Talk about today's first day of practice in pads.
"It was the hardest day that I've ever had in pads. We kind of screwed around in warmups and that cost us in the beginning. Coach Croom got up and made a point that we weren't going as hard as we could, especially on offense. And he really made his point in the last period. I think that will help us in the long run."
He seems to have to make a point quite a bit. Did he really make his point this time?
"I think he made his point this time. It was rough, one of the worst that I've ever gone through."
Individually, how do you think you have done these first five practices?
"I think I'm doing some things good and some things I need to work on. I still need to work on breaking tackles and making big plays. I also need to get back into condition and also help the younger guys."
Overall, how has the wide receivers as a group done, so far?
"I think our work ethic is the best that I've seen since I've been here. We do have some of the younger guys who need to get into their playbook and learn their stuff so that they can get more reps. Compared to last year, we are way ahead of the game."
Do you feel the receivers understand Coach Croom's offensive system?
"I think we pretty much have it. We still have a few adjustments to make."
When did you learn that you were a starter at linebacker?
"I didn't know it until one of the players told me."
What did you think about starting out as a starter?
"I didn't let it get into my head. I have a priority to help this team out."
Do you feel any pressure knowing that you are a starter and you are still just a redshirt freshman?
"Yeah, because they want you to know the system and they want you to know it quickly. But I know if somebody else can do it, then I know I can also do it. Because I'm a redshirt freshman doesn't mean that I can't learn it. If you want to be first string, then you have to learn it and pay the price."
What are the things you will bring to this team?
"Everybody knows that I have speed. The thing I need to do when I get to the hole is cause havoc. I also put on weight. That allows me to handle the offensive line better. Last year, I weighed 195 pounds, so I really couldn't do anything. Now, I'm up to about 220. I've also gotten better at shedding blocks. My pass coverage is much better."
Coach Croom said during the fall that you may have the most talent of any freshman linebacker, but you weren't ready to play due to not knowing the overall defense. How is that coming along?
"It's not like I don't know the plays. It's just that sometimes you think one thing and it is actually another. Now, I'm starting to understand it. They've changed the defense. It's kind of better because of that. Now, it's based around speed and getting to the ball."
Despite the starting linebackers being young, do you feel it, as a group, could turn out to be a strength of this team?
"Fred Akines and I are the only ones who didn't play last year. Everybody else has played. That means they should know what to do. While we might be mostly redshirt freshmen, sophomores and juniors, we shouldn't be classified as young."
How has Fred Akines adjusted to moving to linebacker?
"Fred moved from safety to linebacker, so he's had to learn to do everything new, such as how to stand, how to move his feet. Actually, he's adjusted better than any linebacker on the team. He's also got speed, too. They didn't move him to linebacker just because they needed depth. They put him there because they think he can do well."
What are your expectations for yourself?
"This is what I hold in my helmet everyday. (He brought out a piece of paper.-Gene) My grandmother gave it to me and this is what I go by. Words like failure, second best or defeat are not in God's vocabulary. Before I go out there each day, that is on my mind."
You are now up to almost 220. What other changes have you noticed about yourself?
"I feel faster. My hold body feels stronger and faster. I feel like I can get out there and compete. Coach (Ellis) Johnson has a motto: Read, react and contact. That's what he wants our linebackers to do."
Have the coaches told you how good they think you can eventually become?
"They have told me that there is no limit to how good I can be. They have said that I have the ability to be the best. So, it's all up here (pointed to his head) and here (pointed to his heart)."
What do you want to tell the Mississippi State fans about this team?
"Be patient with us. And don't be surprised when something good happens.
"I also want them to expect us to get better. Expect us to go out ther and run to the ball. Expect us to tackle good. Expect us to be a hardnose football team that never quits. Expect all of that and the winning and losing will take care of itself."
Gene Swindoll is the publisher of Dawgs' Bite, Powered by GenesPage.com, the source for Mississippi State sports on the Scout.com sports network. You can contact him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.