Pendergrass, Staff Setting Stage for Fall Camp

Ask Brad Pendergrass how his summer has gone, and the response is a rueful shake of the head. "I don't know that I've had much of one," he says. "Summer months are just when the weather turns hot!"

For sure, the rookie Mississippi State assistant coach has enjoyed precious little time to cool off with the frantic first-year pace Sylvester Croom has set since taking over. Practically every move Croom has made so far in 2004 has been scheduled, planned, often even accompanied by Pendergrass. His title, assistant to the head coach, might seem vague. The duties definitely are not, as this 28-year-old (he did take time to celebrate a June 25 birthday) is essentially the man behind The Man.

And with the calendar about to flip over to August, these men are focused on the next phase of preparing for their first season with the Bulldogs. "We crank up on August 5," Pendergrass said. "So it's been a short summer." One that is just about over.

The 2004 Dogs, varsity and rookies alike, all indeed are to report on the fifth of August. "But our first practice won't be until August 7," Pendergrass added.

Between now and then he, Croom, and the on-field staff still have some final touches to put on preseason planning.

"Coach Croom and I have been working on our two-a-day schedule, our training camp schedule for about a month now. It's one of those deals where I gave him a copy to start with, he bled all over it and gave it back! It's one of those things we go back-and-forth getting it the way we want it. And we're close to having our two-a-day schedule finalized."

Which is well and good since practices aren't so very far away. Much of the planning involves business beyond the practice field, most particularly for the newest names on the 2004 roster. A year ago the NCAA did away with early-reporting for freshmen, those traditional two or three days that the rookies and new walk-ons had the field to themselves. Now first-year kids receive their playbooks, equipment, and locker assignments the same day as older Dogs.

But this does not mean rookies are tossed into the roster-pool to sink or swim. And practically speaking several of State's eligible rookies are already on campus, lifting weights and running and sweating it out with the varsity. This means Pendergrass and staff can plan their own version of early-August freshman 'orientation.'

"We'll be working with our freshmen when they get to campus with all the things they have to do to," Pendergrass said. Such as register, find classes, perhaps figure out where and how to park (a true challenge at MSU), and more. "All that," as the coach calls it.

"There's a five-day acclimation period now. We're going to have them in with the rest of the team, and then set aside some extra work for them as well to get them acclimated to what we¹re doing." Such as the six hours of academic orientation required of MSU's rookies. The guys will have more to read than playbooks come August 5.

It's a fine line the Mississippi State staff wants to walk with their pups, working new kids into the system in a pretty limited timeframe without trying to rush things. Pendergrass is optimistic the kids can handle the pressure. "Mostly we feel we're going to put them right in with our current team and get them acclimated as quickly as possible. Because they're going to be a huge part of what we're doing. I mean, it's our first class and they're going to jump right in there."

'There' being full-speed practices and competition for depth-chart status. Here, ironically, the NCAA has made getting up to speed a bit easier for freshmen. Another 2003 change was eliminating consecutive two-a-day sessions. "So it's 2-1-2-1-2-1," Pendergrass explained. Furthermore, "The first five days are an acclimation period of one-a-day practices, and the first two days are in shorts. The next two days are in shoulder pads and helmet and shorts. And the fifth day, which will be our Media Day on August 11, is our first day in full pads. And from there it's 2-1-2-1 until school begins."

The exact times of those practices are still being tweaked, though, of course, there will be morning and afternoon drills on the twice-a-day dates. If there is an advantage to a 2-1 system, it is the margin for weather-error. "With the weather the way it's been, we've left it where we can adjust the schedule," Pendergrass said. "We have an 'A' plan for morning and a 'B' plan for afternoons."

And on the subject of planning, administrative aides Pendergrass, Rockey Felker, and Jim Tompkins have plenty other items on their agendas. Recruiting, for one. The entire staff had a busy May-June with contacts and camps, setting the stage for fall's gameday visits.

"Then it's just the day-to-day operations of the football office with Rockey and myself," said Pendergrass. "There's so much stuff going on with a new staff, so much to do. Not to mention Coach Croom's schedule and all I have to do for him. So..."

So, the youngest fulltime man on the MSU staff has kept a hot summer pace. Does this mean things will cool down for Pendergrass when fall, and the season, finally arrive?

"I don't know, because I haven't been through it yet! I don't know what to expect. I've talked to my colleagues at different schools around the SEC, who do the same things I do. Some say it lets up, some say it doesn't. It doesn't matter to me, I love what I do and it's great."


David Murray is the Editor of Dawgs' Bite magazine and the featured writer for the Dawgs Bite: Powered by GenesPage.com website. You can contact him by email at dawgbite@ebicom.net.

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