Freshman Spencer Trims Pounds, Builds Confidence

Sure, Chris Spencer is still tipping the scales at over 300 pounds. ‘Still' because the freshman offensive lineman lost four whole pounds just yesterday and couldn't wait (weight?) to get back on those scales Tuesday to see how many more pounds he had shed.

"I weighed 304 yesterday, and I'm going to take my shoes off and see how much I weigh now," said Spencer, after completing over an hour's worth of conditioning drills on the Mississippi State practice fields. Judging how sweat-soaked those adidas cleats appeared as he walked to the Holliman Center there was a good chance Spencer would check in at the 300-pound mark.

Yet while nobody will ever think of the 6-4 specimen as a little kid, that is almost how Spencer sees himself after an introductory week of Bulldog weight and conditioning work. He and his fellow rookies now see college reality clearly.

"In high school we were men, we were big fish in a small pond," he said. "Now we're just a rainbow fish in the Pacific."

Yep, for all their high school honors and recruiting ratings the newest Bulldogs are learning quickly just where they swim in this particular pond. It hasn't even taken the initial tests of full-contact practices, just a hard hour of sprints, jumps, starts-and-stops, and other tricks Coach Jim Nowell uses to get everybody in summer shape. Spencer agrees that while he and his classmates were warned, nothing could completely prepare them for Mississippi State's workout program.

"Nope. You have to push yourself to throw up, and it's hard to push yourself that far." To his credit Spencer did push a bit Tuesday without leaving lunch on the field. At the same time, he was also among the Bulldogs of all ages who had to put in some extra work. Specifically, a half-dozen extra 100-yard runs with a deadline of 18 seconds each time. Spencer had trouble making it, but when asked what his best 100-yard ‘dash' was he managed an ironic laugh.

"I don't know, I'm a lineman! I don't run more than ten yards! That's uncharted territory. The only time I ever ran that long was when we were playing Hattiesburg and I was chasing Cordera Eason down the sidelines!"

Nor did Spencer get all his penalty laps done, though his list was shorter than some and plenty of veterans had to work overtime Tuesday as well. "It's because we didn't make our times yesterday, and everybody was jumping offsides," he explained. "So those reps didn't count, it was originally 16 times (for 100 yards) but then we had to go 22."

And is the kid bothered by having to do gridiron penance in just this first week of team work? Not at all. Every ounce of exertion puts Spencer closer to his goals, the first of which is to get the body trimmed to game-weight. "I used to run like a deer at 278, and if I can be 285 and run like that I'd love it." He also plans to progress in the weightroom, where his best bench right now is a vague "300-plus."

"It's not bad, but this is the SEC and look who we play. So I've got to get stronger."

Not only that, but this is Mississippi State 2005 and the offensive line is still an area of such concern that Coach Sylvester Croom is willing, planning even, to give first-year blockers a fair shot at instant playing time. Spencer has had months since signing to ponder the possibility yet remains level-headed, something a lot of freshmen could do.

"To be honest, if I do play it's good. If I don't it's still OK because I'm doing whatever is best for the team. And right now I'm just trying to get these runs out of the way, and get stronger and better."

By the same token Spencer and other rookies got another reminder Tuesday of just how close they might be to activation, when senior center Chris McNeil went down early in the drills with what looked like a hamstring tear. McNeil was helped to the sideline and watched the rest of the session on his back, right leg raised and icepack on the back of the right thigh. The preliminary verdict was that State's starting center might miss two weeks of running work but should be ready to go by two-a-days.

Spencer didn't even know the injury had happened until later, hearing the news after he commented on which veteran blocker he hopes to emulate. "I don't say I idolize anyone because he's too close to my age. But if I could play like anybody I'd play like Chris." He should get a chance to resume first-hand learning by the first week of August.

Meanwhile Spencer and fellow frosh have their own work to do. Obviously some are not in game-shape yet; most could be in better condition. But according to Spencer the raw material in the signing class of 2005 is everything reputed, and maybe even better.

"I'm going to tell you, Ty Evans and Jarvis Kyles can run. A lot of these guys ran these sprints and ran them good. Charles Burns, Quinton Wesley…I'm going to give credit where it is due because I love my teammates. Craig Jenkins and Johnny Carpenter are going to be good, Calvin Wilson is a man amongst boys, he just has that knee problem. But we'll get everybody finely-tuned, and Coach Nowell will get us ready."

There are three more weeks of lifting and conditioning in store, then the next stage begins with an August 4 start to preseason practices. Spencer has some clear goals for this freshman fall, and whether he makes the varsity in '05 or bides his time is equally fine. He knows Croom and Coach J.B. Grimes won't toss him into the SEC ocean until he's ready to swim with the older fish.

And as for how he sees himself now, well…as the reporter notes, little fish can grow into big fish. "Yeah, they can," said Spencer. "And I'm going to be a predator!"

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