. Now, you are going into your third year as a starter. Do you ever reflect on how far you have come?
"Yeah, I do sometimes. I used to sit with my grandfather (Charles Ferguson) and we would watch games. I always knew I could do it, but it seemed like I just never had the chance to do it. I took the chance and here I am."

Who was the guy who helped you get to Mississippi State?
"My grandfather was the one who helped me. He wasn't satisfied with where I was and I wasn't either. It was frustrating. When I left high school, I went to prep school (Hargrave Academy). We had so many good players. One of my good friends, Charles Grant from Georgia, was drafted last year in the first round by the Saints. We were linebackers together at Hargrave. We had 17 players go D-I off that one team. They went to places like Virginia Tech, Ohio State, Auburn, Kentucky, all over the place. It was so frustrating to watch some of these players that you knew you were than and they were still getting the scholarship. But most of it had to do with my grades. I brought that onto myself."

Talk a little more about your relationship with your grandfather.
"I was actually raised by my grandparents in Louisiana. He is my heart. I follow him in everything that he does. He has taught me to be who I am. When he tells me something or gives me advice on something, I listen just because I don't think he would ever do me wrong. He has always given me good advice and always tells me to follow my heart and do what you think is right."

What has he told you about the upcoming season?
"Shut your mouth, play hard and don't worry about anything else."

Were you highly recruited out of high school?
"I was until my junior year. Going into that spring, when coaches would come (by my school), they looked at (my grades) and realized I had no chance (to qualify). I had to go my senior year to the prep school just so that I could graduate from high school. My grades were below a 2.0 average. I was just totally lazy in school. I didn't do the things I needed to do my freshman and sophomore year. I was out when I should have been at home studying. I have learned from my mistakes."

What was the turning point in your academic life?
"Going to Hargrave Prep School. Just being on your own. I was living under momma's wing and had food, shelter and clothes when I needed them. Then, going up there where we are living in barracks and having to march in uniform was a reality check. Nobody wanted to stay there. Everybody wanted to go home, but it was everybody's fault that they were there."

Where did you go from Hargrave?
"I went to a school in Charleston, South Carolina for a year but I wanted to play in the SEC so I went ahead and transferred."

What is the difference between MSU's new defensive coordinator, Ron Cooper, and your former defensive coordinator, Joe Lee Dunn?
"Coach Cooper is a little more hands on, more technical, more personal. Coach Dunn was a good coach. I liked him as a person. But we are really excited about Coach Cooper and what he has done with our defense. We will run more of a modern style defense than we had before."

What happened to State the past two years?
"I wish I had the answer. Two years ago, we lost four or five games by 1, 2, 3, 4 points. The little things were a big deal. Things like third and one and somebody jumped offsides. It was just constant stuff like that, mental stuff that will make or break you. It broke us that year. I don't expect that this year. This group is different. I expect it to be like it used to be, when we went to bowl games."

Coach Cooper is big on his players not making the foolish mistakes or foolish penalties. What are some of the things that he is doing to make sure you guys don't do those things on the field?
"He is having us do the little things such as getting to meetings on time, tucking in your shirt, sitting up straight in your chair. If you are late for a meeting, he will jump you. He doesn't care who you are or how long you have been starting or whether you are a walk-on or a career starter. It doesn't matter because he expects everybody to be on time and do things right. All those little things add up to bigger things and carry over to the field."

What is your personal goal?
"My goal is to graduate. I graduate next May."


Gene Swindoll is the owner of Gene's Page, the unofficial source for Mississippi State sports on the internet. The URL for Gene's Page is http://mississippistate.theinsiders.com. You can contact him by emailing swindoll@genespage.com.


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