Conner Likes Getting Back To Summer Work

Now, one might think there would be a whole lot of veteran Bulldogs not at all eager to end their summer off-season. Lifting weights and conditioning, straining and sweating, that's all well and good for freshly-arrived rookies needing a crash course in the realities of college life.

Or even backup players and reserves wanting to get a jump on August and competition for position higher up the depth chart…yeah, those guys should be hot to go here in July. But a veteran, and a starter? Wouldn't it be better for an older Dog to enjoy a few more slower weeks and ease on into another demanding fall season?

Try telling that to the veteran starter who wears the #14 jersey. Omarr Conner was practically in a sweat to get to his locker, pull on the working gear, and get busy again. "I don't need any break right now!" the junior quarterback said as he stood at the Shira Complex door. "A break is the last thing we need. I'm glad to be out here today!"

And if anyone wonders whether this is just putting a positive face on summer work, Conner has put his a…ahhh…his self where his attitude is. Heck, the undisputed starting triggerman is so serious about getting ready for the 2005 season that he took no summer break at all. "No, I came back for the first session of summer school," he said proudly. And smilingly, something that comes easily to this perpetually upbeat Bulldog.

Conner was admittedly the first-semester exception as the bulk of this team did wait until last week to return to campus, with no complaint by coaches who generally like for the guys to give themselves some sort of down-time. But then this quarterback is equally serious about setting an example both on and off the field. Besides, Conner has been getting ready for '05 since the final horn of '04.

He certainly is expecting better things in his second season running the Bulldog offense, having survived a pretty grueling year both at the position and in this Mississippi State system. "That made me tougher, the season I had just taught me a lot. The first season being back at quarterback felt good." Yes, despite a 3-8 finish and two games sidelined by injury, Conner was happy to be back at his prep position after spending 2003 as a pass-catcher.

His teammates are just as happy to have Conner calling the cadence. The record and stats weren't much to brag about last year but the quarterback believes the necessary, if hard, first steps were made toward a productive offense.

"We just have to keep it up, not take a play off and keep taking a step forward," he said.

It's a sign of the confidence most observers have in the quarterback that summer questions about this offense focus on the personnel Conner has to work with. Yes, he's heard those same concerns and even the doubts. Conner quickly makes his feelings clear, especially about the oft-maligned offensive line.

"You have to have faith in them," he insists. "They're blocking for you every play and you can see games where they gave me plenty of time to make decisions." If it sounds as if the quarterback is grabbing a share of the '04 blame, you read rightly. This is another mark of Conner's ideas about how to demonstrate leadership.

Besides, he is truly convinced the pieces are there to assemble a squad that can move the ball and score points. A year older really ought to mean a year better, he explains. "I think we've made progress in both technique and attitude.

"I think everybody around here has confidence now, confidence in their positions. Receivers, quarterbacks, everybody. And the technique, I think everybody has the hang of this offense and we can go put it together."

Speaking of putting things together, the quarterback is very much aware of what being able to gain yards and score points would mean to what has the makings of a solid defense. After getting beat-up by the guys on the other side of the line in spring Conner knows better than most what State has there.

"I think the defense is going to play some ball this year, they've got a lot of people who can make plays and stretch the offense out." Which naturally brings to mind one of those aforementioned questions, whether State will do some stretching of their own this year. Conner knows he can count on vets like Will Prosser and Tee Milons for possession plays, but some younger legs will be asked to stomp on the gas pedal in '05. Conner mentions underclassmen speedsters such as Keon Humphries and Joey Sanders, then incoming freshmen receivers who will get instant opportunity in August. "A lot of guys. It's just me getting them the ball, putting it in their hands."

Of course it is Conners' hands into which the ball is snapped, and it says much about his character that this starter is still openly grateful for the opportunity Coach Sylvester Croom and coordinator Woody McCorvey have given him. As much as Conner and teammates want to win for themselves, they are not shy to proclaim a desire to succeed on behalf of their coaches.

"Oh, man, it would be lovely to make a big improvement for Coach knowing all he's put into this program," said Conner. "We have to play ball for him and let him know we believe."

Don't have any doubt that Conner has a healthy faith in himself as well. Not even the ‘constructive' criticism often expressed rather forcefully by those coaches shakes his self-assurance. Now to sideline observers it seems Conner has lucked out by having the most low-key coach on the staff as his mentor, since McCorvey almost never seems to raise his voice.

That's deceptive, the quarterback reveals. "He's going to chew me out! He's a quiet coach but he'll get on you!" And moments later coordinator and quarterback are again talking like best buds, which in a way they are according to Conner. "Me and Coach McCorvey have been on the same page for a long time, he's always picking me up and keeping my confidence straight."

Conner is confident that these remaining July weeks will do good things for the entire team's confidence, which is already running higher than usual for this time of any year. "Everybody is working hard to get prepared for the season," he said. And as this summer shows, nobody is working harder than the Dog who will lead this team into Croom's second season.

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